In the world of food and drink pairings whiskey is often second fiddle to wine, but Louisville’s Cheese Dude Will Eaves wants you to know what you’ve been missing.
Eaves first discovered his love of cheese when he started working at a deli with a sizable cheese counter.
“The cheese counter looked fun,” recalls Eaves, who is often referred to as the “Cheese Dude” for his laid-back style and sharp-cheese wit. “There were all these things I had never seen or tasted and I wanted to eat them all. I’m the kind of person who gets obsessed and wants to learn everything there is to know.”
As he began to delve deeper into the world of cheese, he soon discovered that, much like bourbon, every cheese has a history and a story.
“Cheese is history. I love stories and I love to share those stories with others. When I sell someone a piece of cheese I sell it by telling them the story about that cheese.”
Eaves’ passion for cheese grew as he learned more about it. As that passion grew he found himself in a new role: cheese buyer.
“Making customers passionate about cheese made them want to buy it, and as they bought more that meant I got to order more weird stuff.”
From Cheese Dude To Cheese Maker
After years behind the counter, Eaves decided to take the plunge to full-on cheese obsession and move his family three hours outside of Louisville to live and work on a cheese farm. That’s when he started to recognize the many parallels between cheese and the world of bourbon.
“Cheese has terroir. You can make Brie in Texas, but it’s not going to taste the same. Seasons also affect the milk; the milk is affected by what the cow eats and what the cow eats is affected by the seasons and by the food available.”
And when the cows react to those changes, sometimes it manifests in beautiful ways.
“The cows dance,” explains Eaves. “You can look it up on YouTube. In the spring when they let the cows out of the barn they dance around, because they are excited to eat the fresh spring grass.”
This, Eaves says, is why some cheeses are only made in the spring. It’s not just a television commercial–happy cows produce more and better milk, which leads to better cheese.
How To Build A Cheese Dude Approved Cheese Board To Pair With Whiskey
If you’re thinking about going to your local cheese aisle and loading up on nondescript yellow and white cubes, that just will not abide.
“The thing about pairing cheese with bourbon is that the flavor is already so strong; you need to really pair for texture,” explains Eaves.”Bourbon is such a strong flavor profile already that you can bring in strong cheese that will stand up to it and you will always be left with that nice mouthfeel.”
When building your cheese board, says Eaves, be sure to add lots of different flavors and textures, and don’t be afraid to stack them in unusual ways. Cheese should range from creamy to hard, from pungent to salty, and everything in between.
“You want to use lots of textures and flavors so you can layer a bite–as one layer is regressing the next one is coming in on top of it.”
In addition to cheese, he says, be sure to add in other flavors: dark chocolate, dried fruits like cherries, apricots, and mangos, some roasted and salted nuts like almonds and pecans, dried Turkish figs for some texture and crunch, and “chunky, funky pâté and some gloriously sour wild caper berries.”
He’s not big on crackers, he says, because he’d rather just put the cheese directly onto his palate, but if you must have that vehicle to get your cheese there, he has surprising advice: skip the fancy stuff and go for something boring that isn’t going to compete with the cheese for your attention.
The Cheese Dude On Duty
These days you can find Will “The Cheese Dude” Eaves at specialty grocery store Lotsa Pasta in Louisville, Kentucky.You can also find him at the Original Bardstown Road Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings selling cheese and pasta.
In addition to spreading the love of cheese to the farthest reaches of the world, Eaves is also heading up the creation of the new Cavallo Nero Artisanal Pasta line, which is, according to the website, a “bronze die extruded, slow dried, Artisanal pasta [which] is now produced, packaged and sold exclusively by Lotsa Pasta.”
Cheese Dude Approved Pairings
Michter’s 10 Year Rye and 5 year Wisconsin Cheddar – The creaminess cuts down the spiciness of the rye and brings out a hint of sweetness that highlights dried cherry notes.
Whiskey Row Bourbon and Dark Chocolate – brings out loads of vanilla.
Jim Beam Black Label and Beemster 2.5 Year Aged Gouda – eat an almost first then cheese then take a sip of the bourbon and it tastes like amaretto.
Wild Turkey 101 with Ewephoria Aged Sheep’s Milk Gouda – eat a fig first then cheese then bourbon and the oily mouthfeel balances out the spice of the bourbon.
“Grown-up Pickleback” – Take a bite of pâté de Campagne, a chunky sausage-style pâté, followed by a wild caper berry and a Four Roses 2015 Small Batch bourbon.