The Cheesemonger Invitational – a.k.a. the “Cheese Olympics”July 13, 2023
by Katie Glaudell
Halloween isn’t just for kids, and grocery store candy can be gourmet. Here’s how to pair your Trick-or-Treat haul with artisan cheese and elevate a sugar fest into a grown-up snacking experience!
The Principles of Pairing
When coming up with flavor combinations of any kind, there are some basic food pairing guidelines (that you probably already use without thinking) to help you get started. Debates rage on what should or shouldn’t be included in a list of “official” flavor categories, but here are the most useful for pairing purposes:
SALTY – SWEET – BITTER – ACIDIC – FATTY – SPICY
Contrasting flavors tend to work well, like these classic combos:
- peanut butter + jelly (salty + sweet)
- honey + lemon (sweet + acidic)
- olive oil + vinegar (fatty + acidic)
When thinking about cheese pairings, it also helps to have a general understanding of the different milk types and what they might lend to the profile of a cheese. In the very simplest terms:
- goat cheese tends to be tangy
- sheep cheese tends to be nutty
- cow cheese tends to be buttery
Pairing Candy with Cheese
So with these basic principles in mind, pairing your leftover Halloween candy with cheese isn’t such a wild idea. All you have to do then is identify the other flavors at play, and with a little trial and error you’ll discover amazing combinations. This is what Molly Hess, resident Certified Cheese Professional (and unofficial food genius) set out to do in planning the menu for Marché’s annual Halloween candy pairing class. The rest of our team was lucky enough to help Molly test pairings, and while there were some immediate winners, trickier combinations took three or four tries to get right.
- Blakesville Chèvre + Crushed Watermelon Jolly Rancher
Sour foods tend to downplay the lactic tang in young goat cheese and bring out more of its creamy richness. We also tested this with a Blue Raspberry Jolly Rancher, but the Watermelon had the better balance of sweet and tart. This pairing was first inspired by Molly’s fellow Cheesemonger Invitational competitor Jimme Mares, who rolled balls of chèvre in Nerds as one of his presentation plates. We highly recommend trying this combo as well.
- Mimolette + Caramel Apple
The salty sharpness of this aged French cheese was an obvious win with the bright acidity and buttery sweetness of a caramel apple, evoking the English (and Wisconsin) tradition of grating cheddar over apple pie.
- Délice de Bourgogne + 3 Musketeers
With a rich but mild triple crème, you don’t want to add elements that overpower the simple butterfat. Mellow milk chocolate and nougat was all it needed to make this a pure bite of decadent dessert.
- Ewephoria + Peach Rings
Peach rings are one of my personal favorites, more mildly tart than intensely bright like other fruit-flavored candies. The hint of sheepy tang in Ewephoria gouda was the perfect companion, elevating the candy to the sophistication of a peach jam and balancing the savory notes of the aged cheese.
- Comté + Brach’s Mellowcreme Pumpkins (aka Candy Corn)
As polarizing as candy corn is, it’s an inseparable part of Halloween, so we had to include it. Molly found that it tastes a lot like cake frosting…but how to pair such a simple flavor? In many tests the cheese far overpowered the candy. Eventually, we found that a young Comté–sweet, nutty, and toasty–was the magic it was missing, transforming the pure sugar into something subtle and marshmallowy. As someone who is not a fan of candy corn, I swear I could have eaten a whole bag of it paired with Comté.
- Moliterno + Reese’s Pieces
We know from past classes that Reese’s Cups like the yeasty funk of washed-rind cheeses, but Reese’s Pieces are more about the peanut butter than the chocolate, so it needs a cheese that holds its own against the salt. We thought the spice of a blue could be interesting, but blues are also very savory, which ended up being a muddy salt fest when combined with the candy. Moliterno, a semi-aged sheep-goat milk blend from southern Italy was just the thing. The cream-cheesy tang of the goat’s milk tames the salty peanut butter, while the sweet nuttiness of the sheep’s milk brings forward that same nuttiness in the Reese’s Pieces.
This is the magic of food pairing–it’s alchemy, art meeting science.
You can use basic flavor math as a starting point, but the complexities of food, our taste buds, and each person’s unique palate, means that there will always be surprises. At Marché we’re constantly chasing that surprise, that third tasting experience–we know what this cheese tastes like, and what that candy, or wine, or charcuterie tastes like, but when you put the two together, it takes you somewhere completely unexpected, and somehow you’ve just turned lead into gold.