An unusual cocktail ingredient is trending, and it’s not my amarena cherry syrup. (Yet.) It’s cheese. You already love it when paired with a drink, so why not include it directly in your libation? There’s a place in our coupe glasses for both soft and hard-aged cheeses, but you shouldn’t just toss any old cheese into your cocktail shaker. Flavors and textures can go awry quickly, so before you grab a fistful of string cheese and a bottle of booze, let’s consider a few things.
I’ve had plenty of dairy in cocktails before, cream being the most common—adding a splash can make a harsh drink more mellow, or tip a fruity drink right over into dessert territory. But I recently saw a post from Food and Wine that got me thinking about drinking cheese. It featured an upscale restaurant in France called Le Syndicat that is taking delicious risks by adding select cheeses to their cocktail offerings. In one of the cocktails they’re stirring up, called Gettin’ Milky with Nut (not my favorite name, tbh), they’re infusing alcohol with Roquefort cheese by way of a milk-punch. Another is topped with a goat cheese foam float. Granted, a sophisticated locale like Le Syndicate has access to top quality cheeses and tools with cheese-foaming capabilities, but that doesn’t mean we can’t explore some of these delicious concoctions at home.
Flavor and texture
Before you start slinging burrata water at your bar cart, consider the overall flavor profile of the drink and the texture of the cheese you’ll be using. The Cheese Professor has a detailed post including different examples cheese cocktails. Creamy cheeses like mascarpone or goat cheese add an airy, voluptuous quality to shaken cocktails, while something aged, like parmesan, might be better finely grated over the top.
Think about whether you want to add subtle, complementary flavors or if you want the cheese to stand out. Adding cream cheese might add just enough silky acidity to elevate your Amaretto Sour. Or perhaps you’d like to further drench your Tequila Dirty Martini in umami? Float a grating of Manchego añejo on the surface.
Accompaniment, ingredient, or infused?
Decide how you want to incorporate cheese into your beverage based on what you already have on hand. As an ingredient, softer, spreadable cheeses can be easily mixed into cocktails by shaking them until they dissolve; the cheese becomes a part of the mix and lends balance and texture.
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Use cheese as an accompaniment, which is like a garnish but a little more involved. Grate or finely crumble a salty, hard cheese into a dish, then run a lemon wedge around the rim of a glass and rim the glass with cheese. Thus the drinker can enjoy their beverage as it washes over a flavorful sample of cheese.
One of Le Syndicat’s methods, which The Cheese Professor describes in the post above, is a cheese infusion—a form of fat washing where ethanol (the alcohol) dissolves water-soluble and oil-soluble flavors (the cheese). According to this article from the Washington Post, cheese has between 60 and 90 percent fat, so this is a rather effective way to get a cheesy flavor in your alcohol. (This post from the Alcohol Professor gives you a few cheese infusion recipes and suggests cocktail recipes they can be used in.) After soaking the desired cheese in alcohol for a matter of hours, strain the liquid thoroughly and you’ll be rewarded with a funky new spirit to use in your expanding mixology repertoire.
I make no secret of the fact that I love limoncello, and I find it pairs rather magically with the aroma of basil. If you can’t find limoncello at the liquor store, don’t let that stop you from making the citrusy liqueur at home. Try the following Italian-inspired cocktail to get a taste for cheesy drinks.
Lemon Basil Cheesicle Cocktail
1 tablespoon of mascarpone cheese
3 to 5 big basil leaves (bruised and torn in half)
1 ounce limoncello
½ ounce Grand Marnier or Cointreau
2 ounces vodka
Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add mascarpone, basil, limoncello, Grand Marnier, and vodka to the shaker. Close it and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a sprig of basil and serve immediately.