Pairings: Alpine Cheese and An Old Fashioned
One of my favorite drinks in The New Cocktail Hour — the recent book I wrote with my brother André — has to be the Old Fashioned. Its flavor profile is aromatic, earthy, and sweet-spicy, thanks to a mix of whiskey or brandy, bitters, sugar, and orange peel. That, friends, is a true Old Fashioned, the first cocktail on record and the prototype for all cocktails to come.
Years ago, when I visited Wisconsin on a cheese media tour (yes, these exist), I remember Uplands cheesemaker Mike Gingrich declaring that he liked to drink an Old Fashioned alongside his famous Alpine-style cheese, Pleasant Ridge Reserve. I thought he was being funny, since the Old Fashioned is Wisconsin’s state drink. It’s what you order on Friday night at a fish fry — another Wisconsin institution. When I think about what I miss most about living in the state (I spent 10 years in Madison), it’s those Friday nights. You rolled into a supper club after work, nursed a couple of Old Fashioneds — usually made with Korbel brandy, muddled oranges, and cherries — then slid into a booth for a couple of beers and a basket of fish.
After researching the Old Fashioned for the book, I no longer order Brandy Old Fashioneds or expect muddled cherries in the mix — I’ve switched to whiskey and to the traditional recipe. BUT, I still like to settle back with an Old Fashioned on a Friday night. Recently, I doubled down on a pair of Alpine cheeses, and what a dreamy night that was. I believe Mike Gingrich was a prophet.
An Old Fashioned pairs beautifully with Alpines.
Here’s why: great Alpine cheeses tend to be earthy and herbaceous (think: beef broth and rosemary) with deep caramelization (think: caramelized onion). An Old Fashioned is also earthy (from whiskey) and herbaceous (from bitters) with a slight caramel sweetness (I use Demerara sugar, which has a hint of molasses). See where this is going? Now, get ready for some magic. This cocktail and this style of cheese, they want to dance cheek to cheek.
- Bring home a couple of Alpine cheeses on a Friday night. Me? I picked up Hornbacher and Challerhocker. Yeah, they should form a grrrl band. Hornbacher is all candied hazelnut and very dry. Challerhocker wears a crown of rosemary in her hair and has beef stew on her breath. Of the two, she is saltier.
- Fix an Old Fashioned.
- Taste a bite of cheese, savor it, then swallow. Follow it with a sip of cocktail. Repeat with the other cheese. Believe me, this could go on allll night.
- Note: don’t fret if you can’t find Hornbacher and Challerhocker, though they are dreamweavers, I’m telling you. Ask your local cheesemongers for the most interesting Alpine cheeses at their counter, and if they don’t know what an Alpine cheese is, storm out of there and call me. (Alpine cheeses are made in the Alps. Gruyere and Appenzeller are easy-to-find examples. They’re made in enormous wheels, and they’re often washed with wine or spirits and rubbed with herbs — kinda like a very refined barbecue sauce but for cheese.)
Old Fashioned Recipe
2 ounces (60 ml) whiskey or brandy (I used Buffalo Trace)
1 Demerara sugar cube (I used 1 teaspoon of Demerara sugar)
2 to 3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 teaspoon water
Orange peel, for garnish
Instructions: Drop the sugar cube into a chilled rocks glass. Dash in the bitters and muddle with the back of a spoon, coating the bottom and the sides of the glass. Drop in a large cube of ice, or a couple of ice cubes (use fresh ice made from filtered water, friends). Then add spirit and water. Stir. To garnish, use a paring knife to shave a whisper-thin strip of orange peel, avoiding the pith. Twist the strip of peel over the drink to express the oil onto the top of the drink. Then, slip the peel into the glass. Enjoy.
The Old Fashioned is one of the recipes in my new book, The New Cocktail Hour (Running Press 2016), which hit shelves on April 26, 2016. For more information, check out my BOOKS page. To see where I’ll be in the next few months, visit my EVENTS page.