Cheese and Coffee Pairing: The Secret Lovers

Many people have already caught on to the fact that good wine is very enjoyable with good cheese. That is, wine not from a box, and cheese that costs a somewhat decent amount of money.

Many people have already caught on to the fact that good wine is very enjoyable with good cheese. That is, wine not from a box, and cheese that costs a somewhat decent amount of money.

Yet not many people know the joys of a cheese and coffee pairing. Of course, anyone relying on coffee capsules to make coffee will have little fun with the pairing. Similarly, boxed wine is, after all, rarely served with a luxury cheese platter. You need both good coffee and good cheese!

For this article’s cheese and coffee pairing test, we used a pour-over dripper from Hario, and we ground the beans with the Baratza Encore coffee grinder.

coffee and cheese testing

Anyone running a café who has a penchant for perfection will tailor everything to the coffee they serve, from the cheesecake to the snacks and bread rolls. If it all works well together, customers simply recognize that “everything tastes good.” It’s certainly not a a case of, “Oh, that cheese tasted great with those coffee beans. That combination was genius.”

(The following video is only available in German.)

However, if a coffee pairing doesn’t work, people blame the coffee. Why should anyone suspect a cheese roll?

Combining cheese with coffee is a complicated pairing. Newly-ripened cheeses are strong, aromatic and complex. A quality, fresh coffee that is purposely prepared also offers a complex profile of flavors and aromas. A winning cheese and coffee pairing requires three things:

  • Excellent and mature cheese.
  • High-quality, lightly roasted and fresh coffee that ideally has a bit of acidity.
  • Thorough testing of the combinations. There are always surprises!

I have been testing cheese and coffee pairings since 2009 – lately more so than ever. I would like to introduce you to a few of my experiences and observations.

My selection of individual cheese and coffee pairings is based solely on the “I would imagine that combo works well” principle. I haven’t tasted every coffee with every cheese. Additionally, I have also rejected many combinations, and what follows are only a few short insights into a big and fascinating topic.

I can only encourage everyone to try the cheese and coffee pairings for themselves – it’s worth it!

The Types of Cheeses in this Test

  • Gruyère
  • Goat Cheese
  • Cheddar
  • Brie
  • Pecorino Pepato

Some of the Coffees in this Test

  • Kenyan Kamviu PB – The Barn Coffee Roasters
  • Honduran Bunter Bird – Flying Roasters
  • Colombian El Sonador #2 – The Barn Coffee Roasters
  • Ethiopian Shakiso – Speicherstadt Kaffeerösterei
  • Guatemalan Goldfinch – Flying Roasters
  • And many more

Brie and the Colombian Coffee

Cheese: Brie is known for its delicate white mold that tastes simply delicious. It has a slightly nutty note, but is otherwise very mild and melts on the tongue.

Coffee: The Columbian El Sonador #2 by The Barn Coffee Roasters is a pretty awesome bean. Even just the smell emanating from a newly-opened bag is more reminiscent of a freshly cut fruit salad than of ordinary coffee. The coffee delivers everything I was looking for in this combination: acidity, strength and a sassy bite.

Coffee with BrieCombination: It is really delicious. The nuttiness of the cheese is not reinforced by the coffee, however.

In the past, we used to get milk fresh from the farmer. The milk had more aroma, character and much more fat than the homogenized and pasteurized so-called “fresh milk” you get these days. This cheese and coffee pairing reminds me of this rich taste. It’s as if the cheese’s flavors have been re-naturalized and returned to their original sources. The coffee loses a bit of its acidity, which the cheese swallows but turns into a pleasant sweetness.

Coffee in combiCation With Cheese

We tried two other kinds of cheese with this coffee:

Cheddar: This cheese was well ripened, although unfortunately I can’t say for exactly how long. Should you want to try a similar combination, it is best to buy cheese that has ripened for as long as possible, which makes the cheese more interesting. Cheddar actually always has a decent 48-percent fat content – another reason why it’s such a great combo cheese.

Pecorino Pepato: While cheddar is made from cow’s milk, a real pecorino is made with sheep’s milk. It’s an Italian cheese, and “Pepato” translated means peppered – you can see the nice peppercorns sprinkled though the cheese. This cheese was firm and crumbly, which made its structure appear slightly crystalline. Strong, spicy and aromatic.

Cheese, Coffee and Pepper

With Coffee: The cheddar becomes a freshly mown hay field. The sharper notes gets stronger and better. It reduces the coffee’s acidity, which becomes the kickstarter for the cheese’s flavors. It’s one of the best coffee pairings I have ever tasted, a dream. The great thing is that the coffee still retains its complexity, too. That’s exactly why I love good coffee, and I’m starting to suspect that cheese is worth preoccupying yourself with for a good many years, too.

With Coffee: The Pecorino Pepato itself is a stunner. Peppery, powerful and with a punchy aroma. Simply wonderful. A delicious coffee pairing, but in this instance, the coffee splits the aromas into an interesting extract. While initially the pepper and seasonings blend on the tongue, the coffee brings out the flavors individually and in parallel. Certainly a combination that would scare many off, it is already very intense and rather more interesting than pleasing.

Gruyère and Kamviu PB

Cheese: The gruyère is a strong and sharp cheese. Its taste remains for a long while in the mouth. What I find particularly interesting are the fruity notes that, in addition to the sharp flavors, also convey a sweetness. This cheese is fruity and has a slightly crystalline structure.

Coffee: The Kemviu PB is a washed coffee from Kenya consisting entirely of peaberries. It’s a real fruit bomb among coffees, and the flavors of gooseberry and currant are carried by its strong acidity.

Combination: Sharp notes collide with fruity acidity, resulting in pure harmony in this coffee pairing. I didn’t expect that, and that is exactly why you have to try these things out. The effect on the taste of both the coffee and the cheese is interesting and harmonious. The cheese weakens the coffee’s strong acidity, while the coffee makes the cheese’s sharp flavors more tangible. Meanwhile, the body becomes fuller, and the mouthfeel is very silky and pleasant, overall.

cheese platter with coffee

Goat Cheese and Bunter Bird

Cheese: The goat cheese has a silky mouthfeel, yet still a distinctive aroma. In addition to its pleasant mouthfeel, it has character and a nice intensity.

Coffee: This Honduran coffee has overt acidity and medium body, strongly perceivable on the outside of the tongue. Plus, a wonderful sweetness reminiscent of marzipan and chocolate. It’s always worthwhile visiting and purchasing from the Flying Roasters!

Combination: With this cheese, the coffee loses some of its rigor. In combination, a silky mouthfeel arises, which can only be described perfectly by the Japanese word “umami,” or savory. In the previous combination, both the coffee and cheese’s respective flavors influenced each other. With this coffee pairing, it’s the body that changes. It becomes more full and more enjoyable – a great experience.

Rejected Combinations:

I also tried cheeses with an espresso made from the “Goldfinch” from Guatemala (Flying Roasters). It is a floral espresso that flounders a bit against other coffees in the test due to its lower acidity. The Goldfinch has a nice hint of dark chocolate, with medium body and light acidity. Thanks to light roasting, it’s also good as a filter coffee. It’s rather dry, though, and dull in comparison.

Together with the gruyère, the Goldfinch was too weak and the cheese too strong. The coffee pairing tastes good, but falls rather flat because the coffee loses its body and gets a little watery.

With the goat cheese, the Goldfinch has too little acidity to really make the coffee pairing sing. It tastes good but the complexity is lost – both in the coffee and the cheese.

The Ethiopian Shakiso (Speicherstadt Kaffeerösterei) simply did not have enough acidity, even though it was awarded four out of four points for acidity on the packaging. Compared to the coffee from Colombia (The Barn) and the Bunter Bird (Flying Roasters), it had a very dark roast color and seemed a little lifeless.

This is just a small insight into my cheese and coffee pairing experiments. They are blogger experiments and certainly may make a professional sensory analyst want to tear out his or her hair. However, I’m not concerned with scientific claims nor reproducibility.

I simply want to share ideas and gain enthusiasm for the topic.

Have any of you already tried coffee with cheese? What were your experiences?

I look forward to your comment