What this is: An overview of the 6 main flavor profiles to look for when choosing cheese pairings.
Who it's for: For people who want to be pairing whizzes.
The curds&co cheese + pairing system relies on simplicity. You need to know the Cheese Types and you need to know the Flavor Profiles, and from there you can make a million beautiful cheese plate combinations!
When we developed this Flavor Profile tool we were thinking about all the different types of foods you might want to pair with cheese, and what the “flavor profiles” of those foods are. Some foods are super simple (such as a dill pickle, which would be Sour), but some are more complex, such as Sweet and Spicy pecans, which fall into Sweet, Spicy and Nutty categories. We encourage you to embrace these complexities and have fun with your pairing choices.
Check out our Pairing wheel. If you come into our shop for a visit, you’ll find this hanging in our store, and it’s there to help you to decide which type of pairings would be good with your cheese selection. But you can also look at it in reverse! Say you had a hankering for a dessert board, then you could first seek out a number of Sweet pairings and then choose from the list of cheese types that pair with Sweet.
You may notice while you are reading through the following Flavor Profiles (Sweet, Salty, Spicy, Sour, Nutty, and Umami) that Bitter is missing from the list, and with good reason. Bitterness in cheese is usually seen as a defect, meaning that it is not the cheesemaker’s desire to create a cheese that is bitter. But, occasionally it does happen, sometimes in the cheese making and aging process, and sometimes while the cheese is being stored—keeping a cheese too long in the fridge without proper rewrapping can elevate the bitterness. We also know that bitterness in pairings will enhance or “bring out” any bitterness in cheese. For these reasons, we don’t recommend actively seeking out pairings with a bitter flavor profile.
Now let’s dive into our overview of the 6 Flavor Profiles, you can click on the link at the end of each Flavor Profile to go even deeper.
While this might seem like an obvious one, Sweet is a Flavor Profile that many people fail to explore beyond jam, honey or fresh fruit—but there are so many more lovely expressions of Sweet that pair well with cheeses! Some are unexpected, some can trigger happy childhood memories, and some can turn a cheese fan into a cheese evangelist.
Cheese types to pair with Sweet: milky&mild, bright&fresh, bloomy&brainy, friendly&flexible, smooth&melty, bold&blue
Learn more about the Sweet Flavor Profile here.
The reason Salt pairs so nicely with cheese is because cheese is a salty food, and one of our pairing rules [link to How to Pair] is that “Likes go together”. So Salty befriends Salty. This Flavor Profile is also magical because salt enhances flavor, and because it is usually overlapped with other Flavor Profiles, it will elevate those pairings even further—think: about salted nuts, or salted caramel, or sea salt with chocolate. This flavor profile is the easiest to pair, because it goes with everything!
Examples: chips, salt, pretzels, crackers
Cheese types to pair with Salty: All cheese types!
Learn more about the Salty Flavor Profile here.
In the famous words of The Power Station, “Some like it hot and some sweat when the heat is on.” Our look at the Spicy Flavor Profile is all about building a pairing around your guest’s heat tolerance, but the beautiful part of pairing heat with cheese is that your dairy refresher is built in. The soothing capabilities of dairy to help mellow heat make this one of those circular pairings where the heat makes you want a bite of cheese and the cheese makes you prepared for another dose of heat. Can’t take the heat? Try one of those complex pairing combos that are Sweet and Spicy, like a hot honey or Sweet and Spicy nuts, or an ever popular cheese favorite, pepper jelly.
Examples: chili, buffalo sauce, sriracha, garlic, curry
Cheese types to pair with Spicy: milky&mild, stretchy&chewy, friendly&flexible, smooth&melty, creamy&funky, bold&blue
Learn more about the Spicy Flavor Profile here.
Pucker up for this Flavor Profile. We’re talking sour like pickles, and not sour like Sour Patch Kid candy (although we can find a pairing for that, too!) Sour works especially well with stronger cheeses that could stand up for themselves in a cheese fight. The trick here is to not get stuck in your boring pickled ways and try some new variations to keep it interesting. Make Sour more complex by pairing it with Sweet or Spicy and you have a winning combo.
Examples: pickles, olives, capers, tapenade, vinegar
Cheese types to pair with Sour: milky&mild, friendly&flexible, smooth&melty, creamy&funky
Learn more about the Sour Flavor Profile here.
We all want to go a little nuts sometimes, and this is the Flavor Profile made just for that. Besides the many types of nuts, you can also use flavored nuts, nuts in crackers, nut butters and delicious things that give you that nutty profile, such as seeded crackers, roasted pepitas, and nut-free snacks like roasted crunchy chickpeas. The Nutty Flavor Profile is one that is liked by most cheese lovers (even if they have nut allergies) so look for nibble options for this category.
Examples: pistachio, walnut, almond, peanut, cashew, seeds, crunchy beans and chickpea snacks
Cheese types to pair with Nutty: milky&mild, friendly&flexible, smooth&melty, bold&blue
Learn more about the Nutty Flavor Profile here.
The more ethereal Flavor Profile for a cheese board is Umami. It’s hard to pinpoint it exactly, but when you find it, you know. When we talk about umami in food more generally, we are usually talking about things like soy sauce and mushrooms. But, you can also find it in truffle chips, rosemary shortbread, and onion jam. If you’re still looking for good examples, look to the meat case (charcuterie) or even the meat-less case (mushroom jerky).
Examples: garlic, smoke, herbs, onion, meat
Cheese types to pair with Umami: milky&mild, stretchy&chewy, friendly&flexible, smooth&melty, creamy&funky
Learn more about the Umami Flavor Profile here.
So, there you have it. Go forth and pair 'em up! No matter where you shop whether it’s on this site, your local cheese shop, the corner store or your pantry, it’s easy to find wonderful pairing items in these Flavor Profiles.
The 6 Flavor Profiles are Sweet, Sour, Salty, Spicy, Nutty, and Umami.
Raid the pantry and fridge for potential pairings. What are the most interesting examples in your home right now? Gather one food from each of the 6 flavor profiles and take a photo of them. Think of what cheeses would go with them (look at the pairing suggestions above). What cheese would you buy to fill out this cheese board? If you could only choose one of the items, which one would it be? What three cheeses would you serve with that special pairing?
Click the icons to download a pdf of this lesson and our two handy guides: How Cheese is Made and Cheese and Pairing Types.