Cheese, we've always been told, pairs with wine. But Heidi Johannssen Stewart thinks we should seriously consider ditching the bottle for a pot of tea. Just like wine, teas have tannins and astringency; they show the terroir of the places they're grown; and some are even vintage dated. Tea is amazing with cheese, and it's interesting and rewarding to put together different combinations, says Stewart, the cofounder of Bellocq Tea Atelier in New York City.
Stewart recently collaborated with The Cheeses of Europe on a campaign to familiarize Americans with French cheeses. They discovered that wine and cheese pairing guidelines also hold true for tea and cheese: A cheese that pairs with a wine high in tannins would also work well with a tea that is high in tannins. Similarly, salty cheeses complement sweet wines the way they do a sweet-tasting tea. "We looked for teas that would not only complement the cheese, but also bring out a new flavor that wasn't there before," says Stewart.
Here, six terrific pairings to try now.
1. White Peony with Raclette
White teas are minimally processed and pair well with raclette's semi-soft texture and milky notes. In particular, white peony—with its subtle, sweet, fruity notes—rounds out raclette's grassy flavors.
2. Sencha and Rose Blend with Brillat-Savarin
Sencha, a Japanese green tea rich in antioxidants, takes on an herbaceous, oceanic flavor when blended with delicate rose. This mildly astringent tea balances the rich, creamy triple crème brie and leaves a light rose finish on the palate.
3. Medium-roast Oolong with Comté
Oolong teas are partially oxidized and are categorized in between green and black teas. Look for a very mineral roast with notes of honey, which pairs well with nutty comté.
4. Black tea with Camembert
A more robust black tea such as Bellocq's Gypsy Caravan (a blend of organic Indian and Chinese black teas, rose and organic chile) features a gentle, smoky finish, which is excellent with Camembert's earthy flavor. "It feels like you're sitting around the fireplace," Stewart says of this cozy pairing.
5. Darjeeling with Bleu d'Auvergne
Slightly astringent darjeeling teas with floral notes are great with Bleu d'Auvergne, a creamy cow's milk blue from France's volcanic-rich south-central region. This cheese is less salty and more buttery than other blues, and Stewart suggests pairing it with a second flush. Second flush teas have a longer oxidation period, producing a full-bodied brew that can stand up to the cheese's pungency. Bellocq's Darjeeeling 2nd Flush, sourced from Sourenee Estate in India, has notes of cocoa, maple and a hint of muscatel, which makes for a fantastic sweet-salty pairing.
6. Golden Pu'erh with Époisses
Pu'erh is an aged or "post-oxidized" tea with little astringency and a deep, rich body. Golden pu'erh (the shou variety) is cooked and exposed to rapid fermentation to accelerate the aging process and should be consumed right away. This strong and smooth tea has earthy, leathery notes that complement creamy, savory Époisses cheese. Surprisingly, the pairing reveals a delicious, minty finish.