With so many flavours presented at once, a typical cheeseboard can prove challenging for drinks pairing. How can just one bottle work with both rich Brie and funky blue? It’s no easy task – until you step into the realm of saké. Where other drinks struggle to stand up to the big flavours of some cheeses without overwhelming others, the right saké manages both.
The flavour challenge
Cheese has a cruel irony to it (and it’s not to do with your waistline). The irony is this: the same component that makes cheese so delicious, also makes it difficult to pair with drinks.
This component is umami, the deep, savoury taste that keeps you going back for another bite. Umami’s full flavour tends to bring out the bitterness and astringency in wines, resulting in a less-than-harmonious experience for many wine and cheese pairings.
But saké is a different story. Like cheese, saké can also have strong umami qualities, and this shared characteristic makes them ideal partners. Saké is able to boost the moreish flavours of various cheeses without fading into the background, so that new complexities arise.
Saké and cheese are a perfect pairing
A perfect match
The right saké – both for cheeseboards and for cheesy dishes – is one that’s both rich and complex. Luckily, there are multiple styles of saké that fit this description.
Koshu, or aged saké, is a go-to companion for cheeseboards. It’s a less traditional style that’s gaining popularity because of its big, bold flavours – aged saké tends to be distinct and full-bodied, with caramelised notes and a buttery sweetness. It works particularly well with cheeses that have been aged themselves, amplifying the funkiness of blue cheese, complementing the sharpness of mature Cheddar and bringing out the crystalline saltiness of Parmesan. Koshu is a perfect alternative in the classic pairing of port and Stilton, and its richness provides a canvas for the mellow flavours of milkier cheeses, as well.
Credit: Sebastian Higgins
For dishes that are heavy on cheese – things like pastas, pizzas and deep-fried bites – look to sakés in the yamahai and kimoto styles. Two different variations on a traditional brewing method, these styles require a great amount of time and effort to produce. As a result, they develop incredibly robust flavours. Yamahai and kimoto sakés tend to be intense, funky and earthy, with enough acidity to refresh the palate between bites of melty cheese.
London’s best saké and cheese pairings
Wondering where you can test-drive some sophisticated saké and cheese combinations? You’d be surprised how many restaurants in London serve saké alongside their carefully constructed cheeseboards and perfectly al dente plates of pasta. Check out these hotspots and discover this harmony for yourself.
Neal's Yard dairy cheese fat Sager +Wilde
Age and beauty at Sager + Wilde Paradise Row
Aged saké hasn’t made its way onto every drinks list yet, but at Sager + Wilde in Bethnal Green, you can order the selection of Neal’s Yard Dairy cheese and the Golden Amber Junmai Koshu. Aged for 12 years in new American white oak, this saké is nutty and toffee-laden, with enough fruitiness to keep it fresh. Try it with each cheese in the selection to experience how koshu can boost the flavours of everything from a mature Cheddar to a tangy goats’ cheese.
Cheese doughnuts at Frog. Credit: Tim Green
Dreams come true at Frog by Adam Handling
Take a moment to emotionally prepare yourself for what you’re about to read: Frog by Adam Handling serves cheese and truffle doughnuts. Heaven is a place on earth, and it takes the form of melted cheese covered in a light, crispy batter, topped with a mountain of grated cheese, all infused with the decadent flavour of truffle.
The only thing that could make cheese doughnuts better is a bottle of Tamagawa Red Label Yamahai Junmai – and it’s ready to serve at Frog. A fantastic example of the yamahai style, this saké is at once rich, smoky and fruity. It holds its own against the bold, luxurious flavours of cheese and truffle.
Tonnarelli at Novikov
Saké and cheese get wheel at Novikov
Want to try out a wide variety of cheesy dishes with saké? Then Novikov, an Italian restaurant in Mayfair, is the place for you. Here you’ll find everything from burrata with tomatoes and olive oil to rocket salad with Parmesan aged for 24 months. Need something more substantial? The potato gnocchi with goats’ cheese, peppers and black olives should do the trick. And if you’re keen on something with a bit of theatre, look no further than the tonnarelli ‘in the Parmesan wheel’ – pasta that is tossed in a giant wheel of Parmesan so that it absorbs the cheese’s salty, umami-rich goodness.
Get the most from these dishes by enjoying them with the Junmai Kimoto Dewatsuru Akita Seishu, which is hearty enough to make a statement even when paired with carbs that have seen the inside of a wheel of cheese.
Other great London restaurants for matching cheese with saké
The Botanist, Sloane Square
Chez Bruce, Wandsworth Common
Club Gascon, Smithfield
Galvin at Windows, Mayfair
Hix Oyster and Chop House, Farringdon
To read more about how sake is made and the best ways to enjoy it, click here.
To read about how to match saké with sushi, click here.
And to find out more about food and saké matching, visit foodandsake.com.