Cheese and Coffee: A match made in heaven

By Edward Hancock

Oct 4, 2021

The Ross & Rachel - Luxury Brunch Box with cheese and coffee

When I first launched cheesegeek, I still had a full-time job. That was almost the only thing I did have. I had no staff, no knowledge of how to build a business, and most importantly, I didn’t have enough hours in the day.

My alarm would go off in the middle of the night, at my 1 bed flat (too small for any form of cheese operation!) at which point I would throw on some clothes and drive 10 mins to my mum’s house (more suitable for cheese operations) to start cutting and wrapping Britain’s finest artisan cheeses. Plenty of coffee was a vital part in getting me through to 9am, in a reasonable state, for my actual job.

It was during these early stages of the business that I had ample opportunity to eat cheese for breakfast, whilst drinking large quantities of coffee. What a pleasure it was. 

It should really be no surprise that coffee and cheese are a match made in heaven. Most of us drink coffee with milk, even butter nowadays, and cheese of course is just milk (or butter) in another form. We are also, in fact, pretty much the only country in the entirety of Europe that doesn’t eat cheese for breakfast. We’ve probably all had a continental breakfast at one point or another, probably slices of young gouda and wedges of Brie. 

Even in Central and South America, cheese plays a relatively central role in some of the most traditional breakfast dishes.

So why is cheese so damn good with coffee?

Well, you didn’t think I’d let you get away without getting geeky on the science did you!

Cheese contains high levels of tyramine, which comes from the amino acid known as tyrosine. When we digest tyramine, we release dopamine, so straight off the bat eating cheese makes us happy.

Cheese also has a high fat content, as well as good levels of acidity, which balance perfectly with the ‘thinness’ of coffee as well as the natural acidity in coffee. Essentially, it gives body to our coffee, and the acidity in the cheese and the coffee do the tango.

In terms of flavour profiles, great coffee contains nutty, caramel and fruity notes, and exactly the same can be said for great breakfast cheeses. Another box ticked.

Ok, so cheese is great with coffee, but is it a good thing to eat for breakfast?

The key here is sugar. Many breakfast items contain high levels of sugar, like juices, cereals, bars and muffins. High levels of sugar lead to overproduction of insulin, which causes glucose in our blood to rapidly decrease. This can lead to low energy during the day. Cheese, however, has low levels of sugar but high levels of protein, the perfect combo for breaking our fast.

High protein also increases our metabolism, resulting in higher calorie burn and a decrease in the hormone ‘ghrelin’. Ghrelin is known as the ‘hunger hormone’ (we call him Ghrelin the Gremlin) and travels from your gut, through your bloodstream, and into your brain, telling you “You are hungry!”. Less ghrelin means less hunger. Essentially, cheese for breakfast is completely and udderly (we’re sorry) nutritionally legit!

So the truth is, there is nothing we can do about it…coffee and cheese is scientifically delicious, and great for breakfast. So we may as well just let it happen, and enjoy the ride.

But despite all of this, in the UK, a nation of compulsive coffee drinkers, cheese for breakfast is treated with derision unless it’s in a croissant or a muffin. And needless to say, this isn’t necessarily the kind of cheese we get excited about at cheesegeek HQ. 

The truth is, cheese for breakfast, alongside great coffee, is just too good to miss out on…and as a nation, we really are missing out.

So, I have spent many years, since those nights/mornings of cheese and coffee, trying to formulate a plan to get fantastic artisan cheese onto the plates of our customers at breakfast time. Cheeses like Mayfield and Coolea, as well as goat’s cheeses like Golden Cross, are simply made for breakfast. They are fresh, light, creamy, supple and everything you’d expect from a piece of pre-midday cheese. As mentioned earlier, they also carry so many flavours that work brilliantly with coffee, like rich butteriness, nuttiness, and a caramel-like sweetness. If you get the combo right, you will also find cheese can coax out an incredible fruitiness from the coffee.

But the reality is, getting British people excited about breakfast cheese is a big ask, because we just aren’t accustomed to it. So, I was always aware that I might only get one shot at it, so it better be as close to perfect as it can be when I go for it. Not only the best cheese, but the best breakfast cheese, with the perfect coffee, and unbeatable accompaniments. It would have to be a home run…

Then, this year, the opportunity gleamed at me like a beacon when I came across Artisan Coffee Co. Perfection is something Ashley Palmer-Watts, who has spent a career serenading our taste buds at institutions such as The Fat Duck and Dinner by Heston, has always striven for. Without doubt one of the world’s most respected chefs, I knew his coffee would be the perfect partner to our cheeses. This was the moment. I just had to convince Ashley. Fortunately, I had the world’s most powerful weapon at my disposal of course. Artisan British cheese.

Introducing the Cheese & Coffee Luxury Brunch Box 

Two lengthy tastings later, we had put together 5 cheeses, and two brews (hot and cold) that led our senses on a merry dance. This was breakfast/brunch as I had always imagined it. 3 years in the making, I couldn’t be happier to share our cheese and coffee luxury brunch box with the ultimate pairings. Here’s what you have to look forward to…

You might not think of an ashed Goat's cheese for breakfast but we found Brightwell Ash to be a surprisingly perfect morning treat! Paired with the Genius cold brew, it gives off salted peanut vibes without any lasting goatiness whereas the Smart Cookie and a little Bilberry Jam are a striking match - a little sharpness from the rind and sweetness from the jam for brilliantly balanced flavours with a silky smooth finish.

Mayfield is everything you would expect from a breakfast cheese. Buttery, sweet, light and with that sublime springy texture. Similar in style to an Emmental, it is as lush and bouncy as a summer meadow, and when paired with the Smart Cookie and the Genius, these add a wonderful buttery body and richness. 

Coolea is another breakfast cheese heavyweight, this is a Gouda style cheese, bringing a lovely complexity of both rich milkiness, but also toasted almonds and caramel, that work so wonderfully well with coffee. With the Genius we got an incredibly sweet fruitiness that reminded us of boiled sweets, and with the Smart Cookie, we got notes of honey with a hit of nuttiness, like the skin of an almond.

Waterloo is next up, and what breakfast cheese scenario would be complete without Brie style vibes? No scenario. At all. So here comes Waterloo, bringing those Brie notes, but pared back. Less of the mushroom and earthiness, and more of the buttery richness thanks to the use of amazing Guernsey milk (which also gives this cheese its incredibly deep yellow colour). With the Smart Cookie, it was all about salted butter on freshly baked bread, and with the Genius we found the fruity raisin notes in the coffee worked beautifully to disarm some of the saltiness in the cheese, leaving just velvety soft creaminess.

Finally, we had to push the boat out, and bring in the blue for breakfast, and blimey it was brilliant. Even cheese obsessives like us appreciate we don’t necessarily want a big bold blue pre midday, so Binham was the perfect choice. A sweet blue, with caramel like flavours and a fudgy texture, it was mesmeric with the coffee. The Genius cold brew freshened the palate and livened up the soft texture of the cheese, with the slight sharpness in the blue veining being muted by the sweeter approach of the Genius. With the Smart Cookie, we really got malted biscuit flavours shouting from the coffee.

But that’s just us. Now, it’s over to you to see what you made of this breakfast/brunch extravaganza. Enjoy!

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