Montgomery’s Cheddar Meets a Scotch Cocktail

Mark Twain and MontgomerysHave you ever nibbled a morsel of clothbound cheddar and considered pairing it with a cocktail? Until about a year ago, I used to reach for a nut brown ale or a grapefruit-y IPA. Perfectly acceptable. And delicious. Especially for a ploughman’s lunch. But lo, then I sipped a Mark Twain.

A Mark Twain is a cocktail made with Scotch, lemon, and bitters — and when I tasted it, after reading Mark Twain’s account of it in a letter to his wife back in 1874 — I whispered, “Oh, yes. Oh yes yes yes.” And then I went to the crisper and withdrew a bit of Montgomery’s cheddar to let it relax on the counter.

I could taste the pairing in my mouth before I ate them together. The cocktail was bright, a little man-spicy (thanks to those bitters that smell, to me, a bit grandfatherly), with a touch of musty earth from the Scotch. A good clothbound cheddar is, in a word, a grandfatherly cheese: it conjures tweed — slightly damp and musty — but also sweetness, nuts, and citrus zest.Montgomerys Cheddar and Scotch Cocktail

Surely, I thought, such a pairing deserves a special pair of people to enjoy it!

And so, I offer this pairing as a Valentine’s pick for Kim Duty of Cheese+Provisions in Denver, who pre-ordered a copy of The New Cocktail Hour for her partner, Steve. Kim and Steve, may you steal away somewhere secret and enjoy Mark Twain and Montgomery’s Cheddar together with a side of Tom Sawyer.

“Here was a gorgeous triumph; they were missed; they were mourned; hearts were breaking on their account; tears were being shed . . . This was fine. It was worth being a pirate, after all.”

Tom Sawyer, Chapter 14, pg. 91

Mark Twain Cocktail

Mark Twain Cocktail

2 ounces Scotch (Dewar’s or Famous Grouse)

3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

1 ounce simple syrup (see below)

2 dashes of Angostura bitters

lemon peel, for garnish

Instructions: Shake Scotch, lemon, simple syrup, and Angostura with ice. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. To garnish, twist the peel over the surface of the cocktail to express the oil. Then, drop the peel into the drink.

Simple syrup: combine equal parts sugar and water in a small jar. Shake until the sugar dissolves. I like to use Demerara sugar (or sugar in the raw), which is best dissolved in hot water. Let the syrup reach room temperature before making a drink.

Montgomery's Cheddar

Look at this gorgeous raw-milk hunk from Somerset!

Want Madame Fromage to pair a special cocktail with your favorite cheese? Pre-order a copy of The New Cocktail Hourand send the receipt to, along with the name of your favorite hunk.

A Cheese and Cocktail Love Note

Scharfe Maxx and a Sling
Friends and Loved Ones, as most of you know I have spent the last two years making cocktails for a new book, The New Cocktail Hour (Running Press). Over 400 mixed drinks. In my kitchen. Usually with my brother on Skype, the two of us shaking and stirring in our respective homes (he in Madison, Wisconsin and me in Philadelphia). Alas, our book has gone to press, and though it won’t hit bookstores until April, you can pre-order it. In fact, we’re really hoping you do!Cover Image.The New Cocktail Hour

Good pre-sales numbers will let our publisher know that thirsty people want this book! We’re trying to hit #1 in cocktail book sales on Amazon before Valentine’s Day.

SO here’s my love note to you…

Order a copy of The New Cocktail Hour for yourself or someone you love — it includes 230+ classic and modern recipes, organized by era, so you can sip your way through history. Plus, every cocktail has pairing suggestions, from cheese to oysters to chocolate cake.

Order a book, and I’ll come up with cocktail pairing for your favorite cheese!

You heard me right, I’ll create a cocktail pairing for you (or your lover’s) favorite cheese for a special Valentine’s shout-out on this site. It will read something like…Dear Ken, Sue wants to send you a hunk of Stilton with a brassy Manhattan. And, of course, I’ll email you the recipe so you can share it with your hunk.

And yes, we have a chapter on non-alcoholic cocktails!

To receive your special pairing, please email me a copy of your receipt ( and the name of your favorite cheese before Feb. 13, 2016.

Thanks a million for your support! The book is available for pre-sales from these fine establishments:

Tenya & Andre-Credit Jason Varney

By Jason Varney

Amazon Kindle


Apple Books

Barnes & Noble




Powell’s Books









Four Tips for a Cheese Board+An Iowa Tasting

Camembert and ProseccoI’m in Ames, Iowa this week, visiting my dad and prepping for a special happy hour to help locals plan a New Year’s cheese board. If you live nearby, come join me on Wednesday, December 30, 2015 for a toast and free tasting at Hy-Vee West (details below). If you’re far away, lean in close and let’s talk. There are four words I want you to remember when you visit the cheese counter this week: 1. Tangy, 2. Creamy, 3. Funky, 4) Salty.

Can you remember those? They’re the four dairy dwarves that Snow White forgot — too bad, because they would have helped her build the ultimate cheese board in the forest. If you can remember all four in the dairy aisle,  you will be able to build a fairy tale cheese board that takes your palate on a magical journey.


Think: fresh goat cheese. Wake up your palate with a cheese that’s lemony and light. Your first bite on a cheese board this time of year should remind you of snowfall. Recommended: Vermont Creamery Coupole or a little French number, like Chabichou du Poitou. My favorite goat cheese pairing this year: Yuzu marmalade or lemon curd.

Coupole Closeup


Think: supple and soft, like the cheese everyone’s meowing about this season, Rush Creek. This coveted cheese from Wisconsin reappeared in November, and sources tell me it’s the best Rush ever. If you can’t find this creamy dreamboat, use my fall-back plan: Delice de Bourgogne. It’s not exactly an artisan cheese, but it’s easy to find. And it’s terrific paired with bubbly and berry preserves.

Look how she runs...a perfectly ripe Rush Creek


Think: cheese that pairs with meat. This category included softies, like Italian Tallegio, and firm wedges, like Gruyere and Appenzeller. Below: one of my favorite funksters from this year, the beautiful Prufrock from Grey Barn Farm on Martha’s Vineyard. Other favorites: Schnebelhorn and Vulto Creamery’s Ouleot. Pair funky cheeses with charcuterie and pickles.

Prufrock close-up


Think: Hard cheese or blues. You could grab a rugged hunk of Pecorino or a lusty wedge of Stilton or Roquefort. My favorite salt master of the year was Parish Hill’s West West Blue, pictured below. Salty cheeses are fabulous with light-colored honey, fruit, and nuts.Parish Hill Creamery Cheese Plate 1

~ Madame Fromage at Ames Hy-Vee (West)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015 4-6 p.m. at the cheese case

Join cheesemonger Darrell Neumann and me for a happy hour tasting. We’ll have bubbly and prepared bites, plus we’ll show you how to build a New Year’s cheese board using selections from the extensive cheese case at the Ames Hy-Vee (West). We’ll also be featuring a special Iowa cheese, plus I’ll have books to sign. Hope to see you at this cheese mecca in Ames!

Cheese Lovers Gift Guide 2015


Every year around this time, cheese lovers from near and far email me about gift ideas. This year, I’m excited to present some true originals, from reusable baguette bags to goat cheese iphone covers! If the illustrated items featured above look familiar, it’s because Johanna Kindvall and I extended our year-long collaboration to a series of housewares.

Check them out over at Johanna Kindvall’s Cheese Collection at Society6 (includes free shipping and 20% off thru Dec. 5.)

In case a Provolone clock doesn’t float your dinghy, here are 5 additional items, and you won’t be surprised to discover that many of them involve collaboration…

1. Reusable Bake House Bags from Peg and Awl

My brilliant neighbors Margaux and Walter Kent recently launched a collection of reusable canvas bags in all sizes, including snack bags, a wine tote, and a baguette bag. These make terrific farmers’ market bags, and they’re also great for gifting that special bottle of Port or jar of chestnut honey. If you know someone who regularly shops for fresh bread or who loves to picnic, these would make a great present. Take a peekaboo, too, at Peg and Awl’s line of reclaimed wood cutting boards if you want to create a cheese lovers’ gift set or build a traveling cheese valise for yourself, a la Madame Fromage. Retailers, these bags can be customized to with your log. Baguette Bag ($18)

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 10.05.39 AM

2. Ferment Your Vegetables, by Amanda Feifer

Philadelphia blogger Phickle inspired me to begin fermenting this year with the release of her new book. I started with Amanda’s recipe for “Fool Proof Radish and Onion Pickles” and found that it paired beautifully with goat cheeses. I’m also partial to her recipe for Mac & Kimcheese. Yes, that’s macaroni and cheese with spicy kimchi. Amanda’s a great teacher, and her recipes for krauts, pickles, kvass, and more are easy to follow. If you have an unhappy gut, my dear friend, remember that ferments can be a great digestive aid, and they brighten up a cheese plate with color and tang.

Ferment Your Vegetables ($19)


3. Cheese Portrait Calendar 2016

Artist Mike Geno presents a full year of his enticing cheese portraits. If you attended the American Cheese Society Conference in the last three years, you probably met him — each year, he is commissioned to paint the top three wheels that win Best of Show. Mike paints in a studio within walking distance from my house, and he is one of the nicest cheese-loving fellows alive. Check out his paintings and prints of cheese, meat, and bread for a complete picnic.

Cheese Portrait Calendar ($25)


4. Food in Jars Jam from Three Springs

Marisa McClellan of the blog Foodinjars has shared 3 of her best recipes with orchard grower Ben Wenk of Three Springs Fruit Farm. Through this awesome collaboration, Ben grows the fruit, makes Marisa’s recipe in his industrial kitchen, and sells jars through his online shop. Those of you who know Marisa and Ben — two of Philadelphia’s most lovable food personalities — know that this project is truly special. Needless to say, Marisa’s Tomato Jam is just about my favorite thing to slather on cheddar.

Jams from Three Springs ($8) 

Marisa McClellan's all-time most popular recipe, tomato jam is a sweet, sticky, tangy condiment that is great on burgers, with cheese, or served as a dipping sauce for roasted vegetables. For seven generations us Wenks have grown fruits and vegetables in beautiful Adams County, PA. In every jar of our Threes Springs Fruit Farm jams and sauces you'll find the result of this proud tradition.

Photo by Albert Yee

5. A Cheese Journey to France, England, or Oregon

For the intrepid cheese lover, splurge on a gourmet food tour led by Anna Juhl. You may remember that I ducked out of the blogosphere in October to join her cheddar odyssey to southern England. I can’t say enough good things about Anna’s professionalism and her choice in bookings. She knows the best cheese makers  (and vintners) in the countries she visits, and she puts together well-paced experiences that take you into the homes and hideaways of artisans you would never meet otherwise. She also arranges custom tours. Take your family on a cheese-centric vacation? Why not!

2016 Cheese Journeys (prices vary)



Madame Fromage at The Clay Studio Dec. 5


Cheese lovers of Philadelphia, I’ll be at The Clay Studio in Old City this Saturday for a free tasting of hand-crafted cheese presented on hand-crafted ceramics from 1 to 2 p.m.

Please stop in for a supple bite and peruse work by ceramic artists from across the country — if you’re shopping for mugs, bowls, platters, pitchers, or serving ware, you’ll find especially gorgeous bits. You can see examples in their online shop.

The Clay Studio is a Philadelphia nonprofit offering artists in residence, plus a brick & mortar gallery and shop. I’m thrilled by this collaboration and am looking forward to arranging beautiful triple cremes, goat cheeses, and blues on earthy surfaces that highlight their edges and ridges.

The Clay Studio, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, 11-6 p.m.

137-139 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia

Hand-Crafted Holidays Schedule

11:00am – Mix and mingle with table designers over coffee and pastries from High Point Café

1:00pm – How to arrange a holiday cheese board with Madame Fromage

3:00pm – Candle-making demonstration with Emily Carris of The Art Dept.

5:00pm – Holiday Happy Hour!