No offense to my other great dessert loves, carrot cake with orange-cream cheese frosting, or peanut butter and chocolate ice cream, but I’ve never been of the mindset that one needs to end the night with a sugary bang. Maybe just a light ka-boom.
For me, cheese supplies enough of that ka-boom. A little sweet, a little salty, and creamy and loving to everyone that it meets, cheese is its own dessert. Plus, it requires less time than carrot cake, souffles, cupcakes, tarts, and even fruit salad (if you count that as a dessert) to put together. Add a drizzle of honey, a slice of fig, or a spoonful of preserves, and the end of the night just got that much sweeter.
Here are eight of my favorite cheeses to serve at the end of meal, paired to wine or a decadent accoutrement. Play around, and mix these wine and pairing suggestions for a great cheese dessert of your own.
We serve roquefort at work and every time a customer gets a piece, I get a piece too. It’s only fair. We serve the sheep’s milk wheel that’s aged by French affineur Jean D’Alos, but if you go to a reputable cheesemonger, they can lead you to their own wonderful selection— just be sure to taste their offerings; some Roqueforts are lackluster. My favorite combo for this raw milk blue is rose confit jelly, made with rose petals. I was blown away the first time I tried this duo, and you just might be too. Many gourmet markets carry a confit.
This creamy cheese tastes like chocolaty, bacony, buttery goodness. But there’s more. To serve, you peel off the top, and spoon directly from the cheese onto plates and bread. It’s dessert fun for everyone. I like this with an Auslesse or Beeren-auslesse riesling or barley wine.
A semi-firm sheep’s milk from Tuscany, this pecorino tastes like crème fraîche and browned butter. One of the best pecorinos I’ve tried. I serve this sliced, drizzled with a local honey like Marshall Farms from California, and an occasional fresh pepper grind.
This hard, aged, already spunky goat’s milk cheese can knock’em dead at the end of a night. Try with a truffled honey from Italy, fresh figs, in-season pears, or a dessert chenin blanc from the Loire Valley.
May sound surprising, but chèvre’s lively, lightly tart flavors meld with dark chocolate’s earthy, sweet notes. Think of opposites attracting, like the salty peanut butter and the sweet chocolate of a peanut butter cup. I also like chèvre truffles— easy peasy to make, too.
Dessert’s the perfect time to bring out the funk. If people are a little shy about approaching even a slightly stinky cheese before dinner, it’s likely they’re feeling a little more open with a full belly and something sweet to act as a buffer. Leave this raw milk, beefy and sweet cheese out for an hour before serving and pair with pear compote or preserves. I also like Grayson with a sweet Alsatian gewürtzraminer.
An Alpine style cheese made only in the summer months when cows are munching on sweet grass and wildflowers, Pleasant Ridge is one of my favorites to pair with marmalade for dessert. It certainly doesn’t need any sugar to be appreciated, but a yuzu marmalade highlights the citrus, almost pineapple flavors in the cheese.
Put a two-year old Comté in front of me with a bowl of slowly toasted walnuts and a bottle of vin jaune, and I just may not speak for the next couple hours. You’ll need some time to think about the transcendent flavors, too. This regional Jura combo is likely the most amazing, easy pairing I’ve ever tasted. The cheese doesn’t need to be two-year, but make sure you’re buying from a reputable source, like Essex Cheese, and be sure to taste before you buy.
Kirstin Jackson is a professionally trained cook, wine bar manager and cheese program director, food and wine writer, consultant, and instructor, whose fridge and head is almost entirely consumed with cheese. Her cheese blog, “It’s Not You, It’s Brie,” was launched in April 2009, and has since received accolades from Blogs.com, Foodista, and Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchen. Her first book, It's Not You, It's Brie: Unwrapping America's Unique Culture of Cheese published in 2012.