By Aaron Estes, Cheese Editor
As a cheese geek I am continually preoccupied with the age-old question that plagues the majority of the cheese obsessed here in New York and elsewhere: “What makes the better cheese pairing? Wine or Beer?”
I am clearly not alone in this as a sold-out crowd was on hand at the Artisanal Cheese wine and beer pairing event this past weekend, hosted by Peconic Bay Winery.
Working with The Village Cheese Shop in Mattituck, and Greenport Harbor Brewing, the staff at Peconic Bay chose four cheeses and subsequently paired them with complementary beer and wine. It was a pretty perfect setup. Each taster was given the opportunity to taste in a controlled setting with the winemaker, brewmaster, and cheesemonger on hand to answer any related questions.
For those of you who were not able to attend, here are the pairings:
Madeline – Sprout Creek Farm, NY
Black Duck Porter
La Barrique Chardonnay
Ossau Iraty – Pyrenees, France
Goot Essa Cheddar – Millheim, PA
Gorgonzola Dolce – Lombardi, Italy
Acting as emcee for the event, I focused on guiding people through the elements of tasting, discussing the primary philosophy behind beverage pairing with cheese, and generally keeping questions and discussions moving along.
A key success factor for something like this is the educational value that attendees have come to expect. The multitude of questions ranging from cheese storage to beverage tasting temperatures indicated to me that this crowd was here to explore and learn.
As far as the pairings are concerned, all were successful to some degree in that there weren’t any distinct “clashes.” I have said before and I will say again, I believe that beer is a better pairing with cheese in that it is more forgiving due to the carbonation. Generally, pairing beer with cheese is more about balance, whereas pairing wine with cheese revolves around highlighting complementing and contrasting flavor profiles. When wine and cheese works together it absolutely sings. When it doesn’t, you can tell immediately, much in the same way as to when a bottle of wine is “corked.” There is a metallic, tin can clash on your tongue. No singing here…
The pairing of the day for me, surprisingly enough, was the Goot Essa cheddar with the Nautique Rouge. When I saw this duo on the list, I had immediate reservations. Cheddar and red wine is a difficult pairing due to levels of acidity. If the acidity and funkiness from the cheddar overwhelms the acidity and fruit from the wine, the pairing is out of balance.
The young and juicy fruit from the Nautique Rouge blended perfectly with the smooth and mildly earthy paste. I would have thought that the beer would stand out as a hoppy beer with cheddar is my favorite pairing by far. This pairing was so enjoyable, that I brought a couple bottles of the Nautique Rouge back with me to experiment.
Overall, a great time was had by all. Events like this make pairing cheese with wine and/or beer more approachable, especially for those who would like to try it at home.
The most important lesson to take away is this: It’s not rocket science. We are talking about cheese, beer and wine. Traditional pairings are recommendations, but by no means a gospel. If you like a particular cheese and beer/wine together, then that is a good pairing for you. Write down the ones you like (and don’t like) and go from there. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
I look forward to future events such as this as they provide a stage for local producers to celebrate their craft and share with the local community.