Pairing a dairy-fresh cheese with your homebrewed beer is a dynamic duo that could rock your taste buds.
By Rachael Brugger, Associate Web Editor
Photo by Stephanie Staton
Let your tastebuds be your guide when pairing beer and cheese. One good option is to pair beers and cheeses made in the same geographic region.
When it comes to hosting a relaxed and merry gathering, there are two guests you cannot leave off the guest list: beer and cheese. Although you most often see cheese accompanying wine on the appetizer table, be careful not to underestimate the power of coupling beer and cheese.
Grant McCracken, homebrewer and certified cicerone (i.e., your beer-tasting guide), and Abbe Turner of Lucky Penny Creamery are obsessed with the diverse flavors and aromas that result from commingling these two products, and they offer their tips for creating (and tasting) the perfect beer-cheese pairing.
As any home-brewer probably knows, tasting a beer is an interactive experience where all the senses come into play.
“It really disappoints me to see people chugging a craft product straight from the bottle,” McCracken says. With all the work that goes into creating a beer, he says, brewer and taster owe it to one another — and the product — to enjoy the appearance, aroma and flavor. “This doesn’t happen through a 1-inch hole in a brown bottle.”
To begin tasting your beer, chill it to a temperature between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Drinking a beer ice-cold will mute the flavor and diminish your experience. Then, pour the beer into a tulip glass or, for stronger beers, a wine glass.
The beer’s appearance will teach you a lot about the beer. Examine its color, clarity and head formation. A jet-black beer could indicate a roasty flavor. If it’s cloudy, prepare yourself for a full-bodied taste or for something on the raw side. A heady beer could mean high carbonation.
Next, consider the aroma. The carbonation will help here by lifting beer particles to the part of your nose that detects odors. By taking time to smell your beer, you will decipher how the beer’s three main ingredients — malt, hops and yeast — interact. More yeast will make the beer spicier while a malty beer will take on a caramel, roasty or bready flavor. If you notice citrus or earthy tones, that’s probably the hops.
Finally, once you’ve learned all you can from sight and smell, take a sip.
Like tasting beer, tasting cheese can be a rewarding experience. When tasting cheese, people tend to draw on past experience to relate the flavor, says Turner.
“Listen to what your brain is telling you, and take note of your first impressions,” she says. “Is it grassy, milky, musty or remind you of fresh citrus? Your palate is unique to you and the descriptions and tastes uniquely yours. The most important thing to do is experiment, take notes and enjoy.”
To get the best flavor from your cheese, let it warm to room temperature. Then, use all your senses to pick up the aroma. Touch it, see it, smell it and taste it.
One technique Turner uses when tasting cheese (and beer) is to exhale when swallowing. This allows the aroma of the product to make its way through your olfactory system, so you can better pick up the subtle flavors.
The Perfect Pairing
When selecting beers and cheeses to pair together, there are many things a taster needs to keep in mind: Balance, texture and flavor should all be considered.
Let harmony and contrast be your guide, says McCracken.
Beer and cheese have a lot in common, which makes pairing them a lot of fun. Both are the result of grass—beer obviously made from barley and cheese from the milk of grassfed livestock. Both are also fermented and aged, giving them similar values of acidity, sweetness and fermentation flavors.
Choosing beers and cheeses that take on similar flavors can give a lot of power to your pairing, McCracken says. He recommends beginning tasters try a tart, acidic Berliner Weisse with a tart, acidic chevre or pair a sharply bitter India Pale Ale with an aged, sharp cheddar.
Turner agrees that choosing harmonious beer-cheese pairings can lead to success.
“The strong and possibly bitter notes of strong beer can overwhelm a light cheese; similarly a light beer can get lost with a tangy, salty, strong cheese,” she says. Some of her favorite beer-cheese pairings are fresh chevre with Belgian lambics or Belgian-style
Saisons, goat feta with wheat beers, and Parmigiano-Reggiano with India Pale Ale.
On the flip side, a nice contrast between your beer and cheese selection can titillate your taste buds.
“There’s nothing better to me than a rich, aged barleywine paired with a salty, aged blue cheese,” McCracken raves. “In this sense you get the contrast of sweet and salty, while also the harmony of very similar rustic, pungent, aged fermentation flavors.”
Try these other tips for finding your way to the perfect beer-cheese pairing:
Pair paler, more delicately flavored beers with young, fresh cheeses.
Pair malty beers with nutty, aged cheeses.
Pair bitter, highly hopped beers with tart, sharp cheeses.
Pair malty, high-alcohol, aged beers with aged, salty blue cheeses.
Pair beer and cheese produced in the same geographic region.
Also, don’t underestimate the role of carbonation in a winning beer-cheese duo. A bubbly beer can scrape away the mouth-coating fat that cheese can leave behind, leaving your palette refreshed … and ready to taste more.
About the Author: Rachael Brugger, associate web editor for UrbanFarmOnline.com, met Grant McCracken and Abbe Turner at Slow Food Cincinnati’s beer and cheese pairing event, where they taught her what it takes to match these two tasty products into one amazing sensory experience.