By Christine Hyatt
I like to think that cheese is a food that connects us with the ages, a mainstay in the diet our ancestors for millennia. Along with other fermented staples such as wine, beer and bread, cheese represents sustenance.
Honey is another food of ancient origin and happens to be one of the finest pairings for cheese. It’s got that sweet-savory-salty thing in spades.
Honey is a remarkably complex food. Apiculture, the art of beekeeping, was an essential part of many ancient societies. They used it for food, medicine, in religious observances and as currency.
The production of honey is a Herculean effort by a hive. To make a pound of honey, bees must collect pollen from over two million flowers. Each precious pound is the life’s work of 300 bees. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates show honeybees are responsible for 80 percent of our food crop pollination by insects, playing a vital role in food production.
It’s no wonder cheese, an equally remarkable food with incredible inputs from both animal and human contributors, would pair so perfectly on the plate.
In the same way that cheese is impacted by flavors of the milk source, honey is a product of the pollen used to create it. The flavors of the pollen come through, influencing the flavor, color and texture of the final product.
To cure your craving for honey, head over to Foster & Dobbs, an artisan food shop in the Irvington neighborhood of Portland. Owner Luan Schooler stocks an outstanding collection of honey to accompany her carefully curated cheese selection.
“Honey is a terrific partner for cheese because its sweetness balances the savory and salty qualities of cheese beautifully,” Schooler said. “If you want just a hint of honey, choose one of the more liquid ones, as opposed to creamed or granular options, which can be difficult to spread.”
As with paring cheese and wine, Schooler says balance is the key. Here are her top tips for pairing honey with cheese:
1. Balance the intensity of the honey and cheese so that neither clobbers the other.
2. Delicate, floral honeys are terrific with milky, creamy cheeses and those that have a sour cream note.
3. Big, bold honeys like chestnut, corbezzolo (strawberry tree) or buckwheat can stand up to blues, sharp cheddars and well-aged sheep cheeses like Manchego.
4. Branches’ Raspberry Blossom Honey (harvested in Southern Oregon) is dynamite with MT TAM triple-cream from Cowgirl Creamery (Northern California).
Schooler says she’s particularly sweet on Bh Honey from Ballard Bee Company. The honey is produced from hives scattered throughout Seattle as part of a project to help bring honeybees back into the city.
“There’s no single flavor profile [for Bh],” she said. “Every time we get it, it’s different because the hives are all over the urban area. But each time I taste it, I enjoy it even though it will be completely different from the time before.”
Her favorite honey comes from further afield. “Leatherwood Honey from Tasmania is sublime with harder, somewhat sharp cheeses,” she said. “It has a floral, spicy flavor and a dense texture. It may be my favorite honey in the world. I’ll eat it on anything, at any time.”
A few don’t-miss honey pairings for Oregon cheese: Bh Honey is killer with Hannah Bridge, an earthy, smooth and creamy cow and sheep milk cheese from Ancient Heritage Dairy in Madras. Billy Blue from Oak Leaf Creamery in Grants Pass and Rogue River Blue are both delicious paired with a smoky chestnut honey like Spain’s Miel de Castaña from Asturias.
For wine pairings, you should stick to the sweeter side with dessert-style wines, like late harvest Riesling, Muscat, Port or an off-dry Riesling such as Amity Vineyards Wedding Dance Riesling. These types will bring out the complexities of the cheese and the honey and the wine.