Techniques

How to Add Cheese to Your Cocktails

Several kinds of cheese on a cheese board.
Cheese can be more than an accompaniment for cocktails, it can be a fundamental ingredient. Photo via iStock/ValentynVolkov.

Pairing wine with cheese has been a maneuver in sommeliers’ playbooks for years, but now bartenders are joining in on the action by raiding the nearest cheese plate and concocting creative cocktails using cheese as a starring ingredient.

At GreenRiver, an Irish-inspired bar and restaurant in Chicago and the latest addition to restaurateur Danny Meyer’s growing empire, lead bartender Julia Momose (formerly of The Aviary) has been incorporating cheese into her cocktails for years. Her latest creation is a drink called the MacSwiney, which blends buttery mascarpone cheese with Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Crème de Noyaux, Kirsch, vanilla syrup, lemon juice and Burlesque Bitters for a creamy tipple.

“I wanted to make a dessert-style cocktail,” Momose says, “so I looked at the Italian dessert tiramisu, which contains mascarpone, for inspiration.”

With the help of Jack McGarry, co-founder of New York City’s The Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog and co-founder of the hospitality consulting firm, The Best Bar in the World, Momose raided the chefs’ refrigerator and started experimenting.

“If you look at what it cheese is, it’s really just milk that has been coagulated with lemon juice, vinegar or some other citric acid,” she says. “If you think about breaking cheese down to its initial liquid form, it’s a lot easier to figure out what ingredients pair best with it.”

In the case of mascarpone, which has a flavor profile that’s reminiscent of homemade butter, it pairs well with a laundry list of ingredients, but Momose zeroed in on the almond flavor of Crème de Noyaux along with the defined cherry notes of Kirsch for her drink.

Cheese grated into a cocktail in a coupe glass. Julia Momose has been using cheese in cocktails for years. Recently, she concocted the MacSwiney, which blends buttery mascarpone cheese with Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Crème de Noyaux, Kirsch, vanilla syrup, lemon juice and Burlesque Bitters for a creamy tipple. Photo by Huge Galdones.

“By shaking the mascarpone with the other ingredients, it’s almost like what happens when you mix heavy whipping cream and egg, but with less aeration,” she says. “What you get is a frothy, creamy, subtle hint of the mascarpone flavor that’s not savory at all. It also plays well with the vanilla and Cognac.”

There’s one thing about working with cheese that Momose cautions other bartenders to keep in mind.

“It can be messy, so we keep the cheese in small containers labeled with the date in a refrigerator behind the bar,” she says. “To make the drink, it’s a good idea to heat a bar spoon slightly to get the right measurement. If you keep the cheese at room temperature, it will stick to the spoon.”

She also recommends taking cross contamination into consideration, since guests who aren’t ordering cheesy cocktails probably don’t want that flavor profile in their drinks.

“I try to be safe and considerate of the other drinks being made,” she says. “I make sure to take the extra step and not use the same tools for the MacSwiney as I would for, say, a gin cocktail.”

Although the MacSwiney is currently the only cheese cocktail on the menu at GreenRiver, Momose says she’s not afraid to experiment with other versions of the creamy ingredient in the future.

“At one time I developed a Sazerac made with Parmesan cheese using a rotary evaporator,” she says. “I distilled the mixture into the absinthe, and the flavors of the fennel and licorice really came into play with the funky acidity of the Parmesan. I used a younger rye whiskey with lemon and pepper notes. I plan on revisiting that Sazerac one day.”

Momose isn’t the only bartender experimenting with cheese in her cocktails. Here are four other bars giving cheese new purpose:

Velveteen Rabbit in Las Vegas offers a drink called the Spaghetti Western comprised of gin, Caprese shrub, Campari, lemon, allspice dram, balsamic and mozzarella foam.

Saison in San Francisco serves a drink called the Coat of Arms made with housemade vermouth, spice-infused Drouin Calvados and a smoked goat cheese tincture.

Duck and Waffle in London prepares a unique riff on the martini with its Chocolate & Blue Cheese Martini, made with Bombay Sapphire Gin, dry cacao, blue cheese distillate and olive oil.

Nitecap in New York City serves a Camembert-infused gin cocktail with Dorothy Parker gin infused with Camembert cheese, lemon juice and ginger syrup that's topped with lingonberry preserves and a splash of seltzer.

You can also find the full recipe for Julia Momose's own cheesy masterpiece, the MacSwiney, here.

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