“Many people don’t think of beer and cheese as an intuitive pairing, but the complexities are just as rich and varied as cheese and wine,” says Darren Vanden Berge, manager, cheesemonger and beer purchaser at The Cheese Shop in Des Moines, Iowa.
With so many interesting beers and cheeses to try, Vanden Berge offers some advice when it comes to pairing these complex and pungent flavors.
When looking for profiles that work well together, Vanden Berge focuses on two essential elements: complexity and intensity. The key is to find harmonious and balanced complementary tastes. “I like to find flavors that raise each other up,” Vanden Berge says.
The following suggestions will point you in the right direction. Soon, you’ll be savoring beer-and-cheese pairings that you’ll love.
Blond or wheat beer and Alpine cheese
The sunny elements of this duo are the encapsulation of a spring day. Delicate, slightly sweet, nutty and salty, Alpine-style cheeses, such as Gruyère, Comté and Emmentaler, are enhanced by the fresh, floral, light and zesty notes of blond or wheat beer.
“Both the cheese and the beer have this great bread-yeast and cereal-grain quality to them,” Vanden Berge says of the blond ale and Iowa Alpine pairing. “The grassy nature of the hops plays so nicely alongside the grassy qualities in this cheese.”
Saison and washed-rind cheese
Historically brewed in oak barrels for farmhands, saisons are the original wild ales. Complex and hoppy with a citrusy, herbal aroma, a saison’s acidity and clean finish pair well with a soft, rich washed-rind cheese such as Muenster, Fontina or Époisses.
Vanden Berge explains, "For this pairing, a saison stands up to this buttery, earthy and slightly pungent farmhouse cheese which almost has a peanut-buttery nature. We’re matching the funkiness of the cheese with the effervescence and funkiness of the beer. This helps act as a bit of a palate cleanser; the beer breaks down the fat and creaminess of this cheese."
Hard apple cider and aged sharp Cheddar
With some minerality on the front end and a bit of sweetness on the back end, a dry hard apple cider works particularly well with an aged sharp Cheddar. For the best result, look for cider options that have just a kiss of sweetness and aren’t too tart.
"The carbonation and enzymes of the cider are an important complement to this cheese,” Vanden Berge says. “The fermented quality of the cider helps bring out the cheese's flavor.”
Pale ale and cloth-bound Cheddar
Coated in lard and then wrapped in cheesecloth so it can breathe while it ages, this very earthy, fruity cloth-bound Cheddar has a bit of blue mold, which adds a unique and slightly funky flavor and aroma. Pair it with a hearty pale ale, and you’ll reap uniquely delicious rewards. According to Vanden Berge, this particular Cheddar plays well with stronger pale ales, especially options with citrus and pine notes which really draw out the essence of the cheese.
Alluvial Brewing Company’s Lutris Pale Ale from Ames, Iowa, with Bleu Mont Dairy’s Bandaged Cheddar from Blue Mounds, Wisconsin
Milk stout and blue cheese or triple-cream cheese
Matching a deep, rich stout with an equally robust cheese can be tricky.
"For this pairing, both drink and cheese need a strong, bold flavor profile," Vanden Berge says. “The chocolatey, aromatic nature of a stout blends well with the pungent-yet-velvety quality of blue cheese. For a twist, try a cream stout with a super-soft triple-cream. The hyper-fatty (and delicious) cheese makes for a creamy combo with a stronger stout. Temperature counts, so serve these stouts slightly below room temperature—a warmer glass will be rounder and more coffee-like.”