So much of the appreciation of beer comes from its relationship with food. Among the many gastronomical combinations, few offer such a perfect marriage as the pairing of beer and cheese.
Beer and cheese actually have a lot in common. Both are crafted by skilled artisans, utilizing mysterious processes to transform raw materials into something greater than the sum of its parts. In both cases, the creativity of the brewer and the cheesemaker can result in a unique and delicious product.
As with homebrewing, don’t let anyone tell that there is one right or wrong way to do a pairing of beer and cheese. Let your tastes and personal preferences guide you as you seek to match them. That said, here are some pointers:
- Match like with like
Often times, a subtle, mild beer will go well with a lighter cheese. Neither overwhelms the other. Hefeweizen and chevre is a great light on light combination. Similarly, big, hoppy IPAs often match well with funky blue cheeses. The bitterness of the beer helps balance out the strong, pungent flavors of the blue. Also look for specific flavor elements in both the beer and cheese that can exist in harmony.
- Find contrast
Like a conversation, a paired beer and cheese can agree or disagree. Sometimes, a contrast in flavors yields an interesting combination. Try a big, malty Scotch Ale with a light farmhouse cheese.
- Go from light to heavy
When it’s time to progress through the tasting, start with the lightest beers and cheeses first. This helps maintain your palate for the more aggressive flavors later on.
- Taste the beer first
When you’re ready to taste a pairing of beer and cheese, start with the beer. Identify its characteristics, including aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel. Then try the cheese. What are its characteristics? Is it soft and mild, or hard and aggressive? Finally, try the beer again to see how the beer and cheese interact. Does the combination enhance any flavors? Does it mask any flavors? How does the beer cut through the texture of the cheese?
A pairing of beer and cheese that is exceptional can bring about what I like to call food nirvana. Try some of these combinations to see if you can find the perfect match:
- Brie with Black Lager
- Chevre and Hefeweizen
- Mild cheddar with a Nut Brown Ale
- Gorgonzola with an Imperial IPA
- Gruyere and Bock
- Gouda and Stout
Want to go the extra mile? Pair a homemade beer with cheese made with beer. Now we’re talking! Do you have any tips for pairing beer and cheese? We’d love to hear yours!
David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described “craft beer crusader.” He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder of the Local Beer Blog.