Some say the best match for cheese is wine. We say those people are probably the ones who thought Buttercup should’ve stuck with Prince Humperdinck in The Princess Bride.
Beer and cheese is where it’s at, folks and with the holidays approaching, you may want to treat your guests and family to this killer combination. But pairing is always a challenge, and you may be asking yourselves, “But doesn’t all beer go with all cheese? Aren’t they both delicious and snackable? Why should I care about specific pairings?”
As your friendly Cork Report beer and cheese editors, we are here to demonstrate the awesome power of a fantastic beer and cheese match with a list of must-try ideas. Julia’s well versed in the classic beer and cheese matchups, but with Aaron’s off-the-hook cheese expertise are are also able to suggest more adventurous matches too. Of course, we list New York examples of all beers and mostly New York cheeses, though we did include a few out-of-state cheeses for educational purposes and diversity’s sake.
For starters, a little pairing 101. Much like with any craft beverage and food pairing, there are a few guidelines to learn and then break as you see fit. The key principle, balance, is a cinch here: beer has plenty of acidity thanks to those glorious hops and that refreshing carbonation; in addition it may have a little sweetness, a lot, or almost none depending on the malt bill, alcohol content, and additives if any (such as fruit or chocolate). These qualities balance it beautifully with the rich and creamy taste of cheese; fine-tuning the pairing just means considering the next two factors -- texture and flavor profile.
Texture and mouthfeel are all about the feel and body of your beer and cheese. The sharp bitter roast of a stout or the fierce pucker of many Belgian-style sours and Bretted beers will cut right through an incredibly buttery, creamy cheese, while a diacetyl-heavy or oaked beer might be too much.
Finally, specific flavors can be the difference between a good and a great pairing. While hops impart citrusy, piney, or even resiny notes, malt produces flavors like chocolate, peanut butter, and licorice. Extras like roast, oak aging, fruit, and additives like juniper and spices are often some of the most potent characteristics of a beer.
Yeast imparts a flavor that can range from bubblegum-fruity to musky, funky, and sour, and it makes for some of the most amazing beer and cheese combos. If you’re stuck in a rut with beer or cheese it’s time to experiment with some of the crazier flavors out there. Check out our ideas, then try some of your own!
Beer Style: India Pale Ale (IPA)
This beloved style combines hop bitterness and citrusy fruit with moderate to substantial alcohol and subtle malt. We love Ithaca Beer Company's Flower Power, Sixpoint Bengali, and Captain Lawrence IPA. IPAs are known to love an aged cheddar cheese like Montgomery Cheddar to coat the palate and cut that bitterness. Aaron, a hop hound, recently had Bengali Tiger with a funky English cheddar (Keen’s Cheddar to be exact) and declares it a brilliant pairing.
Beer Style: Chocolate Stout
Rich and roasty and no slouch in the alcohol department, chocolate stouts and cheese make a great dessert. We like Brooklyn Brewery's Chocolate Stout and Southern Tier Choklat. Julia loves a smoky chocolate stout with an equally smoked gouda or a light manchego, a nutty Spanish cheese. Aaron occasionally likes a triple cream with a chocolaty stout. “Doesn't always work, but very nice indeed” when it does, he says.
During the Holidays last year, Aaron paired Mt. Tam (A triple cream from Cowgirl Creamery in California) with an Imperial Stout from Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewery. The pairing was just fantastic. Chocolate and cream all rolled into one.
Try Saranac Big Moose Ale, Flying Bison Blizzard Bock, or Captain Lawrence Nor'Easter. As Aaron points out, this style depends heavily on the spice level: anything heavy on orange peel or coriander, and he would say a blue cheese works best. You definitely need a cheese that has some bite to it. Anything mild or delicate will fade into the background. For maltier and less spicy styles, Julia likes a bacon smoked gouda or other heartier smoked cheese to go with meats.
Beer Style: Saison or Belgian Pale
This style has exploded in New York recently; we love Ommegang BPA, Three Heads Ontario Coast, Southampton Saison, and Ommegang Hennepin. Aaron loves Hennepin with most cheeses, as it’s versatile enough to stand up to just about anything. Julia's favorites are funky French styles like Port Salut or Chaume (Warning: open this cheese and you will not be socially acceptable for the rest of the evening. Open it alone or with a long-term partner only.)
Beer Style: Sour Beers
Pucker up: sours are absolutely amazing with a wide variety of cheeses. Ithaca Beer Company is the New York sour master, with classics Brute and Le Bleu; we also love Southampton Cuvee des Fleurs. Both Aaron and Julia love goat cheese with this style: they tried a fresh Catapano goat with Cuvee des Fleurs at last year's Wines/Beers of the Year and were in love.
Try Brooklyner Weisse, Butternuts Heinnieweisse, or Southern Tier Heavy Weizen for a New York take on this classic Old World style. A sexy beer in and of itself, this is a dream pairing for many cheeses. Julia loves Hefe with just about any cheese but especially loves it with goat cheese on toast points to accompany a light salad; a camembert or other delicate creamy cheese is also excellent.
Aaron likes a young cheddar; a mellow example is Mecox Bay Cheddar from Long Island. The cheddar from Mecox has a nice and easy finish that really highlights the yeasty qualities of this style. He also recommends Three Corner Field Farm sheep’s milk cheese. A fresh button of “Brebis Blanche” and a cool wheat beer go hand-in-hand any day of the week.