When it comes to finding the perfect companion for a favorite cheese, most people will usually head straight to the wine section. For many people, the idea of pairing cheese with a beer may seem a little odd, but in fact the two have made great companions for centuries. I often encounter customers at The Wine Source who aren’t quite sure how to pair cheese with a great beer. That is part of the motivation for us to do a beer & cheese tasting every month or so.
These tastings are often a drawn-out process, involving coordinating, scheduling & promoting. The most important part of this process is, of course, selecting the actual pairings. This part tends to be the most painful, involving a lot of sweat, blood & tears, and usually ends in divisions and bitterness amongst the staff.
Just kidding! It looks more like this:
To find our 3 pairings for the tasting, we started off with 5 cheeses and 10 beers and narrowed it down from there. We had certain ideas about which cheese and beers combos would be best, but I think we were all surprised by what worked and what didn’t work. The cheeses:
Quadrello di Bufala (bottom) Washed-rind buffalo’s milk cheese from Italy
Abbaye de Bellocq (left) Sheep’s milk cheese from the French Pyrenees
Stilton (top) English blue cheese aged by Neal’s Yard
Appenzeller (top right) Swiss Alpine cheese aged by Rolf Beeler
La Serena (bottom right) Thistle-rennet sheep’s milk cheese from Spain.
This beer is New Belgium’s spring seasonal, and it has some awesome notes of citrus & fruit- a great bright, light beer with malty undertones of caramel. This played off of the fruity, olivey notes in the Abbaye de Bellocq, (but didn’t do so well with the slightly funkier Appenzeller-the beer gave the cheese a REALLY funky taste, and the cheese was just too heavy for the beer). In addition both Dig and Abbaye de Bellocq have a great, medium-bodied texture.
Stilton is one of the best blues around- creamy & chocolaty with a pretty intense blue flavor. We knew we would need something big & bold to stand up to it, and this Dogfish Head was up for the job. The beer is thick & dark with rich notes of coffee, & perfectly matched the intensity of the Stilton without clashing (with a beer like Peak Organic’s Simcoe Spring, the Stilton gave the beer a metallic taste).
These two heavy hitters ended up being a match made in heaven. This Samuel Smith Ale has a lot in common with this Swiss Alpine cheese- both are intense in texture and in flavor, with strong nutty notes as well as a sweet, fruity finish. Appenzeller has a mouth-coating, creamy quality to it, which was balanced well by the rich, dense quality of the beer.
What didn’t work: We ended up having trouble finding a great pairing for the Quadrello di Bufala. I think in the end, the intense creaminess of the cheese was too much for the beers- nothing could quite cut its mouth-coating texture. We also had trouble with the La Serena, which is an incredibly complex cheese that is grapey, spicy and custard-like all at once. Of the 10 beers we tried, none seemed to parallel the cheese in texture or flavor profile. Oftentimes a pairing would begin well, but then would leave a strange aftertaste.
Tips & Tricks
So when you want to find the ideal beer for your cheese pairing, here are some considerations to keep in mind. Happy pairing!
- Balance- make sure your beer & cheese are of equal strength, you don’t want a strong beer with a delicate cheese, or the other way around
- Complements- finding a beer with similar flavor notes may just elevate both elements
- Texture- you’ll want a beer with texture that plays well off of the cheese- which doesn’t necessarily mean they be the SAME texture, but make sure they don’t clash
- And most importantly: If you like it, eat it- you never know until you try it. There are plenty of cheese & beer pairings that break all of the above rules, so the best thing you can do for yourself is explore.