While murky, dreary October might not seem like the prime time for festivities, we’re in the midst of celebrating the peak of sloe season
As a new harvest of berries ripen on the bushes, we’re already planning this year’s pairing: sloe gin and cheese.
We’re fond of sipping sloe gin every which way: on its own, subbed in for our London Dry Gin in a negroni, or as a digestif. That’s one of the spirit’s secrets – it goes phenomenally well with cheese. Whether you’re hosting a dinner party, serving simple hors d’oeuvres, or just looking for an evening snack, a cheese plate makes for the ideal seasonal accompaniment.
But where to get started on your sloe gin and cheese pairings? And which cheeses make the best gastronomic tango partners? We’ve spoken with some of London’s top cheesemongers who have imparted some of their cheese wisdom.
Patricia Michelson, grande dame of all things curds and whey at the celebrated La Fromagerie, recommends a number of sloe gin and cheese pairing choices. She notes the herbaceousness of sloe gin, a flavour that’s also found in many goat cheeses. Those putting together a cheese plate may want to start with Ryefield, a Northern Irish goat cheese with a lemony sharpness that complements gin beautifully. Chabichou is a crumbly, acidic French goat cheese that would also do nicely. Those after someting stronger should try Chaource, a creamy, bloomy-rind cheese with a touch of earthiness, while Appleby’s Cheshire works well for those who prefer hard cheeses (Michelson points out that Cheshire is over 1,000 years old, and was likely paired with mead and other fruit-forward drinks back in the day). Lastly, blue devotees can use Harbourne Blue, a rich, goat milk-based blue cheese that offers the perfect finale to a tasting.
At Paxton and Whitfield, the royal warrant-bearing cheese seller in Piccadilly, English blues are a favourite pairing choice amongst the shop’s experts. Stilton is the ever-popular choice, though Cornish Blue, Cote Hill Blue, and Barkham Blue are all recommended. Cheddar also does nicely: given the caramel-like flavours it takes on as it ages, the cheese stands up well to the fruit-filled bouquet of sloe gin. The store’s own Cave Aged Cheddar, as well as classic Montgomery’s Cheddar, should do nicely.
Androuet, a boutique shop in Spitalfields Market, is a destination for those with a Gallic affinity. The retailer has a number of cheeses on offer that make for divine cross-Channel pairings with sloe gin. Those who favour soft cheeses will want to try Mont d’Or, which hails from the Jura region of France and is only available during autumn and winter. It’s best served baked, which makes it even more creamy and indulgent than usual. Meanwhile, the fruit, honey, and walnut notes of 24-month aged Comté, make the Alpine-style cheese a particular favourite. And for those after a strong blue to finish off the tasting, Perl Las (‘Blue Pearl’), made of pasteurised cow’s milk, boasts an intense flavour that lapses into buttery richness.
Some cheesemongers even use sloe gin in their cheese. At La Cave à Fromage in South Kensington, the cheesemongers have created special wheels of Alchester Sloe. Made from pasteurised cow’s milk and matured for five weeks, the delicate, subtly nutty and smoky cheese is given an extra dose of pungency from the sloe gin that it’s regularly washed in (its sticky, purple-hued rind is evidence of this technique).
So whether you’re a blue cheese lover or are after something a little milder, there’s a wealth of pairing choices out there – we can only recommend you heartily indulge.