Ever since I was little, I did not like eggs, milk, or cream, but I always made exceptions for cheese. Who killed JFK? What's really going on at Los Alamos? Why do I love cheese even though I refuse other dairy products? These are the greatest mysteries of all time.
I can partition my life into cheese phases. As a child growing up in Cupertino with a bowl haircut, I loved going to Imahara Produce and getting Cheese Okaki (rice crackers with a cheese center). In high school, my best friend introduced me to microwaved Velveeta "cheese" in flour tortillas. In my 20s, Cheeseboard Pizza became a weekly ritual. In my 30s, with the birth of Sake Gumi, I had the opportunity to go to cheese dairies in California and Hokkaido with sake in hand. And now, as I approach my 40s, I'm still discovering new ways of eating cheese (mozzerella with shoyu and wasabi, anyone?). Forget horoscopes - I believe you can learn more about a person from their cheese habits!
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 acids.
What happens when you eat a food that is very high in amino acid alongside a 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.
So get a cheese board together and have a sake and cheese party this month at home!
Co-Founder + Sake Director
LEVEL 1: Introductory Membership (Two 300ml bottles)
Born Junsui Junmai Daiginjo Nama-Chozo
Katoukichibee Shouten (Fukui, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Yamada Nishiki 50%, SMV: +1
This viscous junmai daiginjo has notes of sour cherry and melon. Aged for one year at a cool temperature of 23°F, this sake has an easy, honeydew finish (aging mellows out a sake). A mild cheese works best with this juicy daiginjo – gruyere was a fine pairing, but the optimal cheese pairing with this sake is fresh mozerella with wasabi and shoyu. It was almost like having a luscious piece of toro with sake! Drink chilled.
Tentaka “Hawk in the Heavens” Tokubetsu Junmai
Tentaka Brewery (Tochigi, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Gohyaku Mangoku 55%, SMV: +3
Try this yeasty brew with all things smoked! Notice the walnuts and roasted squash aromas, vegetal flavors, juicy acidity, and long, dry ending. Tentaka drinks super smooth at room temperature. This sake can stand up to savory smoked or aged gouda. Only 20% of this brew makes it out of Tochigi Prefecture so take what you can get!
LEVEL 2: Premium Membership (Two 720ml bottles)
Chichibu Nishiki Tokubetsu Junmai
Yao Honten (Saitama, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Miyama Nishiki 60%, SMV: +4
Full of smooth umami, with a slightly yeasty flavor, this sake reminds me of the youthful green flavors in baby kale or arugula. Because of this grassy element, it’s a perfect complement to an earthy goat cheese. Great with a simple spreadable chevre, but you get extra points if you can get your hands on the Crottin by Andante Dairy in Petaluma. Try this sake at room temperature.
bo: Tokubetsu Junmai
Tonoike Shuzouten (Tochigi, Japan)
Seimaibuai: Miyama Nishiki 60%, SMV: +1
Bold, with a crisp, effervescent ending, this high-acidity sake is perfect with a rich, gamey buffalo mozzerella. In addition to notes of caramel, this tokubetsu junmai has an aroma of grass jelly and raw honey. This sake is a muroka (non-charcoal filtered) so it has a beautiful golden hue. In the summertime, I enjoy this sake chilled, but on a cool night, this sake warms up well too.