A Guide to Herbs and Cheese
A Guide to Herbs and Cheese

Herbs and cheese are as timeless a pair as Beauty and the Beast. Herbs give cheese a flavor boost and the cheeses are a nice base to help the flavor of the herbs truly shine. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner all deserve a cheesey partner in crime, full of delicious herbs. These kinds of pairings can take any meal from average to gourmet in a few short moments.

Herb and Cheese Pairings

If salt and pepper are an essential kitchen pairing, then so are cheese and herbs. Using fresh or dried herbs with a variety of different flavor profiles will give you a better idea of what you like with your favorite kind of cheese. There's nothing wrong with a little fresh basil, mozzarella, and tomato tossed in olive oil to top your favorite pasta, but there's also something to be said about accidentally eating an entire log of mozzarella with a dried basil sprinkled all over it while you watch your favorite film three times in a row. Fresh or dried, herbs are a delicious addition to your favorite cheese-based dishes.

If you are new to pairing herbs and cheeses, try to start mild and eat things that you are familiar with. If you've never tried tarragon before, don't immediately dump a teaspoon of it on your favorite cheese and expect to enjoy it. This is a category of food that you can really take your time with in experimenting and learn to enjoy new pairs. Who knows, maybe you will make cheese and herbs your go-to snack. The best way to decide what herbs go with what food is to determine how strongly the herb is flavored. Something springy and refreshing like lemongrass would be much better suited to a light ricotta cheese than a hard, strongly flavored cheese like pecorino. Below we have listed some common pairings to get you started. This list will also hopefully help to inspire you to try new combinations yourself!

  • American cheese tastes wonderful with dill, thyme, basil, or oregano. It is a more neutral cheese, but it can be made more light or more robust depending on the herbs used to flavor it.

  • Bleu cheese finds its perfect pair with acidic herbs like chervil or sorrel. These herbs don't detract from the flavor of the cheese; rather, they are strong enough to stand up against the strong flavor of the cheese.

  • Brie is great with Chives, Basil, Parsley, and Tarragon.

  • Cheddar cheese, one of the most common and delicious cheeses in American cuisine, is beautifully partnered with sage. This earthy herb is brilliant against the nuttiness of cheddar cheese, especially sharp cheddar, without losing its uniqueness against the strongly flavored cheese.

  • Chevre and dill are a great match, as the lightness of the dill nicely compliments the gentleness of this cheese.

  • Cottage cheese tastes amazing with caraway, as the interesting flavor of the caraway is lovely with the soft, creamy flavor of cottage cheese. While caraway isn't technically an herb, it does have that herb-like flavor that makes it a perfect partner to cheese. 

  • Feta and basil are very complimentary. Feta is strong and briny, basil is woodsy and fresh.

  • Gouda with oregano, thyme, rosemary, or sage.

  • Monterey Jack is paired nicely with dill or oregano, as the strong cheese tastes great with these distinctly flavored herbs.

  • Mozzarella works nicely with both basil and rosemary, but basil and mozzarella are one of the most iconic cheese and herb pairings out there. When the two are combined they are called a caprese salad! This is a classic summertime food that feels like a breath of fresh air.

  • Ricotta and thyme or chervil are a perfect match.

  • Swiss? Dill or chives. This is an intensely flavorful cheese that needs and equally flavorful herb to pair with. Either dill or chives are great for that and match nicely.

Thyme, dill, or chives are a go-to herb for pretty much every cheese, so you are unlikely to go wrong if you have one of these three on hand and you suddenly need to whip up a smashingly delicious cheese and herb pairing.

Start your experimentation small, making grilled cheese sandwiches with a tiny bit of dill. Stir some marjoram into your baked macaroni and cheese recipe. Then expand into other recipes, like adding mint or basil to a ricotta based bread roll. Remember to pay attention to when you are adding the herb to your recipe, as some herbs lose flavor the longer they are exposed to heat.

A simple recipe that feels very gourmet includes blue cheese crumbles and a variety of herbs, and that's it. Just a simple little appetizer, this takes only moments to assemble but will probably be on your mind for days after you try it. Take some chervil, fresh or dried, and chop it into fine pieces, allowing the essential oils to release and the herb to breathe. Follow suit with some sorrel and mix with your favorite blue cheese crumbles or a fresh blue cheese that you have cubed. Add the herbs and cheese to a food processor and pulse until it looks like a grainy sand or a somewhat thick snow. It should not be liquid at all. Supply crackers or a spoon for eating the cheese, but moderately, as cheese isn't the healthiest of choices for a snack. When served with room temperature cheese, this is a decadent snack, but freeze the cheese for a few hours beforehand and the chill will add an extra refreshing burst to the recipe.

How Do I Make a Perfect Cheese Tray?

In the dinner party rule book, somewhere someone has written the perfect cheese tray is comprised of one hard cheese, one soft cheese, and one blue cheese. Sometimes this is easy to abide by, other times you have a huge hunk of cheese in your fridge that you just feel like serving to someone else because you can't figure out a way to use it all before it goes bad otherwise. No matter what kind of cheese you're using for your tray, account for each person eating about an ounce to two ounces of cheese. If you are hosting a cheese party, you probably want a layout of various cheeses and herbs to accompany them. You may even want to have some spreads like jams or mustard to go along with your tray. Nuts and fruits are also excellent palette cleansers for your guests to enjoy between each type of cheese. For a good cheese tray, stick to a maximum number of five, with three really being the sweet spot.

Wine is a perfect drink for a night of cheese-tray indulgence, but a high quality fresh pressed grape juice is just as good, especially for non-drinkers or younger folks who are looking to enjoy a slice of that cheese heaven. Making a perfect cheese tray is up to your own personal taste. What might seem incredible to me may seem blasé to the next person who sees it. Just build an aesthetically appealing cheese tray with a beautiful drink choice and plenty of cheese options for your guests to choose from and voila, you've done your best and built your own perfect cheese tray!

Alright, I Have a Favorite Pair! What Do I Do with This Information?

Your first option is to throw a fancy party and have a phenomenal cheese platter that your guests pick at all night. The second option is much less messy and a little more selfish- design a customized cheese platter just for yourself, using all your favorite herbs and cheeses and pick out a great film to watch.

Enhance your regular recipe rotation with this new knowledge. When you are making cheese-based dips, you can start by combining some herbs with the dip and then enjoying that with fresh vegetables like carrots or broccoli. Any savory baked good, like a cheesy biscuit or even a cheese danish, can be improved by any of the herbs listed above. Casseroles are usually quite cheesy, but you don't usually see them topped with herbs unless they are in an editorial style photograph in a magazine spread. Make all your holiday casseroles the star of the show with some herbs, especially if you are the type to bring a casserole to things like "Friendsgiving."


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