Make no mistake: when I’m talking about “pepper pairings,” I mean hot peppers, chile peppers, spicy peppers!
Whatever format they take, pairings involving hot pepper things are among my favorites. That’s not just because I live for food that makes my whole mouth go numb (although I’m not going to say I don’t enjoy foods that do that).
The beauty of a cheese pairing is that it enhances flavors and creates a new and exciting tasting experience. Above all, a successful pairing is one that is balanced.
Think about it this way: if you have something sweet, something spicy will make the sweet thing less sweet, bringing the combination somewhere more in the middle ground. If you put the spicy and the sweet with something savory or mild, the savory/mild thing will draw out the other notes in the sweet and the spicy items, sort of like the triangle your balance beam of spicy and sweet is going to be sitting on.
I have made a lot of exciting discoveries in this arena, thanks in part to my undying love and devotion for a little thing called Mike’s Hot Honey. I like to tell customers it’s my favorite condiment in the whole, wide world, and that it is awesome. The truth is, hot honey is amazing and I know at least one other person (*cough, cough* Alicia *cough cough*) who will back me up on this. (We might as well be Mike’s Hot Honey’s official ambassadors. Just saying.)
Today I couldn’t really tell you what made me even start to experiment with hot honey, but really I have tried putting it on everything. Meat, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, bread, cake… the possibilities are endless.
Before I met hot honey, I was flirting with pepper jelly. Hot pepper jelly, red pepper jelly, hot chile jam, sweet chile sauce—the list goes on. All of these things speak to the Southwestern girl in me, and also to the yum-receptors in my taste buds.
As someone who hated spicy foods as a child, I can assure you that you, too, can grow to love hot foods. But if you’re afraid of the burn, do also know that you don’t need a lot of the spicy thing to create a successful pairing with hot honeys, jams, and jellies, oil-cured peppers, or pickled peppers. A little bit of spice can really go a long way to taking a cheese from “all right” to “damn, that’s nice!”
So when things that are hot like peppers come into contact with your cheese, don’t expect the mouthful to be too hot to handle. (Unless you want that burn. Then go ahead, create unabashed, unbalanced spicy-mouth with abandon!)
Don’t believe me? Give these three pairings a try.
The idea here is basically a traditional, delicious blue cheese on a hearty cracker vessel. The cheese rests on a thin, but substantial slice of delicate, sweet ham. The cheese is topped with a drop of hot honey (or pepper jelly, or a slice of hot pepper, cured or pickled). You then have spicy, sweet, and earthy notes altogether while creamy, chewy, and crunchy textures tease your tongue.
- Burrata + Peach Compote + Hot Honey or Red Pepper Jelly + Baguette
Super gooey, creamy Burrata bursts as you cut into it. You then smear it onto a thin slice of baguette, plop a spoonful of peach compote (or a slice of juicy peach, when they’re in season) over the velvety cheese. Drizzle hot honey or a red pepper jelly across the top, and put it in your mouth where it belongs. Pure cream meets delicate sweetness with a kick.
- Camembert + Fig Spread + Mama Lil’s Kick Butt Peppers + Sesame Crisps
We’ve all seen a wheel of delectable camembert doused with fig spread and served up on a nice cracker. Switch in a slightly salty sesame crisp for a nice dose of umami to cut through the sweet fig spread. Kick it up a notch by placing a single strip of hot pepper (or a spoonful of pepper jelly or a splash of hot honey) over the top, and voila. Umami, earthy, sweet, and spicy all in one bite.