This holiday season, turn the tables on the traditional "wine and cheese" combo by pairing cheeses with your favorite hard alcohol. In this special series, I'll be investigating which fromages go best with distilled spirits as well as offering tips on how to construct a tasting without breaking the bank.
Up until recently, the extent to which I've enjoyed cheese with my vodka is sorely limited to a few nights in college when I drank too many cosmopolitans and then scarfed down pizza in a drunken fury. I was certain, however, that classier (yet no less entertaining) experiences could be had with slightly higher-quality spirits and (non-shredded, non-melted) store-bought cheeses.
As there are as many types of vodka as fish in the sea, I decided to narrow my focus to fruit-flavored vodkas. For under 20 dollars, I picked up a bottle of Cherry SKYY, which according to online reviews is among the more palatable and affordable infusions (they were right). With a light, non-artificial (tasting) cherry flavor and an ABV of 35 percent, this vodka can easily be enjoyed on the rocks (or with a dash of soda water and lime) without knocking me out cold before I even have a chance to get my cheese on.
Traditionally, peppery and savory vodkas are more popular accompaniments to cheese because the strong spice in the alcohol pairs well with pungent cheeses. A mild fruit (in this case, cherry) vodka, however, is better matched with mild, soft varieties, and even a fromage bleu, provided it's not too heady.
With that in mind, I headed to H-E-B to scour the cheesemonger's island for inexpensive pairings. For around six bucks I picked up smallish blocks of a honey-laced chèvre and an Amish blue cheese (on the probably misguided hunch that mild-mannered religious sects cultivate mild cheeses). While H-E-B's cheese selection certainly isn't the most radical in town, it does conveniently offer smaller portions of terrific cheeses that are relatively expensive per pound, perfect for one peckish girl.
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I was concerned the honey in the chèvre would be cloying in combination with the already sweet vodka (pre-chilled, then served on the rocks), but fortunately the syrup worked more to cut the stark dairy flavor. The blue cheese brought an entirely different side of the SKYY. Assertive but not aggressive fungal notes made the vodka taste tarter, more botanical and less saccharine.
Along with some slated textured wheat crackers (ahem, generic brand Triscuits), the cheeses and vodka were a wonderful early-evening appetizer.