How to pair honey and cheese?
First things first: there are many reasons to pair two products, such as trying out new, pleasant tastes and aromas. In some cases, when successful, pairings create a ‘new product’ which is the sum of the two, bringing the best out of both, without one prevailing over the other.
Here the star player is Grana Padano cheese and so the suggestions offered are designed to promote this product in all its various ageing variants.
There are a great many honeys available and they vary widely. The differences are mainly a matter of overall aromatic complexity (weak, medium or strong), distinctive aromas and flavours (warm, fruity, floral, aromatic, animal, vegetable, chemical) and any bitterness which may be present.
All honeys, including those with a note of bitterness, are primarily made up of simple sugars, fructose and glucose. This is always sweet and especially well-suited to extra mature cheeses such as Grana Padano.
The quantity of honey to be eaten with Grana Padano cheese must always be limited to avoid its flavours concealing those of the cheese. However, younger cheeses, with their still prevalent milky notes (boiled milk, melted butter) are best paired with very delicate and not especially intense cheeses and thus the quantities can be a little higher.
Medium mature cheeses are generally best consumed with honeys characterised by animal, protein and sulphuric aromas and flavours.
As the ageing process continues, and thus in mature kinds of Grana Padano, the sugar content of honey tempers the salty and spicy notes of the cheese and is thus best served in small quantities. Honey also lubricates the mouth: it can help make the cheese more soluble and free the noblest aromatic components resulting from ageing. In this case, pairings with stronger flavoured and intense honeys, including those with a touch of bitterness, may work well.
The pairing criteria generally in use are based on the principles of similarity and difference, in terms of both overall intensity and complexity. For example, the intensity and vaguely animal flavours of chestnut honey pair especially well with extra mature Grana Padano, as does lime blossom honey with its balsamic notes which offer a pleasant contrast.
Other criteria to adopt are local/regional ones, with each geographical region having its own traditional “”characteristic”” cheese and honey pairings.
However, whatever the experts might say, at the end of the day it is your own judgement that counts, your tastes and the pleasure you take in experimenting with new combinations. We therefore recommend serving an assortment of honeys, perhaps two very different ones, and letting your diners judge for themselves. In general, try the products presented on their own first before testing the various pairings.