Beer and Cheese

by: BeerAdvocate on 04-04-2001
Beer and cheese? The idea of the twosome is odd for many to swallow when in fact the marriage of beer and cheese goes way back. During the Middle Ages in Belgium, monasteries were known for their exceptional beers and cheeses - a staple of their daily diets and form of income. Even today, most beer bars in Belgium will serve small bowls of cubed semi-soft cheese sprinkled with celery salt to accompany your beer. What occurs is a gastronomic sensation of heavenly proportions.

But I thought wine went with cheese?
Sure it does, and that's what the public is fed by the mainstream "food & wine" press. Cheese can make a cheap wine palatable, even compliment a great wine on occasion, however the pairing of wine with most foods (especially cheese) is often a gastronomic catastrophe on the taste buds. Think about it, it's harsh sometimes. The overpowering acidity of wine usually kills any chance that your delicate taste buds have of actually enjoying a pairing. But hey, this is not a piece on wine bashing nor do we totally hate wine, so let's move on.

Traditionally, beer and cheese are farmhouse products. In fact, not so long ago the average farmer's diet consisted of beer, cheese and cold meat; commonly referred to in England as a "ploughman's" lunch and a menu item in pubs to this day. Farmers often made cheese when they had an abundance of milk that they wanted to keep and brewed during the winter when they couldn't farm. And 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. As a result, beer and cheese complement each other by sharing some common characteristics in both aroma and flavor, while the carbonation in beer also lifts the palate and brings out many nuances in the cheese.

So how do you pair beer and cheese?
First and foremost use your own personal preference whether you are cooking with cheese or just severing alone. Try pairing complex beers with complex cheeses. You can also try and make a perfect match or play around and make subtle contrasts. Here are some personal examples:

  • Feta and Goat Cheese work well with Wheat Beers, typically the more pungent the cheese the more of a full character you want in your Wheat Beer. Weihenstephan Hefe-Weizen, Schneider Hefe-Weizen and UFO Hefeweizen are suitable pairings.

  • Mascarpone, a cow's cream formless cheese that is used in desserts and sauces, pairs great with most Fruit Beers. Magic Hat #9, Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, Melbourne Bros. Apricot or Strawberry.

  • American Cheese, Muenster, Havarti and Monterey Jack with moderately hoppy Pilsners like Harpoon Pilsner, Radeberger and Stella Artios.

  • Colby, Gloucester and Cheddar with robust Brown Ales. Sam Smith Nut Brown, Shipyard Brown or Brooklyn Brown will suffice quite well.

  • Gorgonzola and Creamy Blues meld well with Barleywines. Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Fuller's Vintage Ale, Rouge Old Crustacean and Brooklyn Monster make for a great duo.

  • Roquefort and Stilton have a strong pungent character so there is need for a Strong Belgian Ales like Lucifer, Duvel, Chimay Blue, Northcoast Pranqster, and Unibroue Don de Dieu.

  • Gruyére, Emmental and Swiss with Bock Beer, Dark Lagers or Oktoberfest Beer. Their sizable maltiness plays well against the meaty nut-like character. Sam Adams Octoberfest or Double Bock, Harpoon Octoberfest or Munich Dark, Salavator, Celebrator and Dornbusch Bock are appropriate picks.

  • Parmesan or Romano with moderately hoppy Pale Ales and Amber Ales like Harpoon Ale, Stone Cat Ale, Ipswich Ale, Shoal's Pale Ale, Magic Hat Bob's 1st Ale.

  • When cheese is part of a salad, try enjoying it with an India Pale Ale (IPA), with their citrus-like bitterness and fruity maltiness. Harpoon IPA, Wolaver's IPA and Tremont IPA are all suitable.

    Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster of The Brooklyn Brewery, and the American Dairy Association (ADA) partnered to create a simple guide. It's an ideal starting point for the novice beer and cheese enthusiast.

  • Sharp Cheddar with Pale Ale
  • Feta with Wheat Beer
  • Mascarpone with Fruit Beer
  • American Cheese with Pilsner
  • Colby with Brown Ale
  • Gorgonzola with Barleywine
  • Gruyére with Bock Beer
  • Swiss Cheese with Octoberfest Beer
  • Parmesan with Amber Lager

    Some tips on serving:
  • Buy raw milk cow, goat (chèvres) or sheep cheeses. Meaning unpasteurized unprocessed whole milk cultures. Pasteurized cheese has many of the country scents and flavours removed, where raw milk cheese is rich, full and complete and supports traditional cheese making. Goat and sheep cheeses are creamy soft cheeses with distinct assertive flavours with considerably less calories and saturated fat over cow milk cheeses.
  • If you are going to use crackers, use something that is neutral like English wafer crackers or flat bread.
  • When serving on its own, always serve cheese at room temperature.

    Just remember to have fun with this, experiment with your own tastes and understand that beer is the most complimentary fermented beverage on the market -- with all types of food and even on its own.

    Behold the power of beer and cheese.
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