No good Italian meal is complete without a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top. However, when it comes to pairing cheese with pesto, there are a variety of options that can take your dish to the next level. In this article, we’ll explore the origins of pesto and cheese, guide you in choosing the right cheese for your pesto dish and discuss some delicious variations and serving suggestions. Get ready to elevate your taste buds with the best cheese for pesto you can find!
Exploring the Origins of Pesto and Cheese
Pesto is a traditional Italian sauce made from basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan cheese. The first written recipe dates back to 1865 and hailed from the port city of Genoa, Italy. From there, the popularity of pesto spread across Italy and throughout the world. Similarly, cheese has been a staple in Italian cuisine for centuries. Nearly every region of Italy has its own type of cheese, from soft and creamy to sharp and tangy.
The Perfect Pairing: Understanding the Flavors and Textures
When choosing the best cheese for pesto, it’s important to consider the flavors and textures of both ingredients. Pesto typically has a strong, herbal flavor with a slightly nutty and salty taste. It’s oily and has a thick texture that can coat your mouth. Cheese, on the other hand, can range from mild and creamy to sharp and tangy. The texture can be soft, semi-soft, or hard, depending on the type. The best cheese for pesto has a flavor that can complement the strong flavors in the sauce without overpowering it, and a texture that can cut through the oiliness of the pesto.
One great cheese to pair with pesto is Parmigiano-Reggiano. This hard, nutty cheese has a sharp flavor that can stand up to the bold flavors in the pesto. Its crumbly texture also adds a nice contrast to the smoothness of the sauce. Another option is goat cheese, which has a tangy flavor that can balance out the richness of the pesto. Its creamy texture also helps to cut through the oiliness of the sauce.
When serving pesto with cheese, it’s important to consider the presentation. You can either mix the cheese into the pesto or serve it on top as a garnish. If you choose to mix it in, make sure to crumble or grate the cheese finely so that it blends well with the sauce. If you prefer to serve it on top, consider using a cheese that can be shaved or grated, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano, for a beautiful and flavorful presentation.
A Guide to Choosing the Right Cheese for Your Pesto Dish
Here are some delicious options for pairing cheese with pesto and what dishes they work best with:
- Mozzarella – This mild and milky cheese works well with the freshness of basil in pesto. It’s an excellent choice for caprese salad and pizza toppings.
- Cheddar – Sharp cheddar can bring a tangy contrast to the rich texture of pesto. It pairs well with pasta dishes and grilled sandwiches.
- Parmesan – Parmesan is a classic choice for pairing with pesto. It’s nutty and salty flavor complements the herbal tones in pesto wonderfully. Grilled chicken with parmesan pesto sauce is an excellent example.
- Feta – Feta adds a Mediterranean twist to pesto dishes, with its crumbly texture and salty, tangy flavor. It can be mixed into pasta salads or served on top of grilled vegetables with a pesto sauce.
- Gouda – This rich and nutty cheese adds a smoky flavor to pesto dishes with its caramel notes. Gouda is an excellent choice for grilled cheese sandwiches with pesto.
- Brie – The creamy texture of brie pairs amazingly well with the oiliness of pesto. It’s a great choice as a topping for toasted bread or spread on crackers with the pesto sauce.
When choosing a cheese to pair with pesto, it’s essential to consider the intensity of the pesto’s flavor. If the pesto is mild, it’s best to pair it with a mild cheese like mozzarella or brie. However, if the pesto is strong, a sharper cheese like cheddar or parmesan will complement it well. Additionally, if you’re looking for a vegan option, you can try using nutritional yeast as a substitute for cheese. It adds a cheesy flavor to the pesto without any dairy products.
Vegan Options for Cheese with Pesto
For those following a plant-based diet, there are plenty of vegan options for cheese that pair well with pesto. Nutritional yeast is an excellent choice for a cheesy flavor without dairy. It adds a nutty, cheesy flavor to pesto dishes. Other vegan cheese options include cashew cheese, almond cheese, and tofu-based feta.
Another great option for a vegan cheese alternative is using a blend of soaked and pureed cashews, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice. This mixture creates a creamy and tangy cheese-like flavor that pairs perfectly with pesto. Additionally, some grocery stores now carry a variety of pre-made vegan cheese options, such as mozzarella or cheddar-style shreds, that can be used in pesto dishes as well.
Variations on Traditional Pesto for Different Types of Cheese
While traditional pesto is made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and parmesan cheese, there are plenty of variations that can complement different types of cheese. For example, adding arugula to pesto can add subtle peppery notes that pair well with mozzarella. For a smoky flavor like Gouda, you can add roasted red bell peppers to the sauce. Or try substituting the pine nuts for pistachios to give the pesto a pistachio flavor that would go well with feta cheese.
Another variation of pesto that can complement different types of cheese is by adding sun-dried tomatoes. This gives the pesto a tangy and sweet flavor that pairs well with goat cheese. You can also add spinach to the traditional pesto recipe to give it a milder flavor that goes well with ricotta cheese.
If you want to make a vegan version of pesto, you can substitute the parmesan cheese with nutritional yeast. This gives the pesto a cheesy flavor without using any animal products. You can also add avocado to the pesto to give it a creamy texture that would go well with vegan cheese alternatives.
Serving Suggestions for Cheese with Pesto Platters
Serving a platter of cheese with pesto is an excellent way to wow your guests at parties or gatherings. Arrange a variety of cheeses along with a pesto sauce to dip in. Consider including toasted bread, crackers, and fresh vegetables on the platter to balance out the flavors and add a crunch. A glass of wine would be an excellent accompaniment for this tasty appetizer.
When selecting cheeses for your platter, it’s important to choose a variety of textures and flavors. Consider including a soft cheese like brie, a hard cheese like cheddar, and a blue cheese for a range of tastes. You can also experiment with different types of pesto, such as sun-dried tomato or basil and pine nut, to add even more variety to your platter.
If you want to take your cheese and pesto platter to the next level, try adding some cured meats like prosciutto or salami. These meats pair well with cheese and add a savory element to the platter. You can also include some sweet elements like dried fruit or honey to balance out the saltiness of the cheese and meat.
Wine Pairings for Cheese with Pesto
When it comes to wine pairing, the best choices for cheese with pesto are white wines with a high acidity level that can cut through the richness of the cheese and pesto. For example, a Sauvignon Blanc has notes of citrus and gives a zesty and refreshing taste that goes well with mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. Chianti would be an excellent choice for parmesan and brie as it has well-balanced acidity and tannins.
In conclusion, whether you’re a cheese lover or a pesto enthusiast, pairing the two is an excellent way to take your dishes to the next level. With a little experimentation, you can find the perfect cheese for your pesto dish that will elevate the flavors and impress your taste buds.
Another great option for pairing cheese with pesto is a dry Riesling. The acidity in the wine complements the richness of the cheese and pesto, while the fruity notes add a refreshing touch. This pairing works well with goat cheese and feta.
If you prefer red wine, a Pinot Noir is a good choice for cheese with pesto. The light-bodied wine has a delicate flavor that won’t overpower the cheese and pesto. It pairs well with gouda and fontina cheeses.