This summer, I have turned into a lover of bitters. How does such a thing happen? I pour myself some sparkling water, and then I reach for an eyedropper to add a twinge of dark herbal pleasure. With a cheese course, this makes a nice non-alcoholic side. I must be turning into an old crone, or maybe I am just part of the artisan hand-muddled-add-a-sprig-of-thyme cocktail craze that is feather-whipping every new bar that has opened in the last year.
In Wisconsin last week, I was on the ground for 48 hours and in that time, I participated in a distillery tour (Great Lakes) that makes two kinds of boutique absinthe, lapped artistanal Bittercube bitters from my palm during a demo by my brother, and drank a rhubarb champagne spritzer so full of dried herbs, I practically had to sip it through a drain cover. I loved it all, don’t get me wrong. I just couldn’t help but marvel, and wonder…what cheeses pair best with new millennium cocktails?
I didn’t have to look far. At Underground Kitchen, the homey new cheese and charcuterie epicenter of Madison, a wedge of stink-soft Humble Pie appeared, alongside homemade marmalade and hand-rolled graham crackers. I practically mooed when I tasted the combination, followed by a sip of sage whiskey fizz.
Humble Pie comes from Woodcock Farm in Vermont. It’s a washed-rind dream come true made from sheep and cow’s milk, and the devil is pasteurized – which blows my mind. I thought about this cheese the whole plane ride home, and I am still thinking about it now. The lusciousness, the woodsy cream-filled-donut-ness of it. Oy vay.
But okay, what I want to tell you is that this is the kind of cheese you can pair with an herb-forward cocktail, the kind that contains rhubarb and bitters and spritzes of Love Potion #9. Cheesemonger Amy Thompson of Lucy’s Whey in New York includes Humble Pie on her Top Ten Cheese List this spring, and I think she’s onto something.
With all these fancy shmancy bevies, the kind of cheese pairing one needs must be humble, must be as sensuous a pie.