The Dummy’s Guide to Pairing Cheese and Beer
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” I happen to agree with that adage 100 percent. Add a platter of delicious cheese and it’s proof that God not only loves us and wants us to be happy, but also is letting us have a taste of heaven right here on earth. Many folks think that the perfect beverage to serve with cheese is wine. And surely for some, it is. But don’t discount the age-old fermented brew. Humans have been drinking beer since 9000 B.C.! Like cheese, beer is a complex and varied beverage. And like cheese, small batch, hand-crafted brew is a delight—and the perfect match for artisanal cheese. After all, they both start with the same ingredient: grass.
As we learned last month, the flavor of the cheese is derived from milk, which is flavored by the grass the animal eats. And beer is made from barley, a cereal grass often used for not only brewing beer but also for feeding animals. Two peas in a pod, right?!
Here’s the kicker: there are no steadfast beer and cheese pairings. As much as I would like to say “eat this” when you “drink that,” it just doesn’t happen. The only way you can know what goes with what is to try it out. And to be honest, that is the fun part. Now, don’t get me wrong—we can start with some basic concepts of beer and cheese pairing. There is a bit of method to this madness.
4 Ground Rules for Pairing Cheese and Beer
- Start by thinking about balance. You don’t want the cheese to overpower the beer or vice versa. A soft delicate goat’s milk cheese would be crushed by a sharp IPA.
- Next up: terrior. It doesn’t only apply to wine. If you drink beer and eat cheese from the same region, one could say that the complementary factors are what make the match work. The beginnings of each product are harvested from the same plot of land and often share some flavor characteristics.
- But in the same breath, let’s talk contrast. The differences in each could highlight a flavor or texture that we would have missed if paired with something too similar.
- Texture can play a role as well. A thick, creamy cheese may not pair well with a heavy stout. It may need a lighter, more effervescent beer, like a sparkling ale.
5 Failsafe Pairings
It can get messy if you think too hard. You just have to give it a whirl. Here is my starting point.
- Sharp cheddars, Colby or hard aged cheeses often go well with brown ales.
- Fresh chèvre or a pungent feta goes great with wheat beers (try a fruited wheat beer for fun).
- Smooth silky cheeses like mascarpone, Neufchatal or a triple crème stand up great with a fruity lambic or a kriek.
- Blue cheeses like Gorgonzola or Stilton pair beautifully with barleywines or an ultra-hopped beer like Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA.
- A strong Gruyère will often pair nicely with a bock beer, while milder Swiss cheeses can be enjoyed with a Märzen.
Remember, cheese and beer pairings are not set in stone. If you like it…eat it and drink it. Consider that what you like together in December might not go well in August. Beer and cheese change as they age, just like all living things. So grab a baguette or a loaf of good country bread, a nice pint of craft beer and a slice of artisanal cheese and see what you think. You will be pleasantly surprised!
- Annie Lehrer