Cheese and Beer

June 24, 2010

To begin the chapter on cheese, the book The Beer Bistro Cookbook by Stephen Beaumont and Brian Morin states:

Forget all that talk you’ve heard about wine and cheese. The real partner for everything from cheddar to stilton is beer. But don’t take our word for it – as a sommelier! Any honest wine professional will admit that the motto in the grape trade is “taste with bread, sell with cheese,” primarily because the fats in cheese will help blot out the tannins and other harsh notes that may show up in youthful or aggressive wines.

Beer and cheese, on the other hand, well, that’s just a match made in gastronomic heaven. The trick, as ever, is simply picking the right style of beer for each particular kind of cheese.

The reason pairing beer with cheese is easier than pairing wine with cheese, according to Tim Smith in Making Artisan Cheese: 50 Fine Cheeses that you can Making in Your Own Kitchen, is that the carbonation of beer helps to cleans the palate.

Probably the best book I saw on this topic was Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager by Max McCalman and David Gibbons. It had an entire chapter devoted to pairing beer and cheese, talking about ingredients, mouth feel and weight, and much more, and conclude with a pairing of three beers with six cheeses. McCalman and Gibbons state the following:

The general principles of pairing beers with cheeses are pretty much the same as the wine-and-cheese guidelines. You’re looking for balance, where neither partner overwhelms the other, and you want to consider both complement and contrast. Once you’ve sussed out a beer’s profile, you can start to look for similar, overlapping, or contrasting flavors, textures, and aromas in cheese… there will be surprises – matchups that should work but don’t and vice versa… I’ve found that wines tend to rely more on finding complements to their flavor components (i.e., harmony), whereas beers seem to be looking more for balance – it is more of a seesaw effect. The beer pairing balance is more about bitterness, in that bitter (hoppy) beers tend to go well with more sour cheeses and vice versa… Cheddars, which have good acidity, are classic partners for various types of beers, from English ales to Belgian wit styles. Salt content is also of prime importance when consider cheese-and-beer pairings. Oftentimes, when you pair a cheese with beers its salt can come to dominate, even with types you don’t think of as very salty. What’s happening is the other flavor components in the two partners are balancing each other out, leaving the cheese’s salt to come too far to the fore. In a beer-and-cheese lineup, as with a tasting of wine pairings, you’ll want to proceed from the lighter, milder lager, pilsner, and pale ale styles to the deeper, richer, heavier, darker, more complex-flavored styles of the brew.

They make the following recommendations:

  • Traditional beers of one country pair well with the cheeses of that same country.
  • Bigger cheeses such as aged farmhouse-style Goudas can be good partners, but you need a big beer to stand up to them. The full long-lasting flavors of hard Alpine cheeses can work well with bigger beers.
  • Washed-rind cheeses often make excellent beer partners as long as the later are big and bold enough. A hoppy ale is a good choice; delicate, subtler-tasting brews likely won’t stand up.
  • Another strong pairing is triple-crème cheeses with stouts. Knowing as we do that Champagne and triple crèmes work well together, this might be a bit of a surprise. When you’ve got a rich, buttery cheese in your mouth, a big dark beer that is also dry, bitter, and roasty is a nice complement, forming a “desserty” combo, like ice cream and chocolate cake.
  • Some mellow middle-of-the road cow cheeses pair well with more acidic beers such as the Beliner Weisse style, which can be quite delicate and contain a good amount of lactic acid.
  • Blue cheeses pair well with stouts and barleywines, which have the heft and inherent sweetness to provide balance.
  • Generally speaking, sweeter blue cheeses go better with more bitter beers while more bitter blue cheese go with sweeter beers.

Smith gives the suggested pairings, including:

  • Fresh cheese pair well with mellow beers, such as American wheat beers, American lagers, and German lagers.
  • Soft-ripened cow’s-milk cheeses, such as Neufchâtel, Brie, and Camembert, are excellent companions for pilsners, porters, and pale ales.
  • Washed-rind cheeses, such as Muenster, are complements to English brown, amber, and Belgian pale ales.
  • Semi-hard cheeses, such as Cheddar, Edam, and Gouda, as well as the cooked-curd cheeses, such as Emmentaler and Gruyère, go well with pilsners, IPAs, double bocks, and Belgian ales.
  • Parmesans and Romanos need a heavier beer as a partner: try a strong ale, stout, or porter.
  • Because of their intense flavor, blue-vein cheeses require a beer that can hold its own. Try stronger porters, stouts, and heavier dark beers, such as barely wine.
  • Goat cheeses are usually a bit more flavorful, so consider pairing them with IPAs, ESBs, brown ales, and porters.
  • Pasta filata, particularly Provolone, are well matched with Bavarian whites and heavier Bavarian wheat beers (doppelweizen).

One other thing to note is that I kept coming across the “ploughman’s lunch,” which is an inexpensive British meal sent with the plough man to serve as his lunch, but can be found at pubs today. It consists mainly of bread, cheese, relish, and maybe other additions such as cold meats, apples, hard boiled egg, or other items. This meal is always washed down with beer, tying it to the cheese and beer pairings.

Further Readings:


6 Responses to “Cheese and Beer”

  1. Hey, i could not agree more with paring cheese with beer. Though I like both beer and wine, it seems to settle better with the beer in general in my opinion.

    “The trick, as ever, is simply picking the right style of beer for each particular kind of cheese.”

    Couldn’t agree with Stephen and Brian more. I’ll have to look into this book!

  2. […] taste delicious with cheese… Also, don’t feel obliged to serve only wine. Try a sampling of fruit and light beers, cider, or Calvados (which is a little smoother than […]

  3. […] June, I wrote a post about pairing beer and cheese, and I saw a blog on the Wine and Beer of Washington State that goes along with this. A group of […]

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