We all know about cheese and wine pairings, the little black dress of of social gatherings, a tried and tested combination which, in all honesty, I find very difficult to resist. There is, however, more and there is else and I, in all honesty, can never quite resist the temptation to “play with my food” and strike up new flavour combinations.
For those of you who have participated in our Afternoon Tea Tour of York, you will already have tried your hand at pairing tea with cheese and, as surprising as the combination may be, you have all loved the experience. Hence, this post.
So cheese and tea, you ask? Yes. Cheese and tea and here, a short guide to get your tastebuds tingling and itching to join us as we get ahead and start pairing the two.
Tannins and fat; the short answer to a complex pairing
Tea, quite similarly to wine, is high in tannins. Tannins are a compound occurring in given plant tissues (of which coffee + cocoa beans, grape skins, tea leaves) which lend a level of astringency to the final product, which can be recognized as a feeling of dryness on the sides of your tongue.
Fat, however, diminishes the effect of tannins and cuts through bitterness, allowing for the sweeter and more fragrant notes of the tea to shine through. The warmth of the tea, on the other hand, brings out a greater range of aromas in the cheese, most of which you probably would not have noticed otherwise. The result? A soft, round and rolling sort of flavour which, in my experience, has yet to leave anyone indifferent.
So how is it you pair your cheese with your tea?
Light teas go with fresh cheeses
White and green teas are delicate, their aromas difficult to grasp and difficult to pair. You will want to go with a cheese that is not too strong, soft and creamy though not too fresh. Pair your white or greens with an aged cheese and you will massacre the tea but pair it with one that is too young and the brightness of the cheese will exhaust the more subtle aromas of the tea. Careful balance is key.
Darker teas are for mature cheeses
Oxidized teas (darker teas) have more tannins than the lighter ones but also carry much sweeter notes which come out beautifully when paired with a more mature and saltier cheese.
The tannic and acidic elements of the tea cut through the pungent character of the cheese, rewarding you with a much gentler depth of flavour where your tea’s more sweet and roasted notes really do shine through.
Darker teas are often much easier to pair than lighter ones and will usually go well with almost any cheese. Once you get going, you will be bewildered by the huge range of successful flavour combinations you can obtain from pairing a strong black tea such as an Assam with a variety of cheeses. Here, experimentation is key.
Keep some bread handy
Bread cleanses your palate so make sure you have a bit after each pairing to keep your ability to taste each combination independently from the others.
Have fun and break the rules!
To me, pairing foods is all about discovering new flavours. Go on, start playing with your food! Break the rules, explore, taste and just... Enjoy!