By: John DeBarry
Pairing drinks with cheese isn’t always easy. The most popular choice, wine, doesn’t always work. Sometimes the subtlety of the wine is overpowered by the cheese, and vice versa. Cocktails, however, can be an excellent companion to cheese, whether it’s before a meal, after, or whenever the mood strikes you.
When creating cocktails to accompany the Kaltbach cheeses I kept a few things in mind.
First, I wanted to create drinks that were expressive of the area around the Kaltbach cave, namely, The Alps. Alpine regions such as Switzerland, southern Germany, Western France, Northern Italy and Austria offer an abundance of fascinating spirits with which to make cocktails, many of these are bitter, which can be an excellent counterpoint to the salt content of the cheese.
Second, I wanted to create cocktails that were harmonious with the cheeses, not overpowering while not shying away. Drinks with assertive acidity, slight bitterness, and aromatic complexity are great companions to cheese or cheese-centric meals.
Lastly, I wanted to create a collection of drinks that were delicious no matter the occasion or time of day—cocktails to represent an aperitif, digestif, and one in between. Spirits are an excellent way of capturing and transmitting flavors, and by using alpine spirits, we can bring the Alps to us, no matter where we are.
The Santenberg Spritz—named after the mountain that houses the Kaltbach cave—pairs perfectly with Kaltbach as an aperitif. Gin is a natural choice as a versatile cocktail base, as it provides a welcoming canvass for a variety of flavor profiles. In this case we paired it with Genépi de Alpes, a slightly bitter wormwood-based liqueur that is a popular après ski beverage. Grapefruit juice provides acidity and a touch of bitterness. The drink is lengthened with a sparkling mineral water, which gives it a great texture, and lowers the alcohol concentration. Think of it as an enhanced Gin and Tonic—easy drinking at brunch or as an aperitif before dinner.
The Kaltbach Athletic Club is a nod to the classic cocktail, the Last Word, invented in the 1930s at the Detroit Athletic Club. Again, I started with a base of gin, true to the original Last Word recipe, and added Kirschwasser, a cherry eau-de-vie popular throughout the Alps, St. Germain, an elderflower liqueur, and lime juice. A garnish of cucumber wheel highlights the fresh, vegetal notes of the gin, and accompanies the fruity aromatics of the Kirschwasser.
As a digestif I created the Via Alpina, a Negroni riff with alpine flair. This drink mixes gin with Gran Classico—a cousin of Campari, along with French Vermouth—made with an abundance of alpine botanicals, and a small amount of Zirbenz, an Austrian alpine liqueur made with the fruit of the stone pine tree. Served on the rocks, this drink is meant to be a great way to cap a satisfying meal.
The Alps are a fascinating region to explore, and with these cocktails, you can bring a taste of the Alps, no matter where you are.
I hope that you enjoy drinking these drinks as much as I enjoyed creating them.