What to Eat When You Drink Cognac

Aaron Goldfarb
Photo credit: Jorge Meza

From Esquire

When drinks connoisseurs espouse the pleasures of food and alcohol pairings, they’re usually referring to wine, or craft beer, so rarely considering liquor. Indeed, many spirits are way too aggressive to pair with most foods and are better suited for enjoying alone, or after a meal. That’s not the case with cognac, however. So often seen as the height of contemplative luxury—to be sipped while smoking a cigar in your leather and mahogany-bound study—it’s actually the rare spirit inherently built for culinary pairings.

Cognac is, of course, a grape-based brandy from the Cognac region in southwestern France. The brandy must be twice distilled in copper pot stills and aged at least two years in French oak barrels from Limousin or Tronçais. In the case of Rémy Martin, its cognacs come exclusively from a blend of eaux-de-vie—unaged spirit—from the Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne districts known as “crus,” with at least 50% of it being Grande Champagne.

These grapes are grown in chalky soils which lead to incredibly aromatic eaux-de-vie that are able to handle cask maturation for extended periods of time. In turn, that lengthy aging creates a flavor profile that is extremely complex. At times herbal and earthy, always warming on the palate, and with just a little spice in the finish.

Rémy Martin’s house portfolio notably includes a VSOP, which is the best-selling VSOP worldwide, and Rémy Martin XO, a blend of some 400 eau-de-vie. The 1738 Accord Royal is aged in toasted oak barrels, giving it a unique terroir-based earthiness while remaining smooth and mellow. Rémy Martin Tercet displays the skill needed at all three steps of cognac-making with a blend created by the wine master, the master distiller, and the cellar master.

These are truly versatile cognacs offering a unique range of flavor profiles able to be enjoyed with a variety of foods. Look to pair them within these key categories.

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Cheeses

A simple rule of thumb: younger cheeses work best with younger cognac, more mature cheeses with more mature cognac. Parmesan, Irish cheddar, or aged gouda pair perfectly with a Tercet whose delicate spice and fruity notes (think: apricot and peaches) help bring out the most luscious qualities of the cognac. The cheeses’ saltiness is also able to stand toe-to-toe with the more tannic qualities of the cognac. For an XO, look for a cheese that is additionally creamy and a bit funky as well, like in the case of Roquefort or Camembert. In addition to cheeses, experts suggest pairing Tercet with exotic fruits like pineapple and passion fruit.

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Charcuterie

All sorts of pâtés, terrines, and especially cured meats work with cognac, as the spirit is able to cut through the rich, fattiness of them. A VSOP works well with spicy salami, andouille, prosciutto di parma, or even lardo, with the tannins from the cognac keeping them from being too overly indulgent. For a hearty pâté or pork rillette, opt for an oily, sumptuous XO which can keep your palate from getting overwhelmed by all the animal fats and cream. For younger cognacs, a fun and unexpected pairing is beef jerky, with the light, sweetness of the spirit balancing the smoke and spice of the jerky.

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Wild Mushrooms

Mushrooms are often seen as the quintessential pairing with cognac. Lighter cognacs, like XO, work particularly well in bringing out the musky, almost meaty notes of certain wild mushrooms like porcini, chanterelles, and black trumpets—and all the better if they’ve been sautéed using that very same cognac. While Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal has some nutty, earthy notes that really elevate the umami in richer mushroom dishes, like a mushroom risotto or mushrooms Bordelaise.

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Duck

The dark, rich, and fatty notes of duck will see its intensity of flavor heightened by a mere sip of cognac, while likewise elevating the luscious mouthfeel of both. Particularly stellar are Asian dishes, like Peking duck, whose sweet and sour profile is rounded out by the maturity of a well-aged cognac. It need not only be a crispy, roasted duck, however. Foie gras is a particularly elegant pairing, with its beefy, buttery, full-bodied texture running stride for stride with the robust, oily notes of an XO cognac.

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Seafood

Unlike, say, bourbon, cognac won’t overpower the delicate notes of fresh seafood either. Slightly chilled, a VS’s bright, zesty aroma will help match the salinic, ocean-like flavors of oysters. While, an older cognac, like a VSOP, is perfect for cutting through the buttery richness of a lobster craw or crab leg while still amplifying its light citrus notes. For an offbeat pairing, you can even match a cognac like Tercet with sushi, as its fruitiness will respond well to the unctuous raw fish (think: tuna, salmon, or eel) while running in stride with the brininess of the seaweed.

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Chocolate

If many see cognac as a postprandial drink, it’s perhaps no surprise then that it is likewise so frequently paired with desserts. That’s because it works—especially in the chocolate realm. In this case, the older the cognac should mean the darker the chocolate. A VS might work well with a creamy white chocolate. While the floral and fruity notes of Tercet pair well with chocolate-covered strawberries or cherries. XO in particular works fantastic with dark chocolate truffles or mousse. When it comes to calming down the bitter intensity of pure dark chocolate, its extremely complex notes of dried fruit, baking spices, ginger, and oak will allow more of its sweetness to shine.

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