Great food and drink are as much a part of Christmas as Santa Claus and mistletoe. Many of us will enjoy a fine single malt or a real artisanal cheese over the festive period. Alone, these may be divine. Together? Carefully-matched cheese and whisky can elevate your after-dinner spread to new levels entirely. Here are some of our recommendations to really liven up your cheese board this Christmas.

1. Hard cheese, such as a Vintage Cheddar.

A. D. Rattray's Whisky Recommendation: Royal Brackla (Calavdos Finished) Personalised Single Cask Whisky

The Herald: Royal Brackla Royal Brackla

Choose a rich, hard cheese, which hits your tongue with a slightly tart first note, before giving way to subtle hints of nuts and caramel. Our 8 year old cask strength Royal Brackla has been finished for 18 months in a calvados cask. The result is a flavour profile that contrasts the immediate tartness of the cheese with poached pear, creamy vanilla and candied almonds before developing onto a juicy green apples and spicy finish, which again contrasts the sweet finish of the cheese. The whisky has a smooth and creamy mouthfeel to contrast the gentle crunch of the cheese, yet accentuate its light, silky texture.

2. Cheese with fruit, such as Wensleydale with cranberries

A. D. Rattray's Whisky Recommendation: House Malt No.9 (Sherry Cask)

The Herald: House Malt no.9House Malt no.9

Younger whiskies tend to have more cereal character than wood influence. They are therefore the ideal “oatcake” whiskies, providing a biscuity base for the cheese flavours to shine. Far from happy to linger in the background however, this 5 year old expression packs enough bite to cut through the dense creaminess of the cheese. Sherry cask maturation has developed a ripe berry sweetness to pick out the raspberries in the cheese, whilst also lending enough tannic bitterness to complement the cranberry.

3. Soft cheese, such as a Brie or Camembert

A. D. Rattray's Whisky Recommendation: Stronachie 10 Years Old

The Herald:

For cheese-lovers, Brie and Camembert are the ultimate in smooth, oozy luxury. Any drink paired with a soft cheese must have enough acidity and bite to cut through the creaminess, yet be suitably restrained to showcase the more nuanced, umami character typical of a mould-ripened cheese. Our Stronachie 10 Years Old has a subtle, earthy heather character to enhance the slightly funky, mushroom notes in the cheese. It also has the requisite cutting-power to break through the cream and cleanse the palate, just in time to move onto another section of the cheese board…

4. Smoked cheese, such as a Smoked Cheddar

A. D. Rattray's Whisky Recommendation: Cask Orkney

The Herald:

Look out for a cheese that has been smoked using oak shavings from whisky casks as this adds further depth to an already long and complex flavour. Naturally, peated whisky is the perfect match for an oak-smoked cheese, as the taste buds find two smoky companions on the tongue. However, we don’t want the cheese to be over-powered, as it so easily could be with an Islay malt. Instead, the perfect match is Cask Orkney, with its lighter, more floral peat character. Again, the whisky highlights all the right notes in the cheese, with a fruity tang, soft nuts, and butter cream in abundance. Crucially, the subtle oak-smoke in the cheese is lifted by a whisper of earthy peat in the whisky. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

5. Blue cheese, such as Stilton

A. D. Rattray's Whisky Recommendation: Cask Islay

The Herald:

The strong flavours and complex nature of blue cheese (buttery, creamy, grassy, herbaceous, salty, spicy, tangy…) make an ideal pairing difficult to find. Indeed, most wine simply isn’t up to the task. Just like heavily-peated whisky, blue cheese divides opinion between those who love it and those who hate it. Perhaps it’s not so surprising then that blue cheese finds its ideal match in the output from Islay’s peat monsters. In particular, Cask Islay delivers the perfect complement. Warm and smokey with roasted barley on the nose, followed by citrus and burnt toffee on the tongue. This classic single malt is oily and full, with a finish consisting of grilled orange, salted caramel and wood smoke. Not for the faint-hearted, but for those who dare, this may be the most rewarding pairing of them all.

We love matching whiskies with food and above are just some of our favourite cheese pairings. Let us know if you have any suggestions of your own, for cheese or any other food to go with your perfect dram. We are never shy to volunteer when it comes to trying new whisky and food combinations.

Visit the A. D. Rattray website to find out more.