Move over, wine, there’s a new pairing in town. Okay, not new exactly, but perhaps a bit overlooked. In fact, the relationship between beer and cheese has roots reaching back at least into the 12th century when monks began washing the cheese they were making with the beer they were simultaneously crafting. The result? Some of the most beloved and well-known cheeses on earth and a slew of cheeses inspired by the ancient tradition.
But a cheese doesn’t need to be washed with beer to pair well with it.
By trading in your syrah for a stout or pinot grigio for a pilsner, you invite a whole new array of combinations and flavor profiles. Here are a few tips on choosing the right beer for your cheese pairing.
How to Pair Cheese and Beer
First and foremost, you should know that these are guidelines and not rules. In general, if you like something, go with it! Don’t be afraid to experiment with new pairings of your own. With new cheese being made and new beer being crafted every year, you just might discover the next amazing combo!
Guideline #1: What Grows Together Goes Together
We love this guideline for the simple fact that it’s easy to remember and easy to implement. It’s a well-rehearsed concept in the food and beverage world and applies to everything from beer and cheese to wine and regional dishes. It’s connected to the way the soil of a given place is expressed through the food that grows there, including the grass on which the cows feed, which impacts the milk they produce and therefore the cheese that is made from the milk. The same principle applies to beer, which incorporates the wheat, barley, malt, hops or other ingredients that come from the land — even the water used in brewing will impact the flavor of the final beverage.
So if you’re enjoying a german cheese such as Cambozola or Limburger, a Bavarian beer is likely to provide a good pairing. Sampling some hard Italian cheeses, such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Piave Vecchio? Try an Italian beer like Peroni.
Guideline #2: Match Intensity
Perhaps even more useful than the first guideline is this one, which emphasizes pairing a cheese and a beer that are equally intense. Mild cheeses need to be paired with a mild beverage (and vice-versa) so the flavor of the cheese isn’t buried by the richness or intensity of the beer. Rather than pairing a stout with a mild cheddar, opt instead for an amber or a red ale. If you’re enjoying an ultra-rich blue cheese, such as Valdeon, go for a dubbel or an Imperial stout. The alcohol content of the beer is a clue to its intensity — often the stronger beers have a more complex flavor and can hold up to the bold nature of a highly aged or inherently pungent cheese.
Guideline #3: Contrasting Texture
Another way to go about your pairing is to find a cheese and beer whose texture and carbonation level contrast nicely. For example, the dense creaminess of a buttery brie is an invitation to refresh your palate with a fizzy beverage such as a fruity lambic beer. A rich and carmelized aged gouda with it’s prized protein crystals welcomes the smooth mouthfeel of a porter or stout, or even a dark brown ale.
Guideline #4: Acidity
You will find a huge range of acidity when tasting your way through the cheese world. Fresh chevre (goat cheese) is famous for a tangy bite that pairs well with the hoppiness of an IPA far better than with a malty beer. A less acidic cheese, such as an alpine cheese or a young gouda, will balance out the acidity found in sour ales.
Guideline #5: Find What YOU Like
This is by far our favorite guideline because it leaves the power in your hands. It’s your palate, after all, so it’s important to find what you enjoy. It may take a little experimentation — or a lot of experimentation! — but that’s the fun of pairing cheese and beer.
A Few of our Favorite Pairings
We’re still exploring and experimenting ourselves, but here are a few pairings we love that you might enjoy too:
- Parmigiano Reggiano (aged, salty) with Saison Dupont
- Grayson (washed rind) with Abt 12
- Schellen Bell (alpine) with Duvel
- Manchego (aged sheep’s milk) or Delice de Bourgogne (triple creme brie) with Lindeman’s Framboise
- Red Dragon (cheddar with mustard seeds and brown ale) with Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale
Go Forth and Taste!
We recommend keeping a pairing journal so you can jot notes. After a few cheeses and a couple beers, it’s easy to lose track of what you loved most, and making a few scribbles in a tasting journal will help you make the most of your pairing adventures!
Tell us about your favorite pairings in the comments — we would love to hear what you enjoy!