Rare honey and artisanal cheeses are truly the foods that delight the soul. Famous as the ambrosia of the mythical Greek gods, we can bring the fruits of milk and honey into our homes. They are as delightful today as they were when Athens was the shining center of Western civilization.
Terroir in Honey and Cheese
More than most foods, honey and cheese reflects the terroir of the landscape. The animals that gift us with their milk and honey feed off the flowers and herbs that grow wild near their grazing grounds and hives. When pairing cheese and honey, consider how that terroir can resonate, and match the complexity of the honeys and cheese with contrasting flavors.
The Fresh Cheeses with Flower Honey
Fresh, light cheeses, such as fresh ricotta or Corsican brocciu, farmstead Havarti, or fresh chevre pair beautifully with the summer aromatic flower honeys of Spain, such as orange blossom. Pairing salty feta with sweet orange blossom honey is particularly nice. These pairings rarely need more than a spoon, perhaps a small piece of sponge cake or a slice of apple or pear.
Thyme Honey and Bloomy-Rind Cheese
The middle intensity pairings bring the best of sweet and creamy together. The strong green notes of the herbal honeys, made from the wild sage, rosemary, and thyme of the Greek islands, pair well with the rich grassy milk flavors of the French bloomy-rind varieties, such as brie or camembert. Consider Bardwell Farm’s Dorset, a buttery raw milk cheese from Jersey cows that pairs well with thyme honey. A favorite in Crete is aged sheep’s milk graviera, the favorite cooking and snacking cheese in Greece after feta, with a drizzle of thyme honey.
The flavors of the honeys always bring out the subtle notes in the cheese by providing both a contrast and a matching complexity. The herbal honeys are not as sweet, and they pair well with cheeses that are developing rounded full flavors, with sparks of acidity and salt.
A lovely slice of aged graviera with a tiny bit of Greek thyme honey, some cherries or black grapes, followed by an espresso with a twist of lemon peel, and one is transported to another world. (Drag the lemon peel into the honey, and dip it into your espresso, or into your mouth, if it’s too luscious to resist.)
There are still places in the world where the lovely scents and flavors of food are savored, shared, discussed, exalted. Two bites, maybe three, and you will never forget how you felt in that moment, the smell of the wind against your face, the voices of the people around you. That’s what learning to savor can bring to the table–a mindfulness full of the joys of the senses.
Pine and Fir Honey Paired with Saint Marcellin or Saint-Albans
The complex mineral and resin flavor profile of pine and fir honey cannot be matched anywhere in the world, because the diverse ecosystem of Greece–olive, fig, chestnut, rosemary, pine, and the lovely flowers of orange and lemon–exists only in these old landscapes. But Pine and Fir are not overpowering honeys, despite their complexity and the richness of autumn flavors. If you can find some fresh Reblochon, or a Saint-Marcellin, these cheeses with the terroir of the Alps pair well with pine and fir honey. (Locally here in Vermont, Saint-Albans is a new cheese from Vermont Creamery modeled after the French Saint-Marcellin).
Chestnut Honey With Aged Blues
For the adventurous souls who have to climb to the top of every mountain in their path, the complex, nutty, wild chestnut honeys of Greece pair with the most challenging cheeses: a rich ripe Stilton, an aged goat, like Vermont Creamery’s Coupole, raw-milk blues, salty Parmigiano Reggianos and Pecorinos. The complexity and layered density of the aged cheeses, with their earthiness, the ripe flavors of times past, are a joy to match with the equally complex and earthy flavors of chestnut honey. The terroir in these flavors can be nearly overpowering; don’t be surprised to find yourself weeping with longing for your ancestor’s village in Greece.
Chestnut honey, with its unique blend of wild nuttiness, pairs especially well with complex artisan blues. Jasper Hill Farms cheesemaker Mateo Kehler recommends his Bayley Hazen Blue with chestnut honey.
Cultured Butters and Honey
Consider as well the joys of cultured butter; any of the Greek or Spanish honeys on a piece of freshly toasted bread, slathered with melting butter, is a delight. The rich nutty flavor of good whole-grain bread, with cultured butter and chestnut honey, is a treat that is hard to match by any desert in any restaurant in the world.
Pairing artisan cheese with rare and wild honey is a delightful adventure of matching complexities and contrasting flavors. Like many great adventures, the fun is in the challenge, and the seeking. Track down some interesting artisanal cheeses and rare honey for your next great culinary adventure.
Pairing artisan cheese with rare and wild honey is a delightful adventure of matching complexities and contrasting flavors.