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Pair My Cheese with Whisky Please

scotch cheesesCheese is one of the most fascinating food groups. Never boring, it provides such a  great variety of tastes, textures and of course the delivery of that one-of-a-kind, robust olfactory experience. As a youngster I'd take a warm and gooey grilled cheese sandwich over "PB&J" any day of the week.  As an adult I found that cheese offers just the right light snack to accompany my favorite dram.  If you have not tried this taste duo, you might be surprised at how exquisite the pairing when properly matched.  Something wonderful happens as the silkiness of scotch cuts through the creaminess of cheese and flavor notes of one accentuate the other.  Together they offer endless possibilities for intriguing taste combinations.

cheese pleaseIf you have yet to experiment matching these two, you might find the vast range of flavors in both scotch and cheese a bit daunting to pair.  So start with a trip to a reputable cheese merchant and sample a variety of cow, goat and sheep's milk products.  Let these experts guide you to the best selection for your palate. Once you have settled on your diary products, try to categorize by overall characteristics, whether tangy, nutty, sweet or pungent.  Categorizations will suggest a certain range of whiskies to help narrow down your matching choices. Take your time to register the flavor notes of each cheese sample. I found that picking an accompaniment of fruits and nuts will further enhance those same notes in both cheese and scotch.  Sometimes that "borrowed" fruit or nut flavor is the note that helps one zero in on the right dram.  It may also help to seek out information on wine recommendations for each cheese as these are easier to find.  If sherry is mentioned, try a malt with a sherry cask finish instead.  Wine recommendatins also provide sweet, dry, or fruity clues to help reduce the trial and error of your scotch to cheese pairings.

Enjoy the journey of experimentation.  Take in the visual, tactile and aromatic dynamics of both food and drink.  Let your tongue explore the smooth, soft or sometimes grainy textures of the cheese.  Then as you sip each scotch, contemplate the delightful marriage of flavors.  Since there are numerous combinations that can come together, you are invited to start down the road with my favorite pairings.  But don't hesitate to detour and make great taste discoveries on your own.


Tangy Humboldt Fog Cheese with a 14 Year Old Oban or Glenlivet 16 year old Nadurra

humboldt fogThis soft and gooey cheese is one of the finest American goat cheeses from Cypress Grove Chevre in Arcata, California.  Its signature vegetable ash stripe down the center and under the rind, helps to neutralize the acidity and remove some of the "goatiness" of this tomme style cheese.  Earthy, herbaceous with a slight tang, the Humboldt Fog makes a stunning treat when paired with spicy fig preserves (Academia Barilla brand) or a beautiful plate with fresh, ripe blackberries.  The 14 year old Oban is a Highland scotch which carries through on the spicy, fig harmony but adds a little honey and whisp of smoke. The lovely Glenlivet Nadurra from Speyside provides a slightly lighter, fruitier malt with spice notes of anise and ginger.


Nutty Piave Vecchio Cheese with 14 Year Old Clynelish

This cow's millk cheese from the Piave River Valley region of Belluno, Italy is aged for one year and described as having almond and tropical fruit flavors. Piave Vecchio is a dense, hard cheese that goes well with white fruits such as apples or pears and is splendid when paired with the 14 year old Clynelish scotch from the Highlands. Clynelish has a crisp and light fruitiness that is sympatico with the nutty sweetness of this cheese.


Nutty Spanish Manchego Cheese with The Balvenie's 17 Year Old Madeira Cask or Glenmorangie's Sonnalta PX 12 Year Old

manchegoThis Spanish classic is a semi-hard sheep's milk cheese with a slightly briny but absolutely nutty flavor.  It is traditionally served as a tapa with a slice of quince paste placed directly on top the piece of the cheese.  The quince is essential to this pairing as no other fruit compares.  In keeping with these signature Mediterranean flavors, try The Balvenie 17 year old Madeira Cask scotch from the Speyside region.  The subtle Madeira finish and fruit notes of this scotch balance beautifully with the Manchego and quince.  Equally matched are the flavors of the Pedro Ximenez sherry cask finish of Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX, a wonderful new expression from the Highlands region.


Sweet Rembrandt Gouda Cheese Paired With Highland Park 18 Year Old

goudaThis semi-hard cow's milk cheese from Holland has distinct spots of crystallized protein presenting an interesting texture on your tongue.  It delights with honey and butterscotch notes with a slight saltiness and sharpness.  It is said to have the caramel finish of an aged whisky.  No wonder it goes so well with the 18 year old Highland Park scotch. From the Island of Orkney this malt has the perfect balance of toffee sweetness and smokey finish.  Add pecans to the mix for a truly harmonious pairing.


Nutty Gruyere Cheese Paired  With Auchentoshan Three Wood

Gruyere is named for the Swiss village from whence this cow's milk cheese originated.  It is semi-soft and a bit grainy in its texture with rich buttery and nutty hazelnut flavors.  While this cheese is most well known for its performance in fondue, it is absolutely wonderful on its own.  Here hazelnuts are the flavor theme, served either alone or in a roasted hazelnut bread as an accompaniment.  Auchentoshan Three Wood is a Lowland malt with persistent sherry and whisps of smoke.  It is a rich and expressive whisky with layers of orange peel, liquorice, cassis and or course toasted hazelnut flavor notes.


Pungent Colston Bassett Stilton Cheese Paired with Ardbeg Uigeadail or for a tamer alternative mate with Glenfarclas 17 Year old or other fruity scotches

stiltonNicknamed "King of Blues", this is one of England's finest stiltons.  This cow's milk cheese is thick, deliciously pungent and wonderfully salty. For an adventurous taste experience, Ardbeg Uigeadail has the oomph to stand up to a stilton's aggressive flavors. From the Islay region this scotch has seemingly never-ending layers of peat, raisins, subtle sherry, hints of caramel and a slight medicinal note, all intense but balanced in this rich and smokey dram.  Raspberries are the unexpected flavor mate. Your grateful palate will be surprised by this exciting taste trifecta.

If you prefer a less peaty dram, then switch flavor gears entirely and opt for a fruity whisky such as a Glenfarclas 17 year old.  It may be the raspberry influence but either of these combos are equally divine.


Where to purchase:

1.  Many thanks to Rebecca and all the gals at Venissimo Cheese shop in Del Mar, California.  The cheese products mentioned here are available through their store or online:

2.  Read more about each scotch by clicking the name below:

Oban 14 year old

Glenlivet Nadurra 16 year old

Clynelish 14 year old

The Balvenie 17 year old Madeira cask

Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX

Highland Park 18 year old

Auchentoshan Three Wood

Ardbeg Uigeadail

Glenfarclas 17 year old

3.  Academia Barilla Spicy Fig Compote can be found at Sur La Table stores or from their own On-line Store:

4.  Quince Paste can be found in local gourmet food stores or "google" for several online resources.

 All rights reserved by Sip Smoke Savor, Inc.  Please contact us if you wish to reproduce this article.

Whisky and Food - Focus on Fish

Whisky and fish, who would have thought it?  But why not?  Whisky is such a versatile ingredient that it has to have its place both in a fish recipe and alongside it as an accompanying dram.  Getting the match right is the key.  What sort of fish is it?  Is it oily fish, smoked, firm fleshed or more delicate like halibut?  What about the flavor?  Is it light and delicate like sole or does it have robust flavors like a spicy seafood chowder or a balanced marriage of flavors like Chesapeake Bay Crab Cakes?  You can find whiskies that work with them all.

fish chartWhere to start?  So many distilleries now have such a vast range of expressions that it is not possible to match each expression, so start with the classic single malt of each distiller to begin your pairing journey.  To get you started we have a few suggestions below.  This table can be read from left to right if you start with the food, or from right to left if you start with the whisky in your cupboard.

This month's recipe follows the focus on fish with Graham's award winning dish from The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival as featured in our book "The Whisky Kitchen - 100 ways with whisky and food". The smooth Aberlour and orange sauce is a great hit in the restaurant and the dish is a WOW at dinner parties, although there seems to be a daunting list of ingredients and the methods look tricky.  But don't be put off, have a go and you will have learned quite a few straightforward culinary techniques - enjoy!

Roast Spey Valley Salmon with Aberlour 16 year old Single Malt Whisky and Orange Jus, Served with Dauphinoise Potatoes and Baby Asparagus, Garnished with Nuggets of Black Pudding.

spey valley salmonServes 4

For the Dauphinoise Potatoes

Unsalted Butter

1 clove garlic peeled and finely sliced

26 oz. (750g) waxy potatoes peeled and finely sliced

1 large shallot finely sliced

3 oz. (100ml) vegetable stock

1.5 oz. (50ml) double cream

For the Salmon

4 fillets fresh Salmon (6 oz./175g each), skin on with scales removed

Plain flour

Salt and pepper for seasoning

Olive oil and unsalted butter for frying

Wild salmon roe for garnish

Orange jus sauce

3oz. (100ml) Aberlour 16 year old single malt whisky

3 oz. (100ml) fish stock

3 oz. (100ml) vegetable stock

Juice of one orange

Pinch of orange zest

Honey to taste

Salt and pepper to season

Vegetables and Garnish

12 baby asparagus spears - hard stalks removed

6 oz. (175 ml) Spring field greens washed and sliced

Pinch grated nutmeg


For the Dauphinois Potatoes - Take a shallow 8 inch/20cm baking dish and butter all sides and rub in the garlic. Arrange the sliced potatoes and shallots in alternate layers, seasoning each layer and ending with a layer of potatoes.  Add the vegetable stock and cover with tin foil.  Place in preheated oven 375 degrees F/gas 5/190 degrees C for 35 to 40 minutes until potatoes can be easily pierced with a sharp skewer.  Remove foil, add double cream and brown in the oven for a further 10 minutes then set aside.

To cook the Salmon - Scale fish but leave skin on.  Wash and dry salmon.  Dust with a little seasoned flour and pat off any excess.  In a non-stick pan, heat a little olive oil and unsalted butter over medium heat.  Place salmon skin side down and fry gently until the skin has browned.  Seal the salmon on remaining sides, then transfer to an ovenproof dish and place in oven 8-10 minutes at 375 degrees F/Gas 5/190 degress C.  The time will vary according to how well you like your salmon cooked.

To make the Sauce - In a heavy based saute pan reduce whisky by 1/2.  Add fish stock and reduce by 1/2.  Add vegetable stock and reduce by 1/2.  Add orange juice and reduce by 1/2.  Add honey to taste to balance bitterness of whisky and reduce orange flavor.  Season.  Whisk in a little unsalted butter to emulsify the sauce just before serving.

Cook Greens - Steam asparagus for 4 minutes.  Just before serving place the field greens and nutmeg in a hot pan with two to three tablespoons of water and stir gently for a couple of minutes to wilt the greens.  Season, drain and set aside.

Black Pudding - If you have black pudding, slice and cut into diamond shapes then fry until lightly crisped.  Set aside.

Assembly - Slice the Dauphinoise potatoes into slabs about the same size as the salmon fillets.  Place the wilted greens on top the dauphinoise.  Place the Salmon, skin side up on top of the greens and season with salt and pepper.  Garnish with the salmon roe.

Dress the plate with sauce.  Add asparagus and fried nuggets of black pudding.

If you have a chance to travel to Scotland, visit Graham and Sheila at Craggan Mill Restaurant in Grantown -On- Spey, Moray, Scotland and enjoy this dish created by the master chef, himself.

All rights reserved: The Whisky Kitchen - 100 ways with whisky and food, this website article text copyright 2008/2010

Graham Harvey and Sheila McConachie, photographs reproduced with permission - copyright 2008 Graeme Wallace.

"The Whisky Kitchen - 100 ways with whisky and food" GW Publishing 2008, ISBN  978-0955414572 2nd edition (9 Dec 2008).

Sip Smoke Savor is proud to publish this second in a series of articles developed exclusively for our website by Sheila McConachie and Graham Harvey, distinguished chefs, restauranteurs and authors of the award winning cookbook "The Whisky Kitchen - 100 ways with whisky and food".

Whisky and Food - Part One

sheilagrahamCreating a recipe begins with understanding the relationship between all of the ingredients and how they will work together to produce the final dish.  Matching whisky and food is merely an extension of this process.  Do you want to capture the nose, the background flavours or the finish?  Is it your intention for the dish to taste of the chosen whisky, or are your trying to create a subtle layer of flavour that changes what you are cooking from a very good dish to one that is utterly sublime?  So, to start, stick your nose in the glass and sniff.  With each whisky you will find a host of different aromas; peat, wood-smoke, tea, dried fruits, sea air, liquorice, vanilla, toffee, honey, almonds, citrus - the list goes on and on. 

Some whiskies can give you a hint as to how they would prefer to be used.  Take a nose of Springbank 10 year old and it will cry out to be used in your next Christmas cake.  Have a whiff of Glen Moray 16 year old and it will be telling you to get the chocolate out.  Do you enjoy the sweeter notes found in Speyside malts or the heathery background so often present in Highland whisky?  The citrus notes of Aberlour want to be matched with a delicate, oily fish like salmon.  When you taste the whisky it might give you a few more clues.  Cragganmore is an extremely complex whisky which is very versatile and works so well with a range of foods, from a classic Onion Soup, through Roast Belly Pork, all the way to Rhubarb Queen of Puddings.  The unmistakable peppery background of Talisker is a great seasoning for many a dish.  Graham swears that Royal Lochnagar smells of woodland mushrooms and that is why it works so well with chantarelles, ceps and wild boar.  Like wine it takes time to get to know the complexities and individual personalities of all the different whiskies, but what a wonderful journey of discovery.  Have fun! 

Whisky also makes a great difference in marinades.  Create a basic marinade by adding olive or hazelnut oil to your chosen whisky, lemon or lime juice and herbs for fish, vegetables or other light dishes.  Add Worcestershire Sauce and thyme to add strength and depth of flavour for beef, orange juice and spices for duck, basil for Mediterranean vegetables and so on. Just remember not to marinate fish or beef for longer than 30 minutes and you can go ahead and make your own delicious marinades.

Just as there can be endless debate about which Scotch is the best to drink, so there is similar scope for further discussion about which whisky goes best with certain dishes.  If we can in any small way be held responsible for fueling the passions of those involved in this debate, we will be very pleased indeed.

For this first article, we have decided to introduce you to cooking with whisky with a simple yet very pleasing recipe taken from "The Whisky Kitchen - 100 ways with whisky and food".  Creamy prawn pots are so easy yet thrilling to eat...Enjoy!

Creamy Prawn Pots

Talisker 12 year old's peppery flavour and strong finish, lift this dish to new heights.  This is an incredibly easy yet very glamorous starter.

prawns1Serves 4

1 ounce butter

2 plump shallots, finely chopped

14 ounces medium/large raw prawns or shrimp, shelled

2 tablespoons Talisker 12 year old Single Malt Scotch

1/4 pint heavy cream

1 teaspoon chopped fresh chives

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 ounces grated cheddar cheese

Garnish with fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Start by buttering 4 ramekins lightly or use a nice teacup!  Now melt the remaining butter in a pan and fry the chopped shallots very gently until soft - do not brown.  This will take about 3-4 minutes.  Now add the prawns and heat through, quickly add the whisky and cook for a further 2 minutes.  Stir in the cream and heat again but remove the mixture from the heat before it reaches boiling point.  It is very important not to overcook the prawns or they will be rubbery and tasteless.  Add the chopped chives and stir in.  Season to taste and spoon into the ramekins.  Sprinkle the grated cheese on top and brown under a hot grill. Serve immediately, garnished with chopped parsley and toast triangles on the side.

Variation - vary the cheese you use.  Try replacing the cheddar cheese with a very thin slice of goat's cheese log.  You will then have a completely different dish that is equally wonderful!

Visit Graham & Sheila at Craggan Mill Restaurant in Grantown -On- Spey, Moray, Scotland

The Whisky Kitchen - 100 ways with whisky and food, this website article text copyright 2008/2010 Graham Harvey and Sheila McConachie, photographs reproduced with permission - copyright 2008 Graeme Wallace.

"The Whisky Kitchen - 100 ways with whisky and food" GW Publishing 2008, ISBN  978-0955414572 2nd edition (9 Dec 2008).

Sip Smoke Savor is proud to publish this first of a series of articles developed exclusively for our website by Sheila McConachie and Graham Harvey, distinguished chefs, restauranteurs and authors of the award winning cookbook "The Whisky Kitchen - 100 ways with whisky and food".


Pairing Food with Scotch

This article isn't meant to be a primer.  It is more of a beckon to experiment pairing food with the "other" beverage called scotch.  If this is your spirit of choice, there is no good reason to restrict enjoyment until after dinner.  Yes, there is the challenge of working with such a complex and multi-layered liquid component.  But the reward is a taste sensation that transcends the simple meal.

whisky pairing To begin your pairing journey you need to know a little bit about Scotch.  It is not a homogenous taste category.  There are wildly different flavor signatures across regions and distilleries.  Barley is the only constant, but when malted, fermented and matured in oak casks, it takes on many personalities from sweet and fruity to medicinal and smokey.  Profiles vary from house to house and cask to cask.  To complicate things further, there are many distinct notes in each dram beginning with the nose, then progressing to the palate and finally the finish.  A complex whisky may have double digit aroma and flavor characteristics.  Here lies the challenge as well as the reward.

Before you start pairing, take some time to learn your own palate and which whiskies you like and dislike.  Concentrate on their flavors, then try a single ingredient to understand how food develops the flavor notes of whisky and vice versa.  The easiest matches are those with complementary tastes.  Take a look at a most interesting website: or search for The Flemish Primitives Food Pairing.  This website reveals food items that are so close in profile that they actually work as ingredient substitutions.  Once you are comfortable with compatibility, progress to more complex and daring marriages.  There is only one absolute rule in food pairing:  "Don't overwhelm the food or drink with the flavor of the other".

Be cognizant of the texture and body of whisky.  They play an important role in the total sensory experience.  With scotch you will experience a much greater mouth feel than with most wines.  This should be exploited to its fullest and most gratifying advantage.  The velvetiness of perfectly cooked venison will be enhanced by the silkiness of certain malts.  Choose a creamy whisky to accentuate the richness of foods such as foie gras.  Matching is a matter of putting it all together.  Complementary flavors and textures in symmetry will heighten the taste experience, but be careful with smokey foods and whiskies.  Smoked foods actually pair better with sweet or malty scotches, while smokey whiskies fair well with citrus flavors, fresh fish and seafood.

If you identify a certain spice in your spirit, try a dish that uses that spice in its recipe.  Stretch beyond the main entree and pair with appetizers and desserts.  You might also want to consider the influence of the seasons by pairing a light citrusy scotch with a summer picnic or matching  robust and aromatic malts with autumn dishes.

Sometimes the most successful pairings are the ones that contrast flavor and texture.  Look across the flavor wheel and play with a range of foods on the opposite side to add excitement to your pairings.  Try a sweet malt with a spicy Indian dish. Read recipes from the most creative chefs of today and try your own interpretations.  Have fun, break the rules, but indulge in each new sensation.  With a little willingness to experiment you may discover a most divine and unusual result.  "Peppery scotch with oysters anyone?"