Beer and Cheese: A Run Through from a Recent Event
If you're like most people in the world, when you hear the phrase "cheese and . . ." you would probably assume the third word would be wine. We're here today to try and change that and explain why beer and cheese can lead to wonderous results -CH.It's not to say that cheese and wine are bad, it's just a lot harder to find a wine that pairs with the cheese, where with a beer you'll have a much easier time. I would boil this down to three main reasons: Variety, similarity, 'Scrubbing bubbles'.
Beer covers more ground compared to wine. What I mean by that is yes there are differences in two styles of red wine, the differences are much more subtle when you're comparing it to say an IPA and a stout. An excellent way to highlight this is that beer is simply made from more ingredients - in a beer you have grain, hops, yeast and other option addons you can throw in (fruit, coffee, cacao nibs, etc.) where as in wine it's all about the singular ingredient - the grape. What this all means is that if you're trying to do a cheese with a beverage that resembles chocolate, beer has the ability to shoot that chocolate directly at you, where in the wine it will be way more subtle, harder to taste, and often have other flavors that get in the way. All said, with more variety in the beer world, it makes the job of pairing a lot easier with so many options and access to more bold flavors.
If you get down to the nitty gritty and abstract them both a little beer and cheese are actually made in a similar fashion. Cheese really starts as a grain, most of the time as grass, which is fed to animals, which acts as an enzyme of sorts, then aged and developed with yeast and other microbes. Beer is made the same way, just the steps in a different order and typically involving fewer animals. If the two things are made in such a similar fashion, they should be able to pair well together.
First presented to me by Garret Oliver (brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewing and beer author of some of my favorite beer books). Beer has carbonation in it which is going to help with the fat in a creamy cheese. Those c02 bubbles are literally going to lifting the fat off your tongue and help you access more of the cheese flavor. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it's a real, physical, scrubbing action those bubbles are doing.
We've covered some aspects of why I think beer and cheese are naturally a good pairing, now I'll dive into a recent beer and cheese pairing event I held where you can get some thoughts I had when going into the event and how to best lineup the cheese and the beer I had. A little about the event: It was going to be a virtual event where the attendees were given a cheese list and they had to go out and buy their cheese. This means that all the cheeses, while hopefully of the same type, would be different from each other which means I had to go very broad in my beer choices and hopefully pick things that generally paired well with a lot of different styles The 4 cheese styles the guests were going to be buying were: Manchego, aged cheddar, gouda, and a blue cheese. The first three should be a walk in the part, they're great on their own so winning people over should be easy. The hard part is the blue cheese. Blue cheese is so strong and funky that it turns people away, my goal is to get people to like all these blue cheeses. For the tasting my beer choices were also fairly limited. I ended up choosing a Mexican lager, a black lager, a Belgian tripel, and an American double IPA. My initial thought process was
Mexican lager pairs with Manchego. For this pairing I'm looking for similarities in strength and ideally flavors that harmonize together. The Mexican Lager is going to going to be light, with a hint of spice, and some corn sweetness. Manchego is a sheep's milk cheese from Spain that should have some zest, nutty, grassiness, and generally be pretty light. It's also the cheese we're going to be starting with so lager with it sounds awesome.
Next up is the Gouda. For the Gouda I chose the Belgian tripel. I didn't mention it with the Mexican lager, but one of my main ideas when doing any beer and food pairing is to match strength with strength. Gouda is a cow's milk cheese from the Netherlands. It's a tough style to do in this beer pairing because there a ton of different variations on gouda, they can have a very mild with just general sweetness or have a fruity tang, or a butterscotch like finish to it. So my thought process was do the big Belgian tripel with the beer, to hopefully cut some of that sweetness in the cheese and beer and bring out some of the more deep flavors in both the cheese and the beer.
I opted to go for the blue cheese third. It would probably be the best to leave the blue cheese till last, but I wanted to end on a solid note with a cheese I know everyone would like. So I did the blue cheese 3rd incase anyone wanted to skip it and just have a breather before the 4th pairing. This was probably the easiest pairing option out of the four. As mentioned earlier, blue cheese is big, bold, funky, and wild. A double IPA is going to be amazing for this. It's going to bring a lot of flavor, a good amount of sweetness, and all the c02 to help cut through the cheese. It should mellow out the blue cheese funkiness and leave you with a more mild experience. Some thing else we haven't really touched on in our beer and cheese pairings today is that ideally not only are we making all the cheese better by pairing them with our beers, but we're in fact making all of our beers better by pairing them with our cheeses. This double IPA is a great example of that, the double IPA is (like the blue cheese) big, bold, boozey, and frankly just has 'a lot going on'. The blue cheese is going to help mellow it out, dull some of that hop bitterness, smooth out the booziness of it and make it all a more pleasurable experience.
Our fourth pairing is going to be the dark lager with the aged cheddar cheese. A perfect pairing if you ask me. Aged cheddar is a cow's milk cheese that originated in England. Dark lagers while first invented in Germany (as the Schwarzbier) they found a very comfortable home in England. The main selling point for this pairing is that those awesome salt crystals in the aged cheddar are really going to pop with the dark lager and help bring out those more subtle chocolate and coffee notes. You can argue that a porter or stout might be a better call here to match the intensity of an aged cheddar, but with it being summer I didn't want to bog people down with a Belgian tripel, a double IPA, and a thick stout to end the tasting, so I thought best course of action would lean into the lightness and tell the guests to do smaller cheese bites as to not overwhelm the beer. So there we have it, this is my methodology and thought process behind the most recent beer and cheese pairing event.
The event has since passed, and it was really great. The overall let down was with the gouda and the Belgian tripel, the tripel proved to be a little too powerful for most people because they chose a lighter gouda (side note: we also included a Belgian waffle in this tasting, so the guests that didn't care for this pairing could opt to do the Belgian waffle instead which is always a smash)