Beer — Not Wine — is the Perfect Pairing for Cheese
Drop that Chardonnay! Cheese has a new bae: the brew.
Wine and cheese: Like PB & J or the Mets and a losing streak, the two have been linked for so long that most think their marriage is unbreakable. Well, most folks are mistaken — at least about the wine-and-cheese union.
Beer offers more options to compare and contrast a variety of cheese flavors, textures, and — not to get all “foodie” on you — mouthfeel than wine does. “Beer is more versatile, to be honest,” says Rod Johnson, co-owner of Grand Cru Beer & Cheese Market in Rhinebeck.
A wine critic reportedly once called the union of wine and cheese “a train wreck in the mouth,” while beer and cheese collaborate rather than collide. “The carbonation in beer works well with cheese,” explains Eric Paul, owner of the Cheese Traveler in Albany. “You get a cheese’s rich aspects of flavor and texture, then the flavor of the beer cleans the palate. Beer is more forgiving.”
Still, certain styles pair better than others, and general rules apply. “As with wine, the lighter the beer the lighter the cheese, the heavier the beer the heavier the cheese,” Johnson says. Lighter, fresher, and typically soft cheeses like chèvre or goat cheese pair well with wheat beers, farmhouse ales, and pilsners. “Balance comes from their lightness, their citrus flavors, even some barnyard funk of the lighter sours,” he says. Bring the funk to living-rind beers as well, he says. “The yeast strain used in sour beers produces funky beers, which go well with funky cheeses,” he says.
Medium cheeses match well with more balanced beers like brown and amber ales. Double- and triple-cream cheeses, which are high in butterfat, do well with ambers, Lambics, and IPAs. For smoky Goudas and cheddars, try smoky beers like a dopple lager or smoked porter. And big blue cheeses like dark stouts and porters. “The darker beers don’t just run away,” he says. “They can handle a blue.”
If those are the do’s, there are also a few don’ts: “Never mix a bold, stinky blue with a light lager or pilsner,” Johnson warns. “You wouldn’t even taste the beer. You can go the other way, too. A fresh farmer’s cheese with an imperial stout would crush the cheese. You wouldn’t even know you had cheese.”
But these are general rules. Both Paul and Johnson encourage experimentation and bow to personal taste. “I like giant IPAs with big cheeses,” Johnson says. “What one considers a perfect pairing, another might not. It’s all about preference.” And fun. “Beer is less serious,” Paul says. “It’s not supposed to bring you to some enlightened place.”
In case you need more direct assistance to help start your beer-and-cheese journey, Johnson and Paul have come up with some pairing recommendations:
- Old Chatham Sheepherding “Nancy’s Camembert” with Rushing Duck Naysayer Pale Ale
- Sprout Creek Farm “Madeline” with Chatham Brewing Czech’rd Past Pilsner
- Coach Farm “Green Peppercorn” with Hudson Valley Brewing Soleil Farmhouse Sour
- McGrath Cheese “Victoria” with Mill House Brewing Hubar Double IPA
- Old Chatham Sheepherding “Ewe’s Blue” with Keegan Ale’s Mother’s Milk Stout
- Four Fat Fowl “St. Stephen” with Suarez Family Hecto American Pale Ale
- McGrath Cheese “Rascal” with Newburgh Brewing Brown Ale
- Twin Maple Farms “Hudson Red” with Sloop Brewing Confliction Sour Ale
- Sprout Creek “Toussaint” with Broken Bow Red Ale
- Chaseholm Farms “Stella Vallis” with Keegan Ale’s Joe Mama’s Milk Stout