Beer & Cheese

 

The pairing of beer and cheese is a custom that dates back centuries.  Both beer and cheese are traditionally farmhouse products. Farmers often made cheese when they had an abundance of milk.  This kept the surplus from spoiling.  During the winter months, when farmers couldn’t farm, they brewed! So, as you can imagine, a common farmer’s diet consisted of beer, cheese, and sometimes, cold meat, commonly referred to in England as a, “ploughman’s lunch.”

 

Both beer and cheese have a similar origin, grass. Barley is a cereal grass used in making beer, and milk is a by-product of a cow eating grass. In the words of Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and pairing guru, “Cheese is grass processed through a cow and modified by microbes.  Beer is also grass processed through a microbe—yeast.”  As a result, beer and cheese complement each other by sharing some common characteristics in both aroma and flavor.

 

Carbonation

Carbonation scrubs the palate, providing for a lively flavor interaction.  The carbonation cuts through the fats in cheese and in turn, lifts the palate and wipes the it clean bring out many nuances in the cheese that would otherwise be undetected. 

 

Malt

When beer is malted, it is soaked in water for several days, and then allowed to sprout for about a week. The grains are then kilned at high temperatures to dry them out. During this kilning, browning reactions create flavors, which are commonly described as toffee, caramel, toasted, chocolate, coffee, roasted, and more.  You can find all these descriptions on the tags at a cheese shop.  Use them to help create harmonies in your pairings.

 

Hops

The bitterness of hops helps cut through fat and balances sweetness!

 

3-Step Guide to Pairing

 

The ultimate goal of pairing is for the beer and cheese to taste better when enjoyed together, than apart.  The beer and cheese should go on the, “best date ever,” on your tongue.  These two should finish each other’s sentences and dance til early morning.  Here’s how you make this happen:

 

Match Strength

Delicate cheese—delicate beer; Strong flavored cheese—assertive beer

 

Take into consideration flavor intensity of your beer.  Qualities that determine the intensity of a beer include: alcoholic strength, malt character, hop bitterness, sweetness, richness and roastiness.

 

Find Harmonies

Combinations often work best when they share some common flavor or aroma elements.  Find a dominant flavor in a cheese and match it to the same dominant flavor in a beer.  For example, the nutty flavors in aged Gouda paired with the nutty flavors of brown ale.

 

Contrast

Contrasting elements balance and sometimes blend into one another.  This of the saying, “opposites attract.” Certain flavor elements interact with each other in specific and predictable ways.  Your goal is to take advantage of these interactions to ensure the food and cheese will balance each other and not throw the match out of whack. 
 

Great tips are:

  • Salt flavors in cheese counters acidic flavors in beer—sour or wild ales become less acidic with salty cheese.

  • When you match acidic cheese with acidic beer, they nullify each other and only mute the overall acidity.

 

Here is a chart from the Brewers Association to best illustrate this point:

 

Traditional Basic Guidelines

 

Light flavored beer..............Young, fresh cheese

Malty beer.................................Nutty, aged cheese

High hop/bitter beer.........Tart, sharp cheese

Strong, sweet beer.............Blue or triple crème cheese

 

 

More In Depth Pairings

 

White Beer

The light, lactic tasting sourness, and citrus acidity mix with the acidity in the cheese

  • Chevre

  • Young soft-ripened cheese

  • Mozzarella

  • Feta

 

Pilsner

The crisp, peppery, bready notes of pilsners balance the similar flavors in these cheeses

  • Young, mild goats

  • Double or triple crèmes

  • Bloomy rind cheeses

 

Saison

The tart character and funky yeast flavors of the beer pair well with cheeses otherwise difficult to match.

  • Soft-ripened

  • Fresh goat

  • Washed- rind

  • Semi-soft

  • Triple crème

 

India Pale Ale

The extreme hopping of this beer needs a full-flavored cheese for balance

  • Cheddar, aged or farmhouse

  • Blue

  • Aged hard cheese

  • Tangy chevre

 

Amber Ale

The beautiful balance of roasted malt and citrusy hop pairs well with a wide variety of cheeses with a lot of flavor that are not too strong

  • Medium aged cheese, gouda

  • Semi-firm cow & sheep’s milk

  • Parmesan/ Romano

 

Brown Ale

The prevalent malty characteristics of this beer style mixes perfectly with the nutty, caramel flavors in a hard aged cheese

  • Aged gouda

  • Pecorino

  • Colby

 

Barleywine

The high ABV and overall sweetness of this beer needs a salty, pungent cheese to cut through and mesh with this big brew

  • Blue, stilton

  • Cheddar, aged

 

Stout

The roasted, creaminess of this beer pairs well with a variety of different cheese styles varying on the dryness of the stout

  • Triple crème

  • Stilton

  • Aged, hard cheese, gruyere, goat

  • Comte

  • Swiss styles

 

Sour/ Wild Ale

The sour, acidic flavors of these beers need a strong contender to counterbalance pungent aroma of the cheese

  • Washed-rind

  • Triple crème

 

Belgium Strong Ale

The high ABV and overall fruit sweetness of this beer needs a salty, pungent cheese to cut through and mesh with this big brew

  • Mature, washed-rind cheese

  • Triple crème

  • Stinky cheese

 

 

 

Remember, these are just traditional guidelines.  Don’t be scared to experiment.  You never know what may surprise you.