During my last Maker Tour, one of the co-founders of Jester King told me his favorite thing to eat with beer was cheese. I have to admit that I was a little surprised by that. I've certainly done cheese and wine pairings, but cheese and beer was something I hadn't yet tried. I just had to see what I was missing.
Cheese and beer - both natural foods whose origins date back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Rome. They are true heritage foods derived from a very small number of basic ingredients. Cheese is composed of milk, salt, rennet and other active cultures; beer is brewed from a combination of barley, hops, water and yeast. How have I managed to keep these two party essentials separated from one another for so long?
But what beers go well with particular varieties of cheese? I had no idea, so I consulted a cheesemonger behind the counter of my local Whole Foods for answers. She offered a few pairing suggestions and I brought home more than enough for my party of two. All in the name of research, of course.
After spreading out my local gatherings I immediately realized I wasn't even really sure how to eat beer with cheese. Do I eat cheese first and then beer? Or maybe beer first then cheese? I actually found that some pairings taste better one way than the other. Being particularly sensitive to the bitterness of IPAs I preferred to have beer first then cheese for that pairing, as the opposite just cut the buttery goodness of the cheese almost immediately. So have fun with it, and try things both ways to see what you enjoy best.
Of all the pairings, I think the most transformative was the Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) paired with Camembert. To be honest I wasn't the biggest fan of either of these individually. I found the camembert a bit too stinky for my taste and the PBR is well...PBR. Together though, the flavors melded into something altogether different. Mellow, sophisticated, perfect. If you only try one of the pairings I outline below, I encourage you to make it this one.
This whole venture was one of my more fun research experiments, ranking right up there with a wine and chocolate pairing party I had over a year ago. (Perhaps it's time to revisit some of those studies just in time for the upcoming holidays?) If you buy too much cheese or beer—like I always tend to do when unsupervised—make it an event and host your own beer and cheese pairing party. See what you all like best and see if the subtleties others notice changes your perception. But most of all, eat, drink and be merry.
Some Suggested Pairings:
• IPA with Triple Creme - I paired Acme IPA with Cowgirl Creamery MT TAM.
The IPA was too harsh for me following the cheese, I preferred the beer first in this tasting and the bitterness left on my tongue helped accentuate the smooth and buttery components of the cheese.
• Lager with Camembert - I paired PBR with Herve Mons Camembert.
Both flavors meld into subdued sophistacation. Light, creamy, and delicious. This pairing was my hands-down favorite.
• Blue Cheese and Barley Wine - I paired Real Ale Sisyphus with Rogue Creamery River Blue.
Like the lager and camembert pairing, individually the flavors of each were distinct, except this time I really liked both individually because I'm both a sour beer and blue cheese kind of guy. Together these created a well-blended taste that is different altogether.
• Feta with Saison - I paired Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale with Pure Luck Goat Feta
This was one of my favorite fetas all by itself. Tasting with the effervescent Saison to me was like caramelizing sugar on your tongue. The sweetness of the cheese made bolder yet with a slightly bitter edge. Yum.
(Images: Chris Perez)