It’s no secret. I love cheese and cocktails and I’ve created more than one winning cheese and cocktail pairing that has been served up to rave reviews. Recently, I discovered that using cheese as a cocktail ingredient rather than as a pairing can be interesting, too. Using a method called “fat washing,” anyone can craft tasty, cheese-spiked cocktails without fancy equipment. The only requirements are: a spirit of choice, a favorite fromage, a bit of cheesecloth, and a sense of culinary adventure.
Fat washing spirits was first popularized in New York City circa 2007 by Don Lee of the acclaimed speakeasy-style bar PDT, aka Please Don’t Tell. Lee served a bacon fat-washed Bourbon cocktail to critical acclaim, and soon the bar world began experimenting with unusual infusions including browned butter, olive oil, duck fat, and yes, even cheese! It may sound offbeat but these infusions can add a creamy mouthfeel, a bit of savory and salty notes, and in some cases, a smoky bite that is not only intriguing, it’s downright delicious.
For a while, at the beginning of the fat-washing trend, people were willing to try anything. One of the most outlandish creations that could only be ordered by those in the know was a grilled cheese martini—not listed on the menu, but only available on request—at another trendy spot in Manhattan. Made with vodka that had been infused with buttered and toasted bread filled with Cheddar and grilled to perfection, it also featured a crispy Prosciutto rim, tomato ice cube, and a mini grilled cheese sandwich on the side.
Fat washing seemed to fall out of the cocktail scene for a while, but lately there has been a revival. Seminars on cheese-infused spirits are popping up for professionals at bar and beverage conventions, and recently there was an event that combined New York spirits and French cheese hosted by the French Cheese Board. The event was led by Claire Mattern, a knowledgeable cheese pro who created a sampling of four cheese-infused cocktails paired with the same cheeses served on the side.
Different styles of gins were used to create unusual flavors, but the clear winner that evening was a barrel-aged gin infused with Blue cheese, blended with walnut and celery bitters, and served with a green grape and apple chunk. It was like a Waldorf Salad—only better—and so easy to prepare.
The event piqued my curiosity and I couldn’t wait to try creating cheese cocktails at home. Using some Hudson Valley cheeses and my favorite spirits, I concocted several variations. My favorite is the Bubbles and Silk, a spin on a French 75 with gin as a base. Try making this cocktail using the easy directions below for infusing your favorite gin. And try Claire Mattern’s Liquid Waldorf, a simple recipe and a great cocktail to serve after dinner with extra Blue cheese and nuts on the side.
FOR FAT WASHING, YOU WILL NEED:
Two wide mouth glass jars (16 ounce Mason jars work well)
For Bubbles and Silk
2 oz Nettle Meadows Kunik cheese
12 oz Dorothy Parker Gin (or substitute your favorite Hudson Valley Gin)
For Liquid Waldorf
2 oz Old Chatham Sheepherding Company Ewe’s Blue cheese
12 oz Orange County Distillery Barreled Gin (or substitute your favorite)
For Bubbles and Silk, place Kunik cheese in jar and add the Dorothy Parker Gin, refrigerate for 4 hours. Remove cheese and discard, strain liquid through cheese cloth. If any solids remain, strain through coffee filter. Refrigerate until ready to use.
For Liquid Waldorf, follow the same steps using the Blue cheese and barrel-aged gin.
TO MAKE THE COCKTAILS:
Bubbles and Silk (Makes 2 cocktails)
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
2 oz Kunik-washed gin (see fat-washing instructions)
2 dashes orange bitters
Dry bubbly wine
Fill shaker with ice and add all ingredients except bubbly wine. Shake well and strain into chilled Champagne flute. Top with 3 ounces bubbly and garnish with lemon peel.Enjoy with crusty bread, Kunik, and orange or lemon marmalade.
Liquid Waldorf (Makes 2 cocktails)
2.5 oz Blue cheese-washed barrel-aged gin
2 dashes each Black Walnut and Celery Bitters (Fee Brothers, available on Amazon)
Build cocktail in shaker over ice. Shake briskly, strain, and serve with grape and apple garnish.
Have fun creating new fat-washed flavors by experimenting with different combinations of local spirits and cheeses. Here are some ideas to get you started: New York rye and aged Cheddar; vodka and Brie; brandy and brown butter; gin and Blue cheese stuffed olive.