Cheese is one of the best ways to start experimenting with beer and food pairings. It comes in a ton of styles, is relatively inexpensive and you can get a strong, full flavor from just a small bite. According to Certified Cicerone Michael Agnew, beer and cheese even have a shared past. Both originate from grasses that are broken down during a natural enzymatic process. In the case of beer, the enzymes convert the starches in barley to maltose; in cows, the enzymes in their stomach convert the grass to lactose. And both foods are made complete by using yeast to ferment those sugars into the cheeses and beers we love today.
So now, as we edge into the eating holiday season, is a good time to get ready for visits with family and friends by exploring some beer and cheese pairings. Besides offering a nice snack or appetizer at a dinner party, beer and cheese tastings also help encourage non-beer drinkers to give the brews a try.
Fresh Goat Cheese and Saison
Hooray! I love goat cheese, and I’m so pleased that now I can try it with Mendo’s new Anniversary Saison. Like goat cheese, saisons are crisp and a bit dry, so the flavors complement well. You can also try paring this cheese with a full wheat beer or a wit (like Mendo’s Seasonal White Ale). These same types of beers will also pair well with a good-quality mozzarella.
Parmesan Cheese and Amber Ale
Amber Ales, with their caramel undertones, go well with the nutty notes of parmesan cheeses. The sweetness of the malts also help to balance out the slight saltiness of the cheese. I’d serve this cheese alongside Mendo’s Eye of the Hawk—a classic combination.
Aged Cheddar Cheese and IPA
Cheddar cheese, one of the most popular and accessible cheeses, comes in a variety of styles. Aged, or farmhouse, cheddar has a sharp bite that goes well with an IPA, especially one with pine or citrus notes. A Talon Double IPA would work well here, or you can keep things a bit on the mellow side with the more subtle White Hawk.
Blue Cheese and Barleywine or Imperial Darks
A paring that may be best saved for last, Blue Cheese and Barleywine are a decadent combination. Both have full, complex flavors, and the malty richness of the Barleywine or a strong stout can stand up to a dance with the Blue while the hoppy undertones help refresh the palate. I’ve got a bottle of Mendo’s Barleywine that I’ve been saving for just such an occasion.
For more cheesy ideas, check out this handy cheese and beer pairing chart from Real California Cheese.
Beer and Cheese Pairing Party Tips:
- If possible, buy unpasteurized cheeses. Pasteurization removes a lot of the subtle flavors from the cheese, reducing its nuances and dulling its notes.
- Make sure you have a different cutting or serving utensil for each type of cheese. Some cheeses have very strong flavors, and you don’t want a dollop of gorgonzola to make its way into the mozzarella. Or maybe you do … it’s your party, after all!
- Serve the cheese at the correct temperature. Like beers, cheeses don’t want to be served extremely cold. Unless the cheese is extremely soft, take it out of the fridge for a bit to let it come to room temperature. Also, don’t slice the cheese until it is time for serving.
- Experiment! Try tasting the same cheese with several beers, or one beer with several cheeses. The flavors will be different every time.
What’s on your platter?
Do you have a favorite, or unusual, cheese and beer pairing to share? Get us inspired in the comments below!