For those of you who think that wine is the ultimate beverage to pair with cheese, think again.
I’m not hating on wine. I LOVE wine, but beer has an equally deserving place at the side of your favorite cheeses.
Cheese for me is heaven. It satisfies my love for everything savory. I would seriously take a big hunk of cheese over dessert any day. Weird, I know. I recently read Cheese & Beer by Janet Fletcher – the perfect intro level book for beer and cheese pairing, which inspired me to write this post. If you’re really interested in the topic, I would highly recommend it – great pictures and fantastic, straight forward advice.
Rather than sit at home alone like a fat kidding eating cheese and drinking beer, I thought this exercise would be better suited to friendly conversation. I enlisted my friends Stephanie and David – both foodies who also happen to enjoy beer.
The adventure started with a trip to my local Whole Foods. Unfortunately, I missed my time window to make it to my favorite cheese shop, Silverglades at Findlay Market, but Whole Foods worked great because they have a good beer selection and some fantastic cheeses too. I hadn’t tried any of these cheeses before, so I made sure to read the descriptions carefully in order to make my best guesses of which beers would work.
First, some thoughts on cheese:
Cheese is best served at room temperature. If planning a similar beer and cheese experience for friends, make sure to pull out your cheeses at least a half hour ahead of time. A little finesse with the plating, some apples, fresh bread, fun cheese knieves etc. doesn’t hurt. We got this great cheese board and cheese knives as a wedding gift and we use them all the time.
The principles of pairing cheese and beer are no different than pairing other foods. You should start with milder cheeses/beers and work your way up to the funky, in-your-face stuff. Beers and cheeses should be equally bold. No stinky stilton with a mild lager, think stilton with big bad barleywine. You want to work with the flavors and characteristics that contrast and resonate. For example, creamy cheeses paired with highly carbonated Belgian beers (contrast) or sweeter malt forward beers (ambers, brown ales) will work better with nutty, caramely cheeses (resonating).
Once I had my round up of cheeses, I chose beers that I suspected would work well. Then, as we started tearing into them, we tried different combinations to see what really worked best.
First off was Guilloteau Fromage d’Affinois, an amazing French double creme cheese similar to brie, but even creamier. For this buttery, rich cheese we all agreed that Le Merle saison was the perfect pair. You’ve heard me talk about my love for this beer before, but with this cheese, it will make your heart stop. The buttery texture with the slightly sweet, effervescent and fruity saison is truly a match made in heaven. The cheese alone was enough to make you cry tears of joy, but with the beer it was like fireworks. Somehow the fruitiness of the beer brought out similar flavors in the cheese that you didn’t even know were there. The carbonation cleansed the palate after each bite, making this rich and subtle cheese taste new with each bite.
Cheese number two was Caprichio de Cabra, a fresh goats milk cheese with a green pepper dusting. According to the interweb, this cheese is produced “from the milk of Murcian goats, a breed which produces an inherently sweeter milk.” It is tangy, but not as goaty as some goats milk cheese. For this cheese, I wanted a beer with high carbonation with a matching acidity and some funky flavors, that would sing with the pepper while cutting through the creamy texture. As I suspected, Duvel, the famous Belgian Golden Stronge Ale was the perfect match.
What made this pair so perfect was how the complex Belgian ale simultaneously compared and contrasted with the cheese. The peppery phenols with the light bitterness from the hops of this beer worked wonders with the pepper edge, while that slightest hint of barnyard funk (which comes from bottle conditioning with brettanomyces) worked gloriously with the cheeses acidity, then at the end the high carbonation swept the creaminess from the tongue.
Next up for the tasting, a lightly nutty, complex semi-soft cheese, Fontina Val d’Aosta. I suspected that a nice, malt forward amber would work well with this cheese. I chose Freya’s Stone amber from Lore Bewing, a relatively new brewery located in Danville, Kentucky. Ian over at Beerquest ABV recommended this beer to me, and last night was my first time having it. It’s a really nice, balanced amber that worked beautifully with the Fontina. The caramel malt accentuated the nuttiness of the cheese. Neither beer nor cheese was overpowered, a lovely match.
For the fourth cheese, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, I was expecting a little more sharp, nuttiness, which made me think a somewhat sweet amber like the Freya’s Stone or the other maltier beer I brought, Domaine DuPage, would work wonders here. Unfortunately the malt overpowered the mild cheddar.
Luckily, I decided to bring our very own homebrewed hard apple cider, and this was where the magic happened. It turned out that the crisp, dry apple cider was amazing with the mellow, but complex cheddar. If you’ve ever eaten apples and cheddar together as a snack, you’ll understand why this worked so well. The light sweetness and fruitiness in the cider contrasted marvelously with the cheese. Commercially, I’ve really enjoyed the Harpoon craft cider which is semi-dry and extremely refreshing. I suspect that it too would work with a nice mellow cheddar like this one.
Finally, our fifth cheese was a piquant English cheese called Appleby’s Cheshire. This cheese is firm and zippy with lots of nuttiness and caramel. This was the perfect cheese for the lovely French bier de garde style farmhouse ale by Two Brothers Brewing in Illinois, Domaine DuPage.
Here, the earthy farmhouse yeast and somewhat sweet caramel malt of the beer complements and is big enough to compete with this bold and complex cheese. The firm crumbly texture is delightful with this full bodied and easy drinking beer.
All this goes to show you that beer and cheese are truly meant for one another. I honestly can’t think of a wine I would have preferred more with these delicious cheeses. Just give it a try, you will not be disappointed.
Cheers to beer and cheese!