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Pairing Beer & Cheese

posted on January 30th, 2015 by Geoff Nicoll

beer cheeseIt seems that there is more and more being published on wine and food (wine and cheese in particular) as there are a great many stunning artisanal products hitting our shores, or being created in many local farmsteads. It is a fairly complex process that can vary widely, depending on the style of wine or food, or even mood. And it is, of course, subjective.

But what is lost on the vast majority is that Beer and Cheese have shared a symbiotic relationship since before the Middle Ages. During these lean times, it was the Belgian Monks who, in their monasteries, produced their own ales and cheeses, both as part of their diet as well as to maintain some revenue for their charitable work. The building blocks are similar; both are agricultural farmstead products, grown in synergy with each other. Cattle eat grain, grain ferments for beer, see the similarity? Throughout history, they have played well together; the modern day Ploughman’s Lunch (English cold meal) was born from the old world diet consisting of bread, cheese, cured meats, and beer. After all, a guy’s got to keep his energy level up!

Beer, being made from grain, works in more of a complementary relationship as opposed to wine which often is more based on contrast. Wine is fruity whereas beer tends to be earthy. This is where the origins play such a crucial part. Primarily from malted Barley, the style of beer drives the flavor profile from dry, citrus and hoppy, to roasted malt, caramel and coffee notes. There is a style or flavor to please any beer consumer, and even many prospective.

With the recent renaissance in craft beer making, there is a massive new infusion of products on the market that have really taken on a personality of artistry and creativity. New local brewers are adding a twist to the tried and true formulas, with new fruit, spice, or other ingredients that are reinvigorating this once static category. What to do with them is part of the intrigue of the experience.

Matching by style is important so one doesn’t overpower the other. When pairing beers with cheese, it is best if neither of them is well chilled, they should be just below room temperature so they can release their true nuances and subtle flavors. While there is no formal rule, there are some recognized established guidelines. Pick out a few whole milk cheeses and wander the beer aisle for one of the hundreds of delicious options that are sure to please. Each beer style has a different effect on the cheese – some accent flavors, some offset strong characteristics, but all are unique. This is where the fun begins – trial and error, more of a science experiment for the senses.

There is no better time to give beer and cheese pairings a try than this weekend at your Superbowl festivities. Below are some basic pairing suggestions that would make a perfect presentation for guests. Platter the cheeses with some charcuterie and other accompaniments and enjoy. Simple as that.

Basic pairing guidelines:

Feta or Goat Soft Cheeses – Wheat or Weisse Beer

Havarti or Jack – Pilsner or Light Lager

Parmesan or Pecorino (Salty Cheeses) – Pale Ale or Hopped Lager

Swiss, Gruyere or Gouda – Bock, Dark Ale, Pale Ale

Cheddar (Sharp or Aged) – Pale Ale, IPA, Dark Ale

Gorgonzola or Stilton Blues – Barley Wine or Dark Complex Ales (Dubble or Quadruple Belgians)

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