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After Dinner Blues (and other cheesy pairings)

Why fromage and digestif is often better than dessert


Few things are lovelier than ending a meal with a spot of cheese. The French have done it for years without any trauma to their collective girth, which suggests that indulging in a morsel or two of cheese after supper, instead of a brownie sundae, just might be better for all of us. In fact, eating cheese at the end of a meal is supposed to be good for your teeth. Thank you, food scientist Harold McGee, for that important dental insight.

For after-dinner inspiration, try ordering a cheese course for dessert next time you go out. The Fountain Restaurant in Philadelphia is famous for its cheese cart, which is wheeled to each table like an elaborate pram; the Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan offers an impeccable assortment which sits, veiled, on a slate in its tavern dining room, so that’s it’s impossible not to steal furtive glances. Cheese after a meal should be so exquisite; it should arouse desire.

Here are a dozen pairings for you to play with after dinner, and while I would like to say they are foolproof, I hope you’ll seek the confirmation of a cheesemonger. Cheeses vary by season and change moods as they age. Like the best of us, they can bristle or lose energy without the right touch, so try to sample them and learn about their needs before you serve an ill-conceived match to a room full of bigwigs or even littlewigs.

Tawny Port

Port is the ultimate fall and winter spirit. While some may complain that it’s too sugary, assure them that a good tawny is light and not too sweet. Its plumminess caresses the leather notes in Colston Bassett Stilton and balances the salt in Point Reyes Original Blue.


This white dessert wine from Bordeaux tranquilizes ultra salty blues like Roquefort, its soul mate. Any French or Danish blue succumbs. You might also try Bleu d’Auvergne. This combination is a great way to finish a spring or summer meal, especially with pears.

Moscato d’Asti

Sparkly and sweet conjoin here, a magical touch for Gorgonzola Dolce. Make like the Italians and serve thinly-sliced biscotti for dunking, dipping, slathering, etc. You can also pair Vin Santo, a blended sweet wine from Tuscany, with Gorgonzola.

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar pairs well with Calvados, whiskey, or Scotch


Spanish cultures produce a variety of sherries, which pair nicely with their dry, flinty blue cheeses, like Valdéon, and buttery Spanish sheep’s milk cheeses, like Manchego and Idiazábal. Try serving these cheeses with an oloroso sherry, which is moderately sweet.

Late Harvest Riesling

For something light and versatile, serve a clean-tasting Alsatian riesling, or explore New York’s burgeoning riesling empire. This is a good choice for a cheese board that includes a variety of cheeses made from different milks. Choose from Monte Enebro, Morbier, Emmentaler, Piave, and Harbourne Blue.


This amber spirit distilled from cider can be a welcome shift from sweet dessert wines. Because it’s from Normandy, it loves Camembert, but it’s also a beautiful accompaniment to Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and well-aged Parmigiano Reggiano. Serve it outdoors around a fire.

Ewephoria is a natural companion to stouts and porters

Whiskey or Scotch

A soft mellow whiskey can harmonize with a butterscotchy Cheddar, like Cabot Clothbound, or pick up on the spirits in a leafwrapped Banon. An Irish whiskey likes a fudgy wedge of Ardrahan. Pair Scotch with Isle of Mull Cheddar or a salty, flinty blue like Strathdon. A 14-year Oban is rumored to be the perfect mate for Humboldt Fog.

Stouts and Porters

Heavy, earthy stouts were made for cheese, especially blues and Goudas. Try a coffee stout with Ewephoria or a hunk of L’Amuse. Oyster stout with a briny wedge of Strathdon Blue is not to be believed. Chocolate stout heaps love on peanutty washed rinds—check out Red Hawk. If you need less horsepower, choose a porter.

Tea and Coffee

For those who don’t care to imbibe, prepare a light-bodied green tea to serve with goat cheese, like Capricho de Cabra; the grassy notes will compliment each other. Smoky oolongs pair well with firm sheep’s milk cheeses, like Berkswell, and caramel-rich Goudas. Earl Gray, with its bracing note of Bergamot, pairs with many strong cheeses, including blues. In Holland, coffee is a traditional pairing for aged Goudas, like Remeker.

Excerpted with permission from the upcoming DiBruno Bros. House of Cheese by Tenaya Darlington, published by Running Press. The book is available now on Amazon and in bookstores May 7.

Tenaya Darlington is a Swiss citizen and former resident of Wisconsin, two things that ensured she would grow up to be a cheese fiend. By day, she teaches Food Writing at Saint Joseph's University; by night she pens her dairy-centric blog, Madame Fromage. In 2011, Zagat named her one of the 140 most important foodies to follow on Twitter (@mmefromage). Tenaya’s work has appeared in Cooking Light, Culture, Grid, Global Traveler, and Utne Magazine. In May 2013, Running Press will publish her first cheese book, Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese: A Guide to Wedges, Recipes, and Pairings.


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