The enduring legacy of "30 Rock's" night cheese

Tina Fey redefined late-night snacking, all with a block of cheddar

Published February 6, 2022 5:00PM (EST)

 (Julia Gartland / Food52)
(Julia Gartland / Food52)

This story first appeared on Food52, an online community that gives you everything you need for a happier kitchen and home – that means tested recipes, a shop full of beautiful products, a cooking hotline, and everything in between!

"What's your go-to night cheese?" My fiance's best friend, Billy, asked us one night when we were hanging out in their small Astoria apartment.

"Night cheese?" I asked.

"Yeah, night cheese. Like what cheese do you eat in the middle of the night?" he asked.

For all you cool cats and kittens who are in the know, you've probably guessed that Billy was referencing the scene from 30 Rock, which depicts protagonist Liz Lemon sprawled out on her couch, tucked under a fuzzy blue blanket. Beside her is a medium-sized wooden charcuterie board covered with an assortment of different cheeses. "Working on my night cheese," Lemon sings to herself, to the tune of "Night Moves" by Bob Seger, before her solo dairy date is interrupted by her boss, Jack Donaghy (played by Alec Baldwin), knocking at the door.

But it's not just a funny sitcom joke from the mid-2000s. Night cheese is a great idea. When you want something that's savory before bed, why not cheese? I turned to the experts for their take on the best cheese to snack on as you're singing to yourself underneath a heated blanket.

For starters, what exactly qualifies as a good night cheese? If you're snacking post-dinner but pre-bedtime, think of what will go well with your preferred nightcap. "The perfect night cheese is something more spreadable with a hint of funk and strength but not so strong that it will overpower my glass of bubbly," says Mary Chapman, owner and cheesemonger of The Cheese Shop of Portland. If your preferred nightcap is a responsible glass of water or a cup of sleep-inducing chamomile tea, you have options, but I like to think that a firm cheese with a slightly grassy flavor would nicely complement your wind-down routine.

Night cheese isn't just about flavor, just like you wouldn't buy a pair of jeans only because they're on sale — it has to be both practical and of the moment. Cheddar is easier than a soft, runny cheese, for example. Plus, think about your night context: Are you alone or with a partner? Is it a gossipy girls' night? Are you entertaining 6 to 8 guests? Are you eating it while sitting on a secondhand leather countertop stool or on your Burrow couch? Are you laying down in bed or standing in front of the fridge with the door sprawled open, one sock on, one sock off? The setting will help you determine what type of night cheese you should snack on.

Gillian Dana, general manager and buyer for Curds & Co, looks for versatility. "I think it has to balance well between the ability to eat without utensils, eat without pairings (if you want), and eat either copious amounts of OR just a little bit of and be equally satisfying," she says.

Versatility means possibilities, which also means you have many, many options to choose from at the cheese counter. Allow me, or rather Dana, to recommend something like French Brie. "A younger bloomy rind cheese is perfect because you can sneak to the fridge and take a bite without leaving a mess, or you can make a little plate with other snacks and it goes perfectly," she says.

The lesson here is to not overthink what a night cheese should be. The simpler, the better. "I think night cheese should be easy and snackable. Nothing too intense and adventurous, just a good pairing for a comfy night in and some Netflix," says Alexandra Horne, manager of events and education at Murray's Cheese. I couldn't agree more. My perfect night cheese is also my perfect day cheese, which is to say a snackable cheddar. I love the approachable, slightly nutty flavor of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. Remember what we talked about earlier: versatility. Night cheese can party on the shuffleboard court just as well as it can help me ease into a horizontal position on my couch after a long week (believe me, I've consumed it in both settings). Similarly, I will never turn down Kerrygold's Reserve Irish Cheddar either. It's wrapped in dark charcoal packaging, which obviously makes it the Amex Black Card of night cheese.

The best night cheeses, according to cheeseheads

  • "Two favorites are Frolic from Orb Weaver Creamery and Walden from Sequatchie Cove Creamery in Tennessee." — Mary Chapman, owner and cheesemonger of The Cheese Shop of Portland
  • "My go-to night cheese is either Murray's Estate Gouda or Pepperjack! The Murray's Estate Gouda tastes like a buttered baked potato, and has the creamiest most luxurious texture that's easy to curl up on the couch with. Pair it with some super simple crackers or add pretzel chips. Pepperjack needs no introduction, but it's the perfect snacking cheese because of the easy texture and a little bit of spice." — Alexandra Horne, manager of events and education at Murray's Cheese
  • "My number one "night cheese" is Tickler Cheddar from the UK. This is the cheese you want waiting at home for you after a long day. This is a cheese that's going to leave the light on and have dinner ready. It's a sharp, block-style, white cheddar so it tastes and feels familiar, but it's also an artisanal English cheddar — so you feel refined without having to leave your comfort zone (which is exactly where "night cheese" is best enjoyed). The greatest thing about this cheese? It's called Tickler because it's sharp and sweet — just like a tickle fight. I didn't make that up, the cheeky brits behind the cheese did! What could be more "night cheese" than that?" — Michele Molier, manager of education and in-person events Murray's Cheese
  • "Last night, I was doing some late-night snacking on Jasper Hill's Harbison alongside a sesame ficelle. I also have been known to down a hunk of my favorite gouda (Fromagerie L'Amuse Wilde Weide) while on an evening stroll." — Gillian Dana, general manager and buyer for Curds & Co.
  • "My absolute favorite night cheese is an orange block of medium-sharp cheddar from Whole Foods (it has to be the Whole Foods brand, this is very important). There's absolutely nothing complex about this cheese, so I can eat it mindlessly morning, noon, and night. If I'm in the mood for an indulgent night cheese, something creamy and goaty or sheepy is my vibe — goat's or sheep's milk are important here because they're easier on the digestive system than cow's milk (it's a fact!). Night cheese shouldn't sit too heavy since bedtime is inevitable. For a creamy goat's milk night cheese, I like Cypress Grove Midnight Moon, and Ewephoria is my go-to sheep's milk night cheese." — Madison Trapkin, Food52's assistant editor, brand partnerships
  • "Some of my favorite soft-ripened goat cheeses include Humboldt Fog, Crottin de Chavignol, Coupole, and Bucheron. Pair with a sweet fig jam or sour cherry jam for a kick of sweetness and serve on a shortbread cookie. Tastes like a true dessert"." —Marissa Mullen, founder of That Cheese Plate
  • "For me Night Cheese is about comfort and accessibility. It is a cheese that holds up well to long stints in the fridge and is aromatically complex enough to break through a 2am dream fog. Classic alpines like Gruyere, Appenzeller, and Comté usually fit the bill. As a bonus they are pretty easy to clean up should I fall back asleep mid-snack." — Josh Windsor, caves manager for Murray' Cheese
  • "My go-to lazy night cheese is going to be Pecorino Wiscono by Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative with Triscuits. Yes, Triscuits, trust me on this one. This cheese is essentially a Pecorino-style cheese but made with Wisconsin Sheep's milk. It's got that gorgeous tanginess that a Pecorino has, but has those beautiful cheese crystals for the ultimate crunch. It's flavorful and so easy to eat." — Cortney LaCorte, founder and owner of Cheese Gal
  • "My dream night cheese is Il Nocciolo. Named after the Italian word for "hazelnut," this cute little mixed milk cheese from Piedmont is a fluffy marshmallow of flavor. Melty, bouncy, buttery, and tangy, Nocciolo is exactly the perfect size for a solo night cheese session. It even comes in its own little box if you're too lazy to grab a plate! It's great with whatever jam or honey you have kicking around the house, some leftover pesto, or even plain." — Sam Glassberg, cheesemonger and beverage buyer for Milkfarm LA

By Kelly Vaughan

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30 Rock Cheddar Cheese Food Food52 Tina Fey