What is the Best Cheese for Pastrami?

Written By Acacia Crossley


Some of the best, most delicious foods we now take for granted have come from a root of necessity. Take pastrami, for example. Before the ease of refrigerators, people had to find ways to make the most of the meat that they had access to, which meant preserving as much of it as possible. 

Pastrami has been preserved for centuries by soaking beef in brine and then smoking it.

Likewise, cheese was invented to preserve milk, so it only makes sense that pastrami is a natural pairing for cheese. But what makes the best cheese for pastrami?

Any mild, smooth cheese works, but the best and most popular pastrami pairing is Swiss cheese. Swiss cheese has a mild sweetness that balances out the natural smoky savouriness of pastrami while still letting the pastrami shine. 

What Does Pastrami Taste Like 

Pastrami is one of those sandwich fillings classics that is not as widely enjoyed as you would think.

The pastrami that is popular today has roots in New York but is based on the Romanian preservation method. Outside of certain areas of Europe and the States, pastrami is not as popular

Though traditionally made from corned beef (made from a cow’s belly), pastrami can be made from a whole range of meat.

However, it must be smoked. This is what separates it from corned meat. As such, pastrami has a predominantly smoky taste. 

Beef pastrami, which is the most popular and common type of pastrami, has a flavour similar to roast beef or even sausage, especially when the pastrami is rubbed or covered in a variety of herbs and spices before it is smoked to give it extra flavour. 

What Is The Texture Of Pastrami?

Because it is smoked meat, pastrami has a wonderfully chewy texture, though it is nowhere near as chewy as beef jerky. The meat can also be surprisingly tender if it has been cooked properly. 

Pastrami manufacturers tend to sell pastrami already cooked, which is why it is popular as a sandwich filling.

But you can buy raw pastrami and cook it at home to be served like a regular piece of beef. In that case, you can take your time to tenderise the meat as you wish. 

Why Does Swiss Cheese Work So Well With Pastrami?

If you were to go into any deli or deli-style cafe, you are no doubt going to find a sandwich, sub, or panini that includes a pastrami and Swiss cheese combination.

The two go so well together that Swiss cheese is considered the universal go-to choice of cheese for pastrami. But why is that? 

Swiss cheese is not entirely flavourless like some other mild white cheeses.

It does have its own taste which is predominantly sweet with an aromatic nuttiness that seeps into the tasting experience of the cheese. However, Swiss cheese is still mild enough not to be too overpowering as other cheeses such as blue cheese can be. 

Swiss Chese for Pastrami

That is exactly why it works so well with pastrami.

The cheese’s sweetness brightens the pastrami’s smoky taste so it does not taste too heavy. However, Swiss cheese is mild enough to let the hard-earned taste of pastrami remain the star of any dish. 

There is also the wonderful smoothness of Swiss cheese which is hard to overlook as it makes the cheese taste so luxurious.

It is hard to make a meat-based product taste smooth without completely overprocessing it, but with the pairing of Swiss cheese, the chewy potential tenderness of pastrami can feel creamy smooth, helping it stand out even more. 

How To Serve Swiss Cheese With Pastrami 

The easiest way to fully use your Swiss cheese and pastrami pairing is to make a delicious sandwich.

Even the most flavourful sandwich can become boring if you eat the same combination every lunch. Luckily Swiss cheese is one of the easiest types of cheese to melt. 

It has a low enough melting point to give you that picture perfect cheese pull with only a little heat, opening up a whole range of Swiss cheese and pastrami possibilities. For example: 

  • Panini – Nobody wants a cold sandwich for lunch on a rainy, miserable day, yet sandwiches are easy. Upgrade your Swiss cheese and pastrami sandwich to a warm, melted panini. Using a panini press to squash the Swiss cheese will encourage it to melt fully and provide an even more delicious creamy texture for the pastrami. 
  • Toastie – Of course, if you don’t have a panini press, you can always stick with a simpler Swiss cheese and pastrami toastie or melt. You will still be able to get that Swiss cheese pull and have a filling, warm sandwich to keep you satisfied. 
  • Quiche – If you think of pastrami as a sandwich filler meat like ham then you can upgrade countless dishes to that next level. For example, a simple quiche will taste so much better with creamy sweet Swiss cheese and smoky pieces of pastrami mixed together. 
  • Mac And Cheese – Swiss cheese is so easy to melt that you can easily make a delicious cheese sauce out of it to use however you wish. A simple and classic way to use a Swiss cheese sauce is to make mac and cheese. Mix in the pastrami for a touch of smokiness and you have yourself a luxurious take on a family favourite. 

Pastrami and Cheese FAQs

If you have further questions about choosing a cheese to go with pastrami, then these common queries are worth a read:

Does Mustard Go With Pastrami?

It certainly does! The spicy pepperiness of mustard will cut through the saltiness of the pastrami and work well alongside pickles which are often included with pastrami.

Does Mozzarella Go With Pastrami?

Although not usually the go-to option, mozzarella can work well with pastrami as it doesn’t detract from the flavour of the meat and will melt well in a toasted sandwich.


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