Sake and cheese pair well because they are both fermented foods that weigh-in heavily on the umami-meter. When making cheese, bacteria is introduced into a warm milk setting. The bacteria then produces lactic acid as they metabolize, resulting in amino acid (aka simple protein, aka umami). Sake is a beverage very high in umami. Part of this is due to the fact that it is fermented for longer (than say, wine) resulting in the production of more amino acid. Junmais (which use more of the outer portion of the rice) tend to be higher in amino acids because there is more protein available for amino acid conversion than their ginjo or daiginjo counterparts. Additionally, kimotos and yamahais take the crown for most umami because the fermentation can take twice as long as a regular ferment.
For this reason, you will notice that all of the bottles this month are either kimotos or junmais. Even within these parameters, I noticed a lot of variation which required many tastings to get to the right pairings (it’s very hard work!).
So what happens when you eat a food that is very high in amino acid alongside an umami-rich sake? An umami explosion! The best pairings enhance the food and the drink - allowing you to appreciate flavors that may be less detectable if they were consumed without the other.
See how these pairings work IRL by joining us this month for Sakqueso!, a members-only event featuring sake and cheese pairings. It’ll happen at the Umami Mart Bar on August 22 from 6:30-8pm.
See you there!
LEVEL 1: Introductory Membership (Two 300ml bottles)
Yoshinogawa Brewery (Niigata, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Gohyakumngoku 65%, SMV: +5
This is a soft, refreshing junmai that makes me want to picnic by a stream. Don’t be fooled, without the cheese, you may write this off as a sake that is too subtle or lacking character, but with a mild double cream soft cheese like Fromager D’Affinois, you’ll notice layers upon layers of umami and a hint of dewy citrus. This pairing has uncovered my newfound appreciation for this understated sake! Enjoy chilled or at room temperature.
Kurosawa Junmai Kimoto
Kurosawa Brewery (Nagano, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Miyama Nishiki + Hitogokochi 65%, SMV: +3
A staple sake for all of us on staff, we are excited to offer this bottle to members in a special 300ml size. This kimoto has a light honey aroma, with dried pears in the flavor and features a dry ending that reminds me of white pepper. This medium-bodied sake begs to be paired with food - my favorite pairing for this sake was with parmesan laden pesto pasta. I love this sake at room temperature or slightly warmed on colder days.
LEVEL 2: Premium Membership (Two 720ml bottles)
Nanotsuki 80 Junmai
Tsukinoi Brewery (Ibaraki, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Organic Miyama Nishiki 80%, SMV: -4
The 80 in the name refers to the rice polishing ratio. Tsukinoi Brewery uses organic Miyama Nishiki giving them the confidence to show off its flavor with less polishing – resulting in more umami! I detect flavors of grape skins, corn husk, and strong aroma of sake lees (which coincidentally smell a bit like cheese). A blue cheese salad with candied walnuts and cranberries on spinach was a delicious complement to this wild sake! Best at room temperature.
Matsunotsukasa Junmai Kimoto
Matsuse Brewery (Shiga Japan)
Seimaibuai: Yamada Nishiki, Ginfubuki + Wataribune 65%, SMV: +1
Sake Gumi members get the remaining bottles of this special private reserve junmai kimoto which has been aged since 2013 and released in 2017 (there are no more after that!). Smooth and complex, this sake has a tart aroma of meyer lemons with a long whisky-like finish. Despite my inclination to pair this sake with a grassy sheep cheese, this bottle paired best with a mild double cream soft cheese like Fromager D’Affinois or Burrata. Enjoy at room temperature or warm.