Not into the highfalutin wine and cheese parties or pairings? That’s okay. "It's rare to find wines that echo any flavors in cheese," says Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of New York's Brooklyn Brewery and author of "The Brewmaster's Table" (HarperCollins, 2003). And he also points out that unlike wine, beer is neither intimidating nor expensive. One of the great things about beer and cheese pairings is you can afford to try it out, to see what you like.
Not only do beer and cheese have an ancient heritage, beer is the de facto complement for cheese in many cultures worldwide. In fact, the combination has long been a staple in Belgian cuisine. During the Middle Ages, monasteries were known for their exceptional beers and cheeses.
Traditionally, beer and cheese are farmhouse products. The flavors of beer and cheese are earthy, yeasty, musty, fruity, rich, toasty and floral and contrast and harmonize in a way that many feel those of wine and cheese cannot. Perhaps that’s because both beer and cheese are based on grain.
Both cheese and beer owe their character to the fermentation. Following the metabolic, transforming process of microorganisms, is where brewing and cheese making can become an art. One of those creamery’s who has been making cheese with panache is Rogue River Creamery. Dating back to the 1930s, the shop became one of the first in the west to make a cave-aged blue cheese in the Roquefort style. In 2002, David Gremmels and Cary Bryant bought the creamery and introduced Rogue River Blue. A new take on blue cheese, it’s wrapped in grape leaves macerated in brandy and won Best Cheese in America at the 2009 American Cheese Society. Rogue Ales and Rogue River Creamery connected and Rogue Chocolate Stout Cheddar was born. Rogue Chocolate Stout Cheddar, my God, the name of their cheese is three of my favorite things. Brilliant.
Where should you start with your pairings? My advice is to experiment, have fun with it. But here are some guidelines:
A simple way to pair is to start with Belgian pale ales, saisons and triples, like Duvel, Saison Dupont and Allagash Tripel. Due to their lighter flavors, these beers can pretty much work with any cheese.
Another good rule? Try pairing complex beers with complex cheeses.
The nut and caramel aromas found in aged cheeses are also present in malty beers like brown ales, stouts and porters. Goat's milk cheeses are especially exciting to pair with beer, because both light and heavy beers can highlight different aspects of the flavor.
Wheat beers are full of high notes, so pair them with cheese that can balance the notes. To that end, match sweeter Weizens with more lactic cheeses, like young, earthier or soft-ripened cheeses. Typically the more character the beer has, the more pungent the cheese should be.
Here’s some example pairings:
* Example Beer & Cheese Pairing # 1: Hoptoberfest 6% ABV (New Belgium Brewery) – Oktoberfest; Five hops and four malts make it really earthy - great citrus notes, and a bold finale.
Cheese Pairing #1: Gruyère (Gruyère de Comté) - Their substantial maltiness plays well against the meaty nut-like character. French cheese made from unpasteurized cow's milk in the Franche-Comté region of eastern France.
* Example Beer & Cheese Pairing #2: Nogne O Porter - Burnt coffee and dried fruit come through. There's a rich malty goodness and nice warming quality, perhaps from the chocolate malts. Also tasted is light caramel, mild English yeast and slight licorice flavor.
Cheese Pairing #2: Rogue River Blue (Rogue Creamery) - Ripens naturally from occurring molds found in its caves. The rounds are hand-wrapped in local Carpenter Hill Vineyard Syrah leaves that have been macerated in Clear Creek Pear Brandy. Sweet, spicy, buttery and reminscent of fall berries and squash. Well-aged flavor tastes of brandy, fruit and burnt cream. A creamy, crunchy-smooth texture conjures specks of rock candy. Best blue cheese in the world (2003 World Cheese Awards, London) and Best American Cheese (2003 World Cheese Awards, London)
* Example Beer & Cheese Pairing #3: Rogue Chocolate Stout - Ebony in color with a rich creamy head. The mellow flavor of oats, chocolate malts and real chocolate are balanced perfectly with the right amount of hops for a bitter-sweet finish. The only US beer to win an award at the Mondial de la Biere Festival in Strasbourg, France. Pairs great with ice cream, too - for a float!
Cheese Pairing #3: Rogue Chocolate Stout Cheddar - The Rogue Chocolate Stout is poured into the cheddar vat and rolled around the curd before the curds are hand dipped and poured into cheese hoops for pressing. Perfectly balanced complimenting both the sweet and savory flavors of a full cream cheddar and Rogue Chocolate Stout.
* Example Beer & Cheese Pairing #4: Chimay Grand Reserve Trappist Ale - Belgian Strong Dark Ale 9.00% ABV. Chimay is an authentic Trappist beer that is brewed within a Trappist monastery, under the control and responsibility of the monastic community. Smell is yeasty with a slight scent of fruits and flowers caught in the background. Caramel malts, plums, raisons, and hint of brown sugar. Very well-balanced and delecate.
Cheese Pairing #4: Chimay Grand Classic - A semi-hard pressed cheese, the rind is natural, non-coloured, without preservatives and slightly flowery. This creamy cheese is washed in the Chimay beer, and undertones of fruit, nuts, allspice, flowers and a bit of clove come through.
* Example Beer & Cheese Pairing #5: Stone IPA – With a huge hop aroma, flavor and bitterness, this IPA is perfectly balanced with a solid malt backbone. The citrus hops will pair nicely with the following cheese.
Cheese Pairing #5: Epoisses is an Artisan French raw milk cheese with a characteristic strong odor and rich, salty flavor. Napoleon was a big fan.
So, put down the corkscrew and grab the bottle opener. The imprecise science has given new life to this versatile, oh-so-tasty collaboration. Cheese has a true soul mate, beer.