How to Pair Beer and Cheese

Nothing goes better with cheese than…. beer.  What?  Threw you for a loop huh?  You thought I was going to say wine or crackers, right?  Beer has some of the same ingredients as crackers.  They both have wheat and other flavors.  So, of course, it makes total sense to pair beer and cheese together.  But, how?

Let’s begin with the basics.

Match Intensity

As beers age they become more mellow while cheeses become sharper.  When pairing beer and cheeses, match their intensity.

  • Light Beers – Lagers and wheats pair very well with lighter fresh cheeses.  Think mozzarellas or chevres.
  • Strong Beers – Imperial stouts pair best with older more pungent cheeses.

Overall, lighter beers pair well with lighter cheeses and stronger beers with stronger cheeses.  Yeah, I know pretty basic, but it’s a really good starting point.

Pair to Complement or Contrast

A young nutty gruyere pairs well with a malty German bock or dunkel.  The flavors complement each other – no one flavor is stronger than another.  Another great example of complementing flavors is an oatmeal or chocolate stout paired with a blue cheese.  The sweetness of the stout offsets the salty and creamy taste of the blue cheese.

Matching an IPA with a cheddar?  Consider matching the hop strength of the beer to the sharpness of the cheddar.  The sharper the cheddar the hoppier the beer.

On the flip side, consider a earthy aged cheese paired with a Honey Saison.  The sweetness of the beer will contrast with the intense flavor of the cheese.

These pairings seem counterintuitive to the idea of matching intensity.  But, if you imagine pairing flavors that contrast but don’t fight with each other then you are on the right track.  Imagine a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  The creamy  peanut butter contrasts very nicely to the tart/sweet flavor of the jelly.

Beer Styles and Suggested Cheeses

  • IPA
    • Cheddar, spicy cheese and blue cheeses.
    • The beer needs to be bold to pair well with these bold cheese flavor profiles
  • Wit, Wheat, Pilsner and Kolsch
    • Chevres and mozzarella
    • Examples of a light beer paired with a light cheese
  • Sweet Stout
    • Sweet and creamy blue cheese
  • Imperial Stout
    • Dry and spicy blue cheese
  • Saison
    • Brie
    • Earthiness of cheese and the sweetness of the saison pair very well
  • Amber Ales
    • Aged gouda
    • The amber ales have a nutty and caramel flavor note which pairs very well with this cheese
  • Belgian Ales
    • Funky cheeses do well paired with these ales.
    • The funky flavors are offset by the beer’s hop bitterness and/or high carbonation.

Which Cheese Should I choose?

My rule of thumb is to pair cheeses and beers you like.  Bottomline it’s all about you after all, right?  But, I know the cheese isle can be very overwhelming.  Here are a few ideas as you browse the isle on beers you can pair with the different cheeses.

  • Fresh Cheeses
    • These cheeses are not aged.
    • They have high moisture content and have a creamy taste and texture
    • Think:
      • mascarpone, ricotta, chevre, feta, cream cheese and cottage cheese
    • These cheeses are great with wheats and even lambic beers.
  • Semi Soft Cheeses
    • These have no rind and are smooth and creamy
    • Think:
      • Blue cheese, Colby, fontina, havarti, Monterey Jack
    • Match beer strength to cheese strength
  • Firm/Hard Cheeses
    • These cheeses range from very mild to sharp and pungent
    • Pilsners, Bock, Brown Ales or an Imperial Stout

Simple Rules

According to crafbeer.com there are only three simple rules (and I totally agree):

  1. If it tastes good, then continue on with it
  2. If it tastes bad, stop and choose another
  3. Cheese and beer pairing is adventurous

In a nutshell, it doesn’t matter which one you pick first (the beer or the cheese), just pick one and then find it’s partner.  But, have fun, try new beers and cheeses and definitely share with me your favorite pairings!

 

(sources:  beerandbrewing.com, seriouseats.com, craftbeer.com)

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