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Cheese and sake pairing

| Alice Hama

As sake attracts growing interest among international sommeliers, the idea of cheese and sake pairing has become a trendy topic. Sake contains lactic acid, an important element for making cheese, and naturally pairs well together with cheese. I am sure you will find it enjoyable to explore endless delicious possibilities!

Fresh cheese – Mozzarella / Ricotta

Cheese in the purest form. This category has a white color and can vary in style from soft, creamy, to a crumbly texture. The flavor tends to be simple and usually has a nice acidity. It pairs well with sakes that have a refreshing fruity aroma with a touch of citrus fruits.

My sake picks: Fukuju “Blue”, Dassai “45”

Mozzarella burrata salad pairs well with fruity sake.

Semi-hard cheese – Cheddar / Gouda

Firm and springy texture. This category has less water content than fresh cheeses which undergoes an average aging process. It has a profound umami taste from aging yet retains the flavors of fresh milk. It pairs beautifully with rich and dry sakes with umami-blended complexity.

My sake picks: Tengumai “Junmai”, Kenbishi “Mizuho”

Hard cheese – Manchego / Parmesan

Firmer texture and sharper taste. This category is aged longer than other cheeses and has a very low water content that may be as low as 30%. It is dense and can be crumbly or have an almost granular texture. I recommend pairing these cheeses with rich and smooth sakes as they will round up the overall flavor, creating an umami-packed balanced finish.

My sake picks: Nanbu Bijin “Shinpaku”, HEAVENSAKE “Junmai 12”

White mold cheese – Brie / Camembert

Rich and buttery. This category involves the addition of white mold cultures, causing the development of white rind on the outside. It has a very soft texture and long creamy finish with an earthy tone or mushroom characteristics. This category pairs well with sakes that have a layered complexity and a hint of nutty essence.

My sake picks: Kubota “Manju”, Izumo Fuji “Ancient Shrine”

Blue mold cheese – Gorgonzola / Roquefort

Rustic and mildly pungent. This category involves the addition of blue mold cultures (mold Penicillium). It has blue spots caused by the mold and usually tastes salty. It is also known to have the aroma of roasted hazelnuts. This category pairs nicely with sakes with rustic characteristics or dried fruits flavor. It also pairs well with aged sakes. Add some honey on the side—a little sweetness will bring the pairing to the next level.

My sake picks: Shichida “75”, Suehiro “Gensai”

A touch of honey on rustic cheeses will enhance pairings with aged sake.

Washed-rind cheese: Époisses / Mont d’Or

Melty and flavorful. This category involves a curing process that uses a solution of saltwater brine or mold-bearing agents to encourage the growth of certain bacteria on the surface which develops distinctive flavors. It can vary from soft to semi-hard. Époisses and Mont d’Or are a popular melty style. Since this is an aromatic category, the go-to sakes will be rich and aromatic in style. In order to match the texture of the cheeses, I recommend warming up the sakes—it will blend beautifully together on your palate.

My sake picks: Tamano Hikari “Junmai Daiginjo”, Manzairaku “Yamahai Junmai”

What are your favorite sake and cheese pairings? Let us know @tippsysake!

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