Recipe: Salty Mezcal and Cheese

Bonus recipe from The Laws of Cooking...and How to Break Them by Justin Warner.

Kara Rota
2-minute read

One of the oldest bars in New York is called McSorley’s. In keeping with its nineteenth-century roots, it offers only two beers (light and dark) and a few interesting snacks. One such snack is the “cheese plate,” which consists of slices of American or cheddar cheese, raw white onions, and Saltines. Mustard is optional. I once watched two old men sit together there, staring off in silence, slugging their beers, eating some cheese, and slugging some more beer, only really chatting when something caught their eye. I want to be like them someday, I thought. I’ve since been fascinated with the idea of growing old, and finding a buddy who I can drink and nibble with, not say much to, and be content. Ideally, we’d be doing this in a warm climate, not too far from Mexico, and we’d be drinking mezcal, the Scotch of the New World, the smoky cousin of tequila. If you add a little salt to the mezcal it gets supercold, and also primes the tongue for the creamy and spicy cheese I like to serve with it. Something perfect happens as the cheese is chewed and the memory of the salty/smoky shot dissipates. If only getting old were as simple. 

YIELD 8 shots with cheese, plus more mezcal for another sitting

PREP TIME 5 minutes

INACTIVE TIME 2 to 3 hours 


Shot glasses 



1 teaspoon kosher salt 

One 750-ml bottle mezcal, stored in the freezer 


1 lime, cut into wedges 

One 8-ounce block Pepper Jack cheese 

Make the salty mezcal. Add the salt to the mezcal in the bottle, replace the cap or cork, and invert 10 to 15 times until the salt dissipates. Keep frozen until ready to consume. A A good test of coldness is if the bottle develops frost upon removal from the freezer. 

PLATE IT! If you are the kind of person who has a cheese board and knife, plate the cheese and lime wedges on there. If you are like me, and see the world and all its surfaces as a cheese board, plate there. It’s best to keep the cheese uncut so it doesn’t dry out. 

To consume, cut a slice of cheese and squirt it with a little lime juice. Pour a small shot of mezcal and shoot it. Savor the mezcal’s robustness for just a second before devouring the cheese slice. Note the way the cheese chases away the taste of the mezcal, and the way the smokiness develops. 

BREAK IT: Infuse the mezcal with cilantro to bring a fresh and floral perfume to the smoky mezcal. 

Step your game up:

Optional but ideal: find a leathery companion. Stare off into the abyss, and know that with a good buddy and some liquid courage, almost anything is possible. Just don’t say it out loud. 

Recipes reprinted from The Laws of Cooking...and How to Break Them. Copyright ©2015 by Justin Warner. Photographs by Daniel Krieger. Published by Flatiron Books.

About the Author

Kara Rota

Kara Rota headed children’s programming at Chicago’s Green City Market and studied food politics at Sarah Lawrence College. Kara has been a featured speaker at numerous venues including Food Book Fair, the Roger Smith Food Conference, and the Brooklyn Food Conference. She has written about food for Irish America Magazine, West Side Rag, Recipe Relay, and Food + Tech Connect, and is the former Director of Editorial & Partnerships at Cookstr.com.