OK, I’ll come right out of the gate swinging with this one. The great myth of wine and cheese MUST die. Now.
Yes, it’s possible to actually have wonderful wine complement artisan cheeses, but it’s a crapshoot. Every time. Ask a cheese expert, and they’ll tell you; the ultimate companion to cheese is great beer. The wine experts, even the most knowledgeable, will warn you, “Don’t try this at home,” when it comes to creating harmonious match-ups with fromage.
Hell, even the large-format coffee table books on wine that wax ad nauseam about terroir, winemaking skills, and little-known grape varietals from the south-facing side of that one hill—you know the one I mean; in that one part of Piedmont, with that 300-year-old storied family plot, named after their great-grandfather’s favorite hunting dog?—even those viticultural filibusters rarely include more than a perfunctory page or two dedicated to the subject of cheese pairing.And no, it’s not that it’s impossible to have a great cheese and wine pairing. But, I’d venture an educated guess that 99.9 percent of the time, you can find a far superior craft beer pairing that will have you swearing off Chardonnay in no time. And yet, the myth persists… mostly driven by the oh-so-desperate-to-be-sophisticated housewives of Orange County I’m guessing.
Beer and cheese often have complementary flavor profiles—toasty, bready, grassy, herbal, caramelly—which certainly helps when pairing. Carbonation also cleanses your palate, helping you taste each bite as if it were the first. True, you can drink Champagne, but do you want to compare price tags here? Plus, the acidity pair-up is all wrong, IMO. Then, there are hops; their bittering components add to the overall mouthfeel, and can accent certain flavors in many aged cheeses that no amount of grapes ever could.
Sorry pseudo-wine experts; the jig is up. Beer is, and always will be, the supreme cheese pairing beverage.
When pairing beer with cheese, there are a few simple guidelines you can follow. Most importantly, don’t be afraid! This isn’t the snobby, stuffy world of wine here. There are no real rules or conventions you have to follow. Experiment until you find what works for you.
- Check your temperature. You know better than to drink your craft beer straight outta the fridge, don’t you? Well, the same rule applies for cheese. Take it out of the icebox at least 30 minutes before enjoying.
- Beer balances the contrast of malty sweetness with hoppy bitterness. Implementing the same thought process of complementary contrasts in your beers and cheese can often produce the best pairings.
- Don’t overdo it. A smoked Cheddar or smoked Gouda paired with a smoked porter or Rauchbier might seem like a no-brainer, but they end up essentially canceling each other out, muddling many of the nuances and complexities of each.
- Think strength and match intensities. Big cheeses need big beers. Lighter cheeses call for lighter beers. But, never resort to the travesty of a so-called “light” beer!
- Excellent cheese pairing suggestions can be found on the Brewers Association’s Craft Beer and Food Pairing Chart.
Don’t take my word for it, check these articles:
- Say Cheese Magazine
Pitcher-Perfect Pairings by Kate Leahy
Cheese and Beer Go Together Better
- Vermont’s Independent Voice
Made in Hop Heaven: Why beer might just replace wine as the perfect cheese partner by Suzanne Podhaizer
- San Francisco Chronicle
Beer & Cheese / Forget wine and cheese parties—the true soul mate for fromage isn’t made from grape juice
by Janet Fletcher
Greg Koch is the CEO and Co-Founder of Stone Brewing Co. He is a certified (some might even say certifiable!) beer geek and a passionate crusader for ethical eating. For a steady supply of his musings, follow @StoneGreg on Twitter; he’s always more than happy to let you know what he thinks.
Last Updated: February 23, 2011