It starts in elementary school with the box of Valentines you buy for your classmates. Marketed to death, romantic by obligation, heartfelt gestures judged by committee, amateur night by candlelight: Valentine’s Day presents a million ways to fail—in a spectacularly cheesy fashion. So, let’s just embrace that for a moment. Let’s set aside the chocolate-covered conventions and cut straight to the cheese: Here are six great cheeses to actually enjoy on Valentine’s Day, chosen by some of the country’s top cheese mongers, along with their ideal pairings. As heartfelt gestures go, it doesn’t stink.
Vermont Creamery Aged Goat Cheese
It’s hard to think of anyone who has taught America more about cheese than Steve Jenkins, the former cheese buyer and partner at Fairway in New York City, author of Cheese Primer (in its 16th printing), and now a cheese importer and exporter. For Valentine’s Day, Jenkins suggests any of the magnificent Vermont Creamery aged goat cheeses—Coupole, Bijou, Bonne Bouche, or Cremont (technically made from cow and goat milk)—and since they’re small, grab two different ones. “Each is creamy as heck—supple and delicious,” he says. “Trim away not a speck. Serve them with cold Pineau des Charentes, the fabulous fortified wine made from Cognac grapes.” (vermontcreamery.com)
Pecorino Moliterno al Tartufo
A tall wedge of Moliterno al Tartufo—the firm, fatty, rustic sheep and goat cheese made in Sardinia—has an almost risible elegance, Jenkins says: “The cheesemakers have virtually fracked this Moliterno, larded it, with startling seams of thick, coarse-textured, black-truffle paste. It’s almost too scrumptious to be true.” Add a generous pile of crusty bread and a crock of Vermont Creamery salted butter, but “no fruit, no olives, no nothing else—except the one you love.” And that bottle of Pineau des Charentes. (salumeriaitaliana.com)
Andante Dairy Rondo
Tony Princiotta—the cheese buyer and general manager of the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills since 1983—will reach for a special, heart-shaped edition of Rondo, the young goat cheese made by Soyoung Scanlon at Andante Dairy in Petaluma, Calif. Scanlon, a pianist, names all of her cheeses after musical notations; this one is made with a mixture of cow’s milk and goat’s milk, with a pretty spray of fresh herbs and pink peppercorns on top. Its bright, clean flavor is complemented by a sparkling Vouvray or blanc de blancs Champagne. Finish the platter with mild La Panzanella crackers and Mojave Gold raisins on the stem. “They’re like regular raisins, but on steroids,” Princiotta says. (andantedairy.com)
Fromagerie Rouzaire Gratte Paille
This distinctive, square-shaped, triple crème from the Brie district of France is thick, rich, subtle, and buttery. Be careful not to overpower it with the pairing. “You just want a little cheese, a little savory component, and your adult beverage,” Princiotta says. In this case, he suggests brut Champagne, Marcona almonds, and Rutherford & Meyer’s pear fruit paste from New Zealand. (fromagerierouzaire.com)
Délice de Bourgogne
For Bradley Frank—who oversees the cheese program at the Shed in Healdsburg, Calif.—this triple crème from Burgundy is the go-to for Valentine’s Day. “It’s such a beautiful, put-together, sexy cheese,” he says. “A perfect marriage between brie and butter—super pillowy and fluffy under the rind, with a nice pastry center.” He matches its salty, tart, and tangy flavor with Jack Rudy’s bourbon-soaked cocktail cherries and a Roederer Estate sparkling rosé. “The wine has a lot of nice toasty notes, plums and peppercorns and cherry,” he says. And the boozy cherry is an inspired touch. (healdsburgshed.com)
L’Amuse Brabander Goat Gouda
“The affinieur, Betty Koster, is responsible for some of best Gouda I’ve ever had,” Frank says. “Her L’Amuse is a cheese that you can’t say no to.” This creamy, caramelly, Dutch hard cheese is made at a higher temperature and humidity than most, which gives it more mature flavor—though it is aged six to nine months, it tastes more like it’s been aged for 18 months. Frank serves it crumbled and paired with sourdough bread, burnt caramel sauce, and a wedge of dark chocolate from Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco. To balance all that richness, there’s a lively 2014 Scribe Carneros Pinot Noir. “And don’t forget to use something unexpected as a cheese platter,” says Frank, who avoids dull wood and marble in favor of bright glass plates, old fashioned lunch boxes or even license plates. “This is Valentine’s Day—it’s supposed to be fun.” (dibruno.com)
Looking for more romantic recommendations? Click here for a collection of all of our 2017 Valentine’s Day coverage.