It goes without saying that cheese and honey go together – like pancakes and maple syrup, like peanut butter and jelly, or like two strips of velcro. The flavors found in one harmonize with the other to create a perfect, complex mouthful comprising the best mother nature has to offer.
As cheese nerds, we’re deep into the science of what makes cheese delicious. From just four humble ingredients – milk, cultures, rennet, and salt, we’re able to coax millions of flavors and textures of cheese.
Honey isn’t so different. Bees forage nectar and pollen from a multitude of flowers and plants and convert it into honey – a super concentrated, super sugary, superfood that can sustain a hive for years. Bees typically forage within a five mile radius of the hive, and their sources of food change over the course of the year with the seasons. Incredibly efficient and incredibly strong, bees are able to carry their own weight in nectar when they fly. Protein-rich pollen gets stuck to the small hairs on their body and is transported back to the hive where it is processed and stored for food.
Once the bee returns to the hive, the nectar is passed from bee to bee, concentrating and evaporating as it goes, until it loses enough moisture to become honey. It is then sealed in the comb with a cap of wax until it is needed by the colony, or by the beekeeper for spinning into honey.
Claire Marin, founder of Catskill Provisions in Long Eddy, New York, believes that happy bees make better honey. She started off as a hobbyist beekeeper, and now tends over 300 beehives in Delaware, Sullivan, and Madison counties. Catskill Provisions honey is raw, meaning that it is not heated for processing, leaving all the inherent goodness of the honey intact. The pollen, propolis, and beeswax found in her raw honey has many health benefits for humans as well as bees! Claire takes care to always leave enough honey inside the hive for the bees to not become stressed, part of her commitment to keeping the bees happy.
So why do cheese and honey go so well together? It is a fact that for a good pairing, whether we’re talking wine, cheese, honey, or any combination of ingredients in a recipe, you need to strike a balance between sweetness, acidity, salt, and fat. Cheese is fermented, meaning the milk is soured in the process, and has varying degrees of acidity depending on the style. Milk, the most important ingredient in cheese, is made from ruminants – i.e. animals that eat grass and convert that grass into energy. The types of grasses that the animals eat have a direct impact on the flavor of the finished cheese. These flavor notes (grassy, floral, herbaceous, nutty) harmonize extremely well with all the subtle flavors found in honey. Finally, cheese is rich, salty, and high in fat, so it can always benefit from something sweet to round out the complex flavors.
The next time you’re planning a cheese plate – be it for a dinner party or just for you, be sure to include some raw honey and experiment with different styles of cheese to find your own perfect pairing!