Born in the USA: American Beer & Cheese
To say Steve Jones knows cheese is an understatement. As an award-winning cheesemonger and owner of Cheese Bar, Chizu, and Cheese Annex at The Commons Brewery, for years Jones has been providing Portlanders the chance to try world-class cheese without pretension.
His curated cheese cases, approachable demeanor, and popular events like Portland’s Beer and Cheese Festival help broaden our notions of how beer and cheese pair together.
I stopped by Cheese Bar to chat with Steve and to hear about six American-made cheeses he’s particularly excited about—and to pair each one with craft beers from its home state.
Central Coast Gouda | Paso Robles, CA
This surprising goat gouda — the only one of its kind, stateside — manages to somehow be both crisp and smooth. With toasty coconut flavor and a bright, summery character, it evokes the marriage of classicism and innovation also seen in the brewing culture of California’s central coast.
- Opal | Firestone Walker Brewing Co. | Paso Robles, CA A perennial favorite, Firestone’s flirty Belgain-style saison is the perfect place to begin when pairing this gouda. Opal’s spicy Belgian undertone cuts right through the cheese, exhibiting its complexity.
- Golden Naked Ale | 101 North Brewing Co. | Petaluma, CA This drinkable golden ale’s unfiltered body complements the smoothness of the cheese. Brewed partially with cereal grains, it is pleasantly complex for such a light style, which enhances the surprising depth of this gouda.
- Weiss Weiss Baby | Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. | Buellton, CA This crisp German-style hefeweizen has an inviting effervescence that highlights the toasty side of the cheese. Weiss Weiss Baby’s light body belies its bready character, which melds beautifully with the gouda’s coconut note.
Ancient Heritage Hannah | OR
Sturdy without being stodgy, this dense, salty, raw sheep-and-cow cheese tastes like it was made to stand up to malty beers. One of Oregon’s better-known artisan cheeses, Hannah is a natural-rind beauty with a layered flavor profile. Its place alongside some of the Beaver State’s best malt-forward brews is well-earned.
- Organic Velvet ESB | Hopworks Urban Brewery | Portland, OR Though this sessionable beer clocks in at just 5.2% ABV, its caramel character, beautiful garnet coloring and eponymous smoothness showcase the cheese’s crystalline texture. This beer is also brewed with oats from Oregon company Bob’s Red Mill, completing the trifecta of Oregon love.
- RyePA | pFriem Family Brewers | Hood River, OR Exuding gingerbread notes, this rye IPA is a twist on a malt-forward beer. The beer’s relatively low bitterness (only 47 IBUs) protects Hannah’s nutty notes, while its slight vanilla finish makes for a sweet-and-salty play you’re sure to love.
- Amber Ale | Oakshire Brewing Co. | Eugene, OR It wouldn’t be proper to deny this cheese a traditional malt-forward pairing. Oakshire’s Amber Ale is an excellent example of the style, managing to be bready and chewy without being overwhelming. This beer begs for a solid cheese that won’t back down from a big malt bill. In Hannah, it’s found one.
Jasper Hill Moses Sleeper | VT
Moses Sleeper is an unexpected triple crème cow cheese, with a funky, earthy character reminiscent of mushrooms and forest floor. This rustic vibe is a delightful departure that begs for a beer of similar complexity.
- Biere de Norma | Hill Farmstead Brewery | Greensboro, VT Steve Jones mentioned that this brewery sits just a stone’s throw from the farm cellars where Jasper Hill cheeses are made and aged. It’s not just geography that they share, though. Both establishments are famous for their expert use of what Hill Farmstead calls “resident microflora.” This funky, Vermont-bred farmhouse beer is a perfect match for the creamy cheese.
- Brett Cherried Alive Pale Ale | Fiddlehead Brewing Co. | Shelburne, VT Though pale ale would not typically be first on our mind to pair with a triple crème, this funky, Bretty pale ale melds well with Moses Sleeper, as the creaminess is cut by the tart fruit character of the beer. This pairing is the stuff of fruit and cream dreams.
- C’est Bon Farmhouse Ale | Burlington Beer Co. | Williston, VT It is said that farmhouse ales pair uniquely well with food, and this saison is no exception. Fruity, aromatic and thirst-quenching, its rusticity is a match made in heaven for this cheese. Per tradition, the beer is brewed with a variety of grains, which is in keeping with Moses Sleeper’s earthy (and earth-centric) character.
Sartori Bellavitano | WI
This harder cow cheese is paired with beer from the moment it’s made, as it features a rind washed with New Glarus Raspberry Tart ale. This gives it an obvious, but not cloying, fruit character, with a solid texture and a peppy, complex taste.
- Jorge Ale | Sweet Mullets Brewing Co. | Oconomowoc, WI This light, jalapeno-infused beer is a peppery surprise. When paired with the fruity aroma and taste of the Bellavitano, Jorge adds a little heat to the sweet. Plus, with this pairing, you’re practically getting a fruit and a veggie in for the day.
- Mudpuppy Porter | Central Waters Brewing Co. | Amherst, WI Creamy and robust, Mudpuppy turns the Bellavitano into a delight reminiscent of a rich truffle. This porter’s roasty notes keep the pairing from venturing too sweet, invoking more cocoa than chocolate syrup, and its hop profile maintains balance.
- Outboard Cream Ale | Milwaukee Brewing Co. | Milwaukee, WI This crisp cream ale’s simplicity allows the Bellavitano’s layered character to shine. With slight citrus notes, Outboard brightens the cheese and softens the fruit flavors. The surprising depth of the cheese is more apparent when paired with this well-executed, refreshing ale.
Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam | CA
Let this cheese take you to the buttery beyond with its sexy, sultry creaminess. Mt. Tam is an organically-made cow cheese with a straightforward style. Its elegant, bright white rind gives way to a luscious, mellow center.
- Double Daddy Imperial IPA | Speakeasy Ales and Lagers | San Francisco, CA One of the suggested pairings for this imperial IPA is crème brulee. Why not do one better and pair it with Cowgirl’s savory triple crème? With a nuanced orange marmalade note, Double Daddy evokes a juicy fruit compote atop the cheese, while a super-hoppy aroma and high IBUs stand up to Mt. Tam’s thickness.
- Narwhal Imperial Stout | Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. | Chico, CA Pairing this cheese with a foreboding American imperial stout matches its velvety texture. Jones described the combination as “adding cream to your coffee,” and I couldn’t agree more. United, these components are decadent but still complex. As Parks and Rec’s Tom Haverford says: “Treat yo’self!”
- Sweet Flanders Red | BarrelHouse Brewing Co. | Paso Robles, CA Tart, fruity and alluring, this Belgian-style Flanders aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels is a beer born of wine country. While the other two beers paired with this cheese enhance its smoothness, this sour ale enlivens it, taking Mt. Tam from no-nonsense to nifty.
Rogue Smokey Blue | OR
According to Rogue Creamery, Smokey Blue was the world’s first smoked blue cheese. This raw cow milk blue is smoked over Oregon hazelnuts to create a woody, nutty wonder. Though cheesemongers often steer clear of smoke flavors when pairing so as not to overshadow the beer, it is possible to pair Smokey Blue with a beer that matches its intensity.
- Bourbon Little Brother Belgian Strong Dark Ale | The Commons Brewery | Portland, OR By aging its celebrated Little Brother Belgian dark strong ale in Heaven Hill whiskey barrels, The Commons Brewery makes a big beer even bolder. When paired with Smokey Blue, the result is reminiscent of a fragrant campfire. Two big, polarizing flavors (smoke and oak) blend into the burliest pairing of the bunch.
- Hazelnut Brown Nectar | Rogue Ales and Spirits | Ashland, OR An Oregon take on an English classic, Hazelnut Brown Nectar coaxes out the roasty sweetness of the cheese. With the cheese having been smoked over hazelnuts, this pairing is a no-brainer. The beer’s malt backbone makes it strong enough to pair with a blue, while still smooth enough to take the edge off. Plus, at just 5.6% ABV, this is a pairing that won’t end your night.
- S’More Stout | Base Camp Brewing Co. | Portland, OR Base Camp manages to steer this beer away from being treacly, and instead produces an ale with all the nostalgia of the s’mores experience. Its inherently balanced sweetness calms the smoky cheese a bit, creating a rustic mouthful that feels like a grown-up trip to summer camp.
Beer and cheese pairings are a great way to explore craft beer’s versatility and breadth. Whether you’re a fan of crisp lagers, hoppy pale ales or malt-driven darker styles, there’s a cheese to fit it. Thanks to Steve Jones for his expert guidance in finding some of America’s finest cheeses to pair with a few favorite craft beers.