Pairing Cheesy Popcorn and Wine

Raise a glass to comforting snack partners and National Popcorn Day
Lemon Pepper and Parmesan Popcorn

Photo: The Popcorn Board

One of the simple joys in life is to pour a glass of wine, settle in to watch a movie or favorite show, and enjoy some crunchy popcorn. Popcorn and wine? Yes, it’s a delicious pairing. The saltiness of the popcorn can play off the acidity in the wine and make a great match. The classic butter-topped corn is a natural with Chardonnay’s buttery qualities, for example, or the zip of sparkling wines.

But I’m taking the match further here with cheesy popcorn options. Since cheese is a natural partner to wine, cheesy popcorn offers even more options for delicious, comforting snack combinations. I’m not talking the bright orange substance of questionable origin on some ready-made popcorn. I’m talking real cheese and easy-to-make recipes courtesy of The Popcorn Board. And since Americans consume 15 billion quarts of popcorn annually, according to The Popcorn Board—which translates to about 43 quarts per person—I know I am not alone in my popcorn love. More ways to enjoy it sounds like a win. And with National Popcorn Day on January 19, now is the perfect time to raise a glass to the pairing.

Wines to Try

Here are cheese and wine combinations that go well together and tie in to the flavors of the recipes below.

• Hard, mild cheeses such as cheddar pair well with most white wines especially Pinot Gris/Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc as well as light reds such as Beaujolais.

• More mature-flavored cheeses such as sharp cheddar and Parmesan pair nicely with fuller white wines such as oaky Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Viognier and also light reds like Beaujolais. If you prefer bolder reds try Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz or Zinfandel.

• If your popcorn brings in flavors of a cheesy pepperoni pizza, classic partners include Italian Barbera, Chianti and Prosecco.

• For the snack that echoes the flavors of Mexican street corn, such as the elote-inspired popcorn recipe below, a glass of white Torrontés or Chardonnay can complement the spice or go for a Syrah or Zinfandel. Another refreshing option is sparkling wine such as Spanish cava.


When making the following recipes, keep in mind that popcorn kernels expand up to 40 times their original size. One ounce (1/8 cup or 2 tablespoons) of unpopped kernels equals 4 cups (1 quart) popped popcorn.

Popping Tips

  • On the stovetop, you can pop popcorn in any type of oil—sunflower, olive, canola, corn, or coconut—but do not use butter as it will burn under high heat. If you like butter, drizzle melted butter on your popcorn after popping.
  • Pre-salting kernels toughens popcorn. So, salt the popcorn after it has been popped—or skip salt altogether and add salt-free spices.

• Microwave in a Bowl: I just tried this method for the first time and was excited how slick it worked. There are “official” microwave popping corn bowls available, but you can also use something you have on hand. Pour ¼ to ½ cup popcorn kernels into a microwave-safe plastic or glass bowl (no oil needed) and cover the bowl with a plate or a plastic microwave plate cover. Place in the microwave and heat about 2 or more minutes (timing depends on wattage of your microwave). My microwave is about 1100 watts and it only took about 2 minutes for a ¼ cup of kernels. Keep a close eye—and ear—on the popping. The popcorn will be done when popping slows to about two second between pops.

Lemon Pepper and Parmesan Popcorn

Makes 6 cups

Lemon pepper and Parmesan cheese elevate this easy-to-make snack mix.

6 cups popped popcorn
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1½ teaspoons lemon pepper

  1. Heat oven to 350°F.
  2. Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with foil. Place popcorn in the prepared pan and set aside.
  3. Place butter in a small bowl and microwave about 20 seconds or until melted. Pour butter over popcorn and toss to coat.
  4. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese and lemon pepper over popcorn and toss again.
  5. Bake 7 to 10 minutes or until heated through.
  6. Toss again just before serving. Serve immediately or cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Photo: The Popcorn Board

Mighty Magical Popcorn Cheeseballs

Makes about 16

Cheddar cheese takes center stage in these savory popcorn balls.

8 cups popped popcorn
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup finely shredded cheddar cheese

  1. Place popcorn in a large bowl.
  2. Melt butter and cheese in a small pan over low heat until just melted.
  3. Dribble the butter and cheese mixture over the popcorn and mix thoroughly to coat.
  4. Form mixture into balls, using about ½ cup for each. Or, serve in a bowl. Serve immediately or wrap and refrigerate.

Photo: The Popcorn Board

Elote Inspired Popcorn

Makes 10 Cups

Street corn is the inspiration for this cheesy popcorn mix that brings the heat.

10 cups popped popcorn
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
2 tablespoons hot sauce (such as Frank’s)
1 tablespoon dried cilantro
½ cup queso fresco cheese, crumbled (can substitute shredded Monterey jack cheese)

  1. Place popcorn in a large bowl
  2. In a small saucepan, melt butter. Add hot sauce and cilantro; mix well. Pour over popcorn, stirring to coat.
  3. Sprinkle with cheese and mix well.

Photo: The Popcorn Board

Cheesy Pepperoni Popcorn

Makes 6 to 8 (1 cup each) servings

Popcorn with the flavor of pepperoni pizza—is it a snack or a meal?

12 cups air-popped popcorn
¾ cup turkey pepperoni, cut into bite-size bits
olive-oil cooking spray
¼ cup nonfat Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons garlic powder
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
¼ teaspoon dried basil leaves
1/8 teaspoon dried sage
black pepper, to taste

  1. Combine Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, oregano, marjoram, basil, sage and pepper in a small bowl and mix well.
  2. Place the popped popcorn and turkey pepperoni in a large bowl and spray lightly with cooking spray.
  3. Sprinkle popcorn and pepperoni with cheese mixture and toss to coat evenly.

Photo: The Popcorn Board

Cheesy Popcorn

Makes 10 Cups

Enjoy a version of cheesy popcorn made with nutritional yeast, which adds a cheese-like flavor without the calories or fat or cheese.

2 tablespoons garlic flavored or vegetable oil
½ cup popcorn kernels
1 tablespoon melted butter (optional)
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon curry powder (optional)

  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot (with a lid), place oil and about 3 popcorn kernels. Heat over medium-high heat until a kernel pops. Add remaining popcorn; cover.
  2. Once corn begins to pop, shake pot constantly over heat. When popping slows, remove pot from heat and transfer popcorn to a serving bowl.
  3. Pour butter over popcorn, if using, and toss.
  4. Sprinkle yeast and curry powder, if desired, over popcorn and toss to distribute evenly. Serve immediately or store in an air-tight container.

Deliciousness in Motion

In celebration of popcorn, it is time, once again, to share this slow-motion video of popping popcorn kernels accompanied by soothing instrumental music. Sit back, grab your popcorn of choice—perhaps a glass of wine to pair—and enjoy. We all can use simple joys right now.


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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her school-age son, who used to eat beets and Indian food, will one day again think of real food as more than a means to a treat—and later share this with his younger brother.