Think you should sip sake only with Japanese food? Think again. The traditional Japanese drink, brewed by fermenting rice, has a broad range of flavors and styles that pairs with various foods.
“So many people think of sake only with Japanese restaurant food, but it’s a global beverage,” says Tamiko Ishidate, sake sales manager for the distributing company Young’s Market Company. “A bolder sake can stand up to Indian food, and many pair well with French food and Vietnamese food. Cheese and sake is a good introduction to the range of possible pairings.”
Indeed, sake pairs naturally well with cheese because both contain lactic acid, also known as milk acid. In cheese, lactic acid contributes to the aromas and flavors, and guards against the growth of unwanted bacteria and molds. In sake, which is made with water, rice, yeast and a specific mold (koji), lactic acid adds a distinct creamy, buttery feel and a yogurt-like nose.
Check out Ishidate’s top sake-and-cheese pairings. Ishidate suggests serving the sake semi chilled, at about 60°F.
Pecorino with Shichi Hon Yari Junmai Ginjo; $30/ 720ml. The earthy nose and savory notes of this relatively high-acid sake complement the nutty and salty flavors of a hard Italian sheep’s milk cheese like pecorino. It’s made at one of the oldest saké breweries in Japan. Imported by Joto Sake LLC. abv: 15–16%
Foggy Morning with Kanbara Bride of the Fox Junmai Ginjo; $35/720 ml. This soft, milky cheese from the Nicasio Valley Cheese Company is a particularly great match for Kanbara’s round, nutty and assertive Bride of the Fox sake. Imported by Vine Connections. abv: 16.5%
Point Reyes Farmstead Original Blue with Konteki Tears of Dawn Daiginjo; $39/720 ml. Made in an area of Japan known for its soft water, this sake has a lovely, sensuous mouthfeel that gets lost when paired with a fresh, mild cheese. However, when paired with the creamy and not-too-salty blue cow’s milk cheese, the complexity of the sake melds beautifully while retaining its luxurious texture. Imported by Vine Connections. abv: 15.5%
Bonne Bouche Ash-Ripened Goat Cheese with Fukucho Moon on the Water Junmai Ginjo; $40/720 ml. This rich, floral sake softens the sharpness of this ash-ripened, salty goat cheese from Vermont. It’s made in Hiroshima by one of the few female sake masters, or toji, in Japan. Imported by Vine Connections. abv: 16.5%