Beer & Cheese Pairing
Choose the cheese first. If the multitude of styles of beer seems daunting, try shopping for the cheese first at your local specialist cheese shop, not only will they be able to offer insights on the cheese but they may also have some tips to help you decide what might pair best with different styles of real ale or craft beer. In a similar vein the brewer at your local microbrewery may also have recommendations as to what cheese goes well with their latest brew, they’ve probably done some “meet the brewer” sessions for other pubs so they’re always a good source of information.
Look for common characteristics. Similar to the tips for pairing beer and food, look for characteristics of both texture and flavour in what you’re matching that complement each other. Essentially, you should expect a great pairing to provide some type of balance; just as you would in a great craft beer or real ale.
Pick only one or two cheeses. One of the advantages of pairing cheese with beer is versatility. Many different beers can pair nicely with the same cheese. Pairing a few different beers with the same cheese allows distinct characteristics of each to come through.
Order is everything. Typically, when tasting beer, you normally taste in order from lightest ‘mouth-feel’ and lowest alcohol content, to heaviest ‘mouth-feel’ and highest alcohol content. The same applies to your cheese pairings, start with the lightest and work your way to the heaviest and most complex cheese.
Shop ahead. Cheese is best served fresh, so try to do your cheese shopping the day of the tasting, or if necessary, the day before.
Serve too cold. Many styles of beer taste better if allowed to warm up/breathe; the same is true for cheese, so remove cheeses from the refrigerator at least one hour before serving, depending on the type of cheese.
Oxygenate. Oxygen can be detrimental to the flavour of both beer and cheese, you should to avoid cubing or slicing in advance, as to avoid too much exposure to oxygen.
Mix up flavours. Just like real ale, craft beer or fine wines, cheese has a myriad of flavours, some stronger than others, make sure to have separate knives and/or serving plates available for each cheese.
Here are some pairing suggestions you may wish try:
Fresh Cheeses & Wheat or Lambic-style Beers
The term “fresh” is used to describe cheeses that have not been aged (or are very slightly cured), they have a high moisture content, are usually mild, and have a very creamy taste and soft texture. These tend to have a very short shelf-life.
Examples include Italian-style mascarpone and ricotta, chèvre, feta, cream cheese, quark and cottage cheese. These light cheeses pair excellently with the softer flavors of wheat and lambic beers.
Soft-Ripened Cheeses & Saison Beers
The term “soft-ripened” is used to describe cheeses that are ripened from the outside in. These cheeses are very soft (even runny at room temperature) their rind is edible and is produced by spraying the surface of the cheese with a special mould, called penicillium candidum, before the brief aging period.
Examples include brie, camembert styles and triple crèmes. Saison-style beers are a great match for the lighter flavors of these cheese styles.
Semi-Soft/Hard Cheeses & All Beer Styles
Semi-Soft Cheeses have little to no rind and exhibit a smooth, generally, creamy interior with a wide range of flavours from mild to rather pungent in taste.
Examples include many blue cheeses, colby, fontina styles, havarti and Monterey Jack, Edam, St Paulin and Port Salut. The vast variety of cheeses in this category can be paired with any beer, but remember to match ‘strength with strength’.