Refreshing summer drinks + cheese

Whether you’re relaxing on the beach, in the mountains or in your own backyard, cocktail hour always seems to be just around the corner in the summertime. Impress your friends and family with these refreshing drinks, coupled with unique cheese pairings.

It’s not unusual to pair wine or even beer with cheese. What’s less common is pairing your favorite cocktails with cheese.

In the summer, there’s nothing like a refreshing cocktail before dinner. Spending time outdoors, though, increases the appetite. So you’ll want to serve something to eat during happy hour. That’s where the cheese comes in.

So how do you determine which type of cheese to pair with which drink? That depends on the type of alcohol in your mixed drink. Here are a few basic guidelines:

Rum- or tequila-based drinks: These work well with sweeter cheeses or those typically served with sweet accompaniments. Think of hard, aged cheeses. Il Villaggio Gorgonzola Dolce or Fontal would be a good choice.

Vodka-based drinks: Vodka does not have much flavor, so it’s up to you which cheeses you’d like to serve. The popular Bloody Mary pairs well with Italian cheeses such as Il Villagio Mozzarella or Parmigiano Reggiano.

Gin-based drinks: Gin has a fresh taste with floral notes, making it a good partner for cheeses ranging from mild to stronger, slightly smoky cheeses. Try Il Villaggio Parmigiano Reggiano.

Whisky-based drinks: Whisky (and cognac) has sweet, burned notes that go well with both flavorful and mild cheeses. Tangy Il Villaggio Montasio is a good bet.

Some bartenders actually put cheese in their drink concoctions. One Chicago bartender uses mascarpone cheese in a cognac-kirsch cocktail. She also has made a Sazerac with Parmesan cheese. A Las Vegas bar offers a gin-based drink with a mozzarella foam.

Less outrageous but definitely refreshing, the following berry-filled cocktail is a natural for Il Villaggio Gorgonzola. Note that black cherry juice is rich in antioxidants, so it’s a drink with medicinal value!

Berry Splash

4 blackberries
1.5 oz. bourbon
1.5 oz. black cherry juice
Seltzer water

In a mixing glass, muddle the blackberries. Add bourbon and black cherry juice. Add ice and shake. Strain into ice-filled glasses. Top with a splash of seltzer water.
Watermelon isn’t just for picnics. And, with this mixed drink, it’s definitely not for kids! Serve with Il Villaggio Mozzarella skewers.

Watermelon-Mint Margaritas

4 cups watermelon, seeded and chopped
Fresh lime juice
1/2 cup tequila
1 tbsp. grated lime rind
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. chopped fresh mint leaves
Garnish: fresh mint sprig

Place watermelon in a single layer on a baking sheet. Freeze 4 hours or until firm. Coat rims of cocktail glasses with lime juice; dip in sugar.

Process frozen watermelon, tequila, and next 4 ingredients in a blender until slushy. Pour into glasses. Garnish, if desired.

For the next drink, made with Italian Prosecco, pair with Il Villaggio Parmigiano Reggiano.

Pineapple Ginger Prosecco Punch

2 cups frozen pineapple chunks
4 chopped ginger cubes
4 cups pineapple juice
1/2 cup chopped cilantro or 2 cilantro cubes
1 750-ml bottle Prosecco
1/2 cup tequila (optional)

Blend all ingredients except alcohol, until pineapple is slushy. Pour into pitcher; when ready to serve, ad Prosecco and tequila. Garnish with fresh cilantro, if desired.

For under-age folks or those who prefer no alcohol, try this:

Virgin Mojito

1 sprig fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp. simple syrup (equal parts boiling water and sugar, cool before using)
1/2 lime, sliced
Sparkling water
Mint leaf for garnish

Muddle the lime and mint leaves (can remove the lime skin first, if desired). Combine the muddled mixture with simple syrup. Place ice cubes in a ball glass, add mixture. Add sparkling water and stir. Garnish with a mint leaf before serving.

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