Updated: Feb 15
By Anna Sulan Masing, with Theresa Cavazos & Miles Munroe
Whiskey and cheese are more than just iconic indulgences; they are rooted in artisan traditions and romance. An unlikely pairing but a global conversation, from an afternoon in Portland, discovers a match made in heaven with single malt whisky and wash-rind cheese. Illustration by Jasmine Floyd.
Whisky (or whiskey) is a new love in comparison to cheese, but I have always understood whisky as a food drink. My uncle Simon (technically not my uncle, but as my dad’s best friend I’ve known him my whole life) is a great lover of whisky and would drink it with dinner usually at a Chinese restaurant, or at very least at a big table with a lazy Susan and overflowing food. So whisky is dinner, friends, family, chatting, sharing…
As my love of whisky has grown, so has my desire to find all the great foods to eat with it. And of course, since the kernel of the idea for this magazine, the quest for cheese and whisky pairings began.
What I love about cheese, as kin to whisky, is that it is best as a social affair, and it's a product where getting nerdy is part of the chat. You can simply relax and enjoy both these things with friends, and let conversation flow. But the details of a good cheese, who makes it, how they make it, the cultural background, is equally fun to know and share. With whisky and cheese, both enthusiasts and experts can meet on equal footing.
With this idea of conviviality, the fact that my life spans multiple countries, and whisky reminds me of being with friends and family, it made sense to write this article with a focus on conversation and distances that are part of the story but aren't barriers.
What unfolded was a conversation across WhatsApp and emails that spanned three time zones - Oregon, UK and Malaysia, and a plane from Portland to New York.
Anna Sulan Masing: Hey Miles! Are you still keen on cheese-whisky chats? I have a plan!
Miles Munroe: So keen!
Anna Sulan: I was thinking about a softish, washed-rind cheese… as the fat could work so well with the alcohol, and they have a good amount of saltiness which would bring out the sweet notes in American single malt, and could offer a good nuttiness and fruitiness?
Miles: sounds like a great approach.
Miles: Anthony Bourdain said, "You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese.” I think making craft single malt in the States is just as burdensome, impractical and completely rewarding.
Anna Sulan: It's a match made in heaven!
Anna Sulan: I / Cheese team must be true romantics
Miles: An entire publication dedicated to this endeavour, is proof positive.
The plan was to introduce Miles Munroe, head distiller of Westward Whiskey, to Theresa Cavazos, the cheesemonger at Providore.
Westward is an American single malt whiskey brand based in Portland, Oregon focusing on regional provenance and Pacific Northwest’s excellent raw materials; they have an ethos of collaborating that speaks to the drink's origins. Westward make single malt whiskey, which means it is made entirely from barley and distilled at one distillery. Providore is an independent specialty market focused on sharing the best global foods with home cooks in Portland. Historically specialising in European cheeses, during the pandemic they broadened their sourcing to artisanal domestic cheeses.
The distillery is about 10 minutes down the road from Providore, and what unfolded was a four hour cheese and whiskey tasting one Friday afternoon…
Miles: From our end at Westward, I think any of the three main single malt expressions [variations on the whiskey recipe] would be great pairings with washed-rind cheeses, as Anna has mentioned.
Our Original single malt has nutty and chocolate notes, along with lush brown sugar and stone fruits. We also distill in the Campbeltown style so it's quite oily and robust in mouthfeel. The other two are finishes where I'm aging the Original for an additional year in specialty casks. The Pinot Cask has me sourcing Willamette Valley pinot barrels (French oak) from producers we love and the whiskey takes on subtle bits of those characteristics. For the other expression, we give Oregon brewers our used whiskey barrels to age their high abv stouts in for as long as they'd like. When they're done they give the barrels back to us and we finish Westward in them to pick up roast, dark chocolate and grain notes - that's our Stout Cask.
Theresa, perhaps these descriptions can give you some ideas of which cheeses we may want to try, and pair?
Theresa Cavazos: Those descriptions are incredibly helpful and I have nine cheeses in mind to taste!
Theresa: In the end I brought a pretty crazy amount of cheese to the distillery, 14 – there was a lot of data!
(Cheeses were: Beecher's flagship reserve, cows milk, Seattle WA; Lincolnshire Poacher, raw cows milk, UK; Stompetoren Gouda, raw cows milk, Holland; OG Kristal Gouda, raw cows milk, Holland; Alsatian Munster, cows milk, France; Oma, cows milk, Vermont; Langres, cows milk, France; Fox glove, cows milk, Indiana; La Sanglee Des Couardise, raw cows milk, Switzerland; Bayley Hazen Blue, raw cows milk, Vermont; Roquefort Gabriel Coulet, raw sheep's milk, France; Parmigiano Reggiano, raw cows milk, Italy; Ciel de Chevre, goats milk, Belgium; Delice de Poitu, goats milk, France).
Miles: I don’t think I’ve said “wow” out loud that many times in one sitting.
Theresa: Overall I felt like the washed-rind category was the most well matched with the whiskies. There were a few stand out pairings outside that category though.
Miles: As I sit down to write this to you all, there's some form of tragic synchronicity at play because I'm eating Cheetos for the first time in 20 years. Roquefort deities, please forgive me.
The whiskey and the cheese seem to highlight flavors in each other and even combine for some new notes. The two cheddars, to no one's surprise, were fantastic flavour matches with Westward! I agree with Theresa that the washed rinds were the clear winners here; almost all went incredibly well with all three drams. Overall, Flox Glove, Sanglee and Langres were my top favourites, but I’d drink Westward with a blue any day.
Anna Sulan: I can imagine the funk and saltiness of blues can really contrast with the whiskey.
Miles: The blues were stunning. And after tasting through each, we found some carrot flower honey at the distillery to help make it a proper Penicillium endeavour. I would pair Roquefort Gabriel Coulet with the Westward’s Pinot Cask – apples, juicy pear, cream and fresh cut wood.
Theresa: The Roquefort Gabriel Coulet is a French raw sheep’s milk cheese aged in limestone caves. I would also pair it with the Pinot Cask. The cream, tyrosine crystals, and salinity of the robust, thickly mottled blue cheese achieved a very pleasant balance with the strength, fruitiness and minerality of the whiskey.
Anna Sulan: If you had to choose a favourite cheese-whiskey pairing, what would it be?
Theresa: La Sanglee des Couardise for the win! From Jumi, made in the Emmental region, raw cow’s milk, wrapped in spruce bark and washed. The cheese was made originally as a Christmas gift for the cheesemaker's family and was too delicious not to make for the rest of us to enjoy during the holidays!
I adored it with the Original single malt, the subtle notes of smoke and spruce on the cheese were highlighted and a myriad of juicy fruit flavours danced close by; complimented by a lovely pepperiness. With the Stout Cask single malt my taste buds went to apple bread pudding, with the bready notes marrying so nicely with the sweetness of the whiskey. On another round of the pair I tasted dark hot cocoa with whipped cream! With the Pinot Cask I felt nearly lifted out of my seat as I experienced the mineral, barley, earthy qualities of the whiskey working beautifully with the yeasty, funky qualities of the cheese. This cheese with each whiskey took me to a different kind of party and I really enjoyed the exciting adventure.
Miles: The Langres! It just did so well with each expression, in different ways. My favourite choice would be to have it with Westeard’s Original, which brought out birch, pear and an impeccable salinity from the whiskey.
Theresa: The Langres is a French soft washed-rind cow’s milk cheese made in the Champagne region with a wrinkle rind. Aged for at least 5 weeks and washed with brine and annatto (for colour and bold spicy flavour. Paired with the Original I was definitely experiencing the aromas of fruit skin as boldly as tasting the fruits.
Anna Sulan: Miles, are there other whiskies that you'd be curious to try with the Langres?
Miles: Yes, absolutely.
Glenfarclas 15 - Nice sherry and dried fruit notes lend this to wash rind cheese as well, the nutty finish will keep them both integrated nicely through to the next bite. The Tyrconnell Single Malt - Citrus, honey and vanilla from this malt will melt seamlessly into the salinity of the Langres. Tropical fruit will be sussed out from this malt as well when combined with the slight spice from the wash. JJ Corry The Flintlock - Big peach and coconut from this 16yr Irish whiskey will bring out herbaceous character from the Langres. There's some harmony here too with the salty structure of the cheese given the tropical sweet yet complex wood character of this malt.
From Tulip Tree Creamery, a double cream cow’s milk cheese washed with Porter (Cravens Porter from Three Wise Men Brewery) made in Indianapolis. It’s aged for 1-3 months. As it ages the creamline breaks down more reaching the running, oozy texture any soft cheese fan loves.
Miles would pair with Original “notes of apricot, lavender and brown sugar. It should be noted that I wrote “holy shit!” on the tasting sheet for this cheese.”
A farmstead, raw cow’s milk cheese, clothbound and aged on spruce boards for appx 1.5 years.
Theresa would pair with Stout Cask, “The combination sparked intrigue - I was walking into a very old forest dense with undergrowth. Notes of damp spruce, oak, and alder wood were evident. There were still traces of sweetness that lingered on the edge of the experience, like the porch light that I knew would be visible if I looked in the middle of a cold night.”
This cheese is from the Alsace region of France. Although pungent, it is soft in texture and with a creamy, sweet flavour. It is made from unpasteurized milk from cow’s on the low mountain range of the Vosges and aged in humid mountain cellars, where the rind is washed in brine creating a soft orange rind. Benedictine monks developed this cheese around the 12th century as a meat substitute.
Miles would pair with Pinot Cask: “The munster brought out tropical fruit notes and overripe strawberry in the Pinot Cask.”
“Washed-rind cheeses are a category of cheese that are routinely rubbed, brushed or submerged in a salt water brine (and sometimes wine, beer, cider or liqueur are also added) during the ageing process. They’re most commonly known for being stinkers, and I find they’re usually much more approachable on the palate than your nose would have you believe; especially if you have some good crusty bread and honey or jam! Robust and complex in profile and soft, spreadable, and sometimes runny in texture.”
- Theresa Cavazos
SONGS TO LISTEN TO WHEN EATING CHEESE & DRINKING WHISKEY
playlist by Miles Munroe, on a plane to New York
I Can’t Be Satisfied, Muddy Waters
Le temps de l’amour, Françoise Hardy
Sand, Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood
Big Enough, Amanaz
Blue Flower, Mazzy Star
Sugar on My Tongue, Talking Heads
Bassism, Sun Ra
Lágrimas Negras, Gal Costa
Is It Like Today?, World Party
Johnny Thunder, The Kinks
It’s All Over Now, Holly Golightly
Born Under A Bad Sign, Richard Hawley
Chove Chuva, Jorge Ben Jor
In Your Own Sweet Way, Wes Montgomery
Breathless, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Andy Warhol, David Bowie & The Spiders From Mars