It seems like everyone these days is learning the fine art of pairing good alcohol with artisan cheese, and nothing showcases that marriage of the food gods quite like craft beers. Globally, there are hundreds of different genres of beer and subsequently hundreds of different flavor combinations to be had, depending on what the beer is made with and the process in which it is made. The rise of the craft brewery has only added to this plethora of flavor profiles; brewers use unique hops in combination with new takes on the beer-making process, resulting in beers that are complex and intense on the palette and perfect for pairing with a funky cheese.
There are a few basic ideas to keep in mind when pairing beers and cheeses. As with any food pairing, look for flavors that are complimentary with one another – for instance, sour beers such as Gueuzes or Weisses tend to pair well with funkier cheeses, such as aged goat cheeses or strong blue cheeses. That being said, don’t be afraid to push the envelope – make sure to try a variety of cheeses with a particular beer as there may be cheeses which, while not traditional as a pairing, highlight interesting features of the beer. In the end, the cheese should complement the beer without overpowering the more complex nuances in flavor – here are a few basic pairings to get you started!
Pilsner + Basque-Style Sheep’s Milk Cheeses
Ranging from sweet and nutty to a tangy blue, these Basque-Style cheeses are aged to perfection and perfectly compliment the crisp features of a Pilsner without masking the more subtle, funky notes. In turn, the light flavors of the Pilsner bring out the natural sweetness and the rich complexity of the cheeses.
Pale Ale + Creamy Goat Gouda
Gouda takes on a deeper complexity when made with a combination of goat’s milk and cream, resulting in a semi-hard cheese with strong notes of caramel and yet somehow lacking in the barnyard funk that tends to accompany a goat cheese. This makes it the perfect partner for a pale ale, highlighting their signature hoppiness and providing additional nuances of burnt sugar.
India Pale Ale + Washed-Rind Cheeses or American Clothbound Cheddar
The pleasant bitterness of an IPA needs the proper companion to balance it out, and for that we look to washed-rind cheese or a sweet cloth-bound cheddar. Aging cheddar in cloth is believed to take its roots in the American colonies – the cloth created a hard rind, preventing excess moisture loss and protecting the cheese from unpredictable weather. The flavor is more intense than that of a wax-bound cheddar, as the slight increase in moisture loss makes for a cheddar that is dense and slightly dry; this increase in sharpness perfectly offsets the bold hop flavors of a good IPA. On the other hand, the intense funk of a washed-rind cheese also compliments the complexity of an IPA – the cheeses are literally washed, often with a brine but frequently with wine or even beer, resulting in a texture and flavor that is unparalleled in cheesemaking. The flavor of an IPA cuts through the bold creaminess without overshadowing the truly unique flavors of a washed-rind cheese.
Belgian Style Ale + Swiss Alpine-Style Cheeses
Swiss cheeses go far beyond the standard log found in your average deli counter – in fact, there are as many varieties of alpine cheeses as there are peaks in the Alps! These cheeses can be aged up to several years, producing nuanced flavors that range from sweet and nutty to spicy and earthy. The malty sweetness of a Belgian Style Ale and the natural sweetness in a good Alpine cheese serve to pull out the nuances in each, while the light bitterness from the ale accents the complexity of the cheese without overpowering its more subtle flavors.
Porter + Stilton-Style Blue Cheese
Big, bold, and ready to wow a crowd, these two prove that sometimes the best couples don’t always make sense to those not in-the-know. The salty creaminess of a Stilton-style blue makes the ultimate counterpoint to a sweeter Porter, bringing out the notes of chocolate and caramel and reducing any inherent bitterness. Texturally, the rich silkiness of a porter makes a delightful contrast to the natural crumbliness and buttery mouthfeel of a blue cheese.
So, the next time you’re having a party or even just looking to exercise your palette, consider making some beer and cheese magic! This week at Oliver’s, we have everything you need to put together an ace beer and cheese tasting – from craft ales to artisan cheeses, we’ll have you saying “cheers” in no time!
Looking to throw the ultimate beer and cheese party? Check out our beer flight mat and take the confusion out of tasting! Click HERE to download the PDF.