When it comes to entertaining, the French adopt the same mantra as they do with fashion and interior design: It must be elegant yet effortless. It's this simple approach that attracted Elena Seegers, who grew up in the South of France, to the delicate art of edible flower pairing, a tradition that she says always looks impressive but is surprisingly fuss-free. "Edible flowers sound exotic and are trendy at the moment, but people have been cooking and eating blooms probably for as long as we hunter-gatherers have been picking berries," she tells MyDomaine.
When Seegers moved to New York to start bespoke floral service Le Fleuriste, she found that few people knew about edible flowers, and that many were eager to try the curious French tradition. "People are often intrigued and surprised," she says, noting that it's the perfect way to spark interest at a dinner party: "Flowers in and on food are always, without exception, a fabulous conversation starter."
If the thought of pairing edible blooms with cheese sounds challenging, don't be deterred. Seegers assures us that these flowers are easy to source, take moments to prepare, and will seriously impress guests. Upgrade your dinner party menu with these unexpected cheese and edible flower pairings—compliments are guaranteed.
The Flower: If you grow chives in a herb garden, simply wait until the plant sprouts flowers and pick the blooms. Then "remove the central stem from the flower cluster to release the separate florets," says Seegers. "They're surprisingly tasty, so a little goes a long way."
The Cheese: Pont l'Évêque is a semi-soft, square French cheese made with cow's milk. Seegers says it's best served at room temperature and can be swapped out with Camembert.
Why It Works: "The crisp scallion taste marries beautifully with the cheese and brings out the buttery texture while countering the sharper undertone. [It] sweetens the taste of the cheese just a little," says Seegers.
The Flower: Lemon thyme is a favorite among chefs, thanks to its interesting citrus flavor and aroma, but you can also eat the miniature purple buds that dot the plant. Seegers recommends growing it at home, as the hardy plant thrives in most locations and doesn't need much attention (black thumbs, it's perfect for you). To extract the edible blooms, "hold the stalk and pull the flowers from the tip to the base," she says.
The Cheese: Comté is a hard mountain cheese with a pale yellow interior. Seegers notes that it's considered one of the finest cheeses in the world, and describes the flavor as a "balance of brown butter and roasted nut aromas, with hints of butterscotch and banana that the thyme complements to perfection." Salivating yet?
Why It Works: "The tiny bursts of flavor [from the lemon thyme] go well with hard tangy cheese, [so] don't hesitate to go for an older, stronger version," she recommends. Grilled cheese devotees should try scattering the blossoms over an open grilled cheese and let them sink in.
The Flower: Sage flowers are small, with a distinct, vibrant purple color. Seegers warns that they're surprisingly potent in flavor, so be careful to serve this flower sparingly.
The Cheese: "Morbier is easy to recognize, thanks to its vein of ash that runs through middle of the wheel, gracing every slice with a marbled line," she says. The semi-soft cow's milk cheese gets its name from the small village of Morbier in Franche-Comté.
Why It Works: This mild, creamy cheese has a melt-in-your-mouth texture that pairs perfectly with the distinct flavor and slight crunch of flowering sage. Pull the delicate petals from the plant and serve a small amount on a wedge of cheese.
The Flower: These gold-and-orange blooms taste as good as they look. "Their flavors range from spicy to bitter and tangy to peppery," says Seegers, noting that the sharp taste resembles saffron. To add this flower to your cheese platter, pull the individual petals from the calyx and remove any bitter seeds before scattering the petals on the Brillat-Savarin.
The Cheese: "A Brillat-Savarin works perfectly—it's is a triple-cream dessert cheese that was created by cheese-maker Henri Androuët in the 1930s," explains Seegers. Look out for the matured variety, which has a lightly colored, bloomy rind and buttery-white interior.
Why It Works: "The brilliant, almost fluorescent colors are a gorgeous addition sprinkled on creamy whole milk cheeses, the soft petals settling on the oozing center of the cheese, their delicate bite becoming almost structural and keeping the cheese from running away," says Seegers.
The Flower: Nasturtiums might look like purely aesthetic flowers, but Seegers says they're more than just a pretty face. "Nasturtium petals are fabulously peppery with a silky texture. They're also bold in color and flavor, [making] a great chromatic addition to your cheese board," she says.
Why It Works: "This really is a killer combo," says Seegers. "The peppery quality of the bloom and the interesting 'bite' of the petals make a complex and surprising mixture of flavors."