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Beer Cheese

December 4, 2015

abWine and cheese. Those two words seem to be practically inseparable.

Looking at how food terms pair up makes me wonder how these different ingredient combinations found their way into the popular lexicon.

Champagne and caviar. I think vodka is a much better pairing. It really helps to wipe clean the palate, and prepare you to enjoy the next bite. I think the champagne thing took hold because each item was a luxury good. And that’s all fine and dandy. But I’ve never found the two of them together to be all that great.

When it comes to word pairings, it’s really the word “wine” that conjures up “cheese”, because if you lead with “cheese” then you follow with “crackers”. And that’s odd too, because crackers tend to overshadow most cheeses. Serious cheese lovers enjoy simply eating their favorite cheeses out of hand.

My best guess as to how wine became forever entwined with cheese, has to do with the old wine sales axiom: buy on an apple, and sell on cheese. Yes, cheese makes middling wine taste better. But much like crackers, wine can be a troublesome pairing with cheese.

Beer is better.

To prove the point, Jonathan Milk who heads the cheese program at Honest Weight Food Coop paired up with Jeremy Irving from Remarkable Liquids to lead a beer and cheese tasting class last night for the local Yelp community.

And what we discovered it that cider and cyser also work well.

Cyser was a new term for me, but it’s a beverage that combines mead with cider. The one Jeremy brought was B. Nektar’s Zombie Killer and he paired it with Four Fat Fowl’s St. Stephen. Jonathan took each wedge of cheese and topped it with an Amarena cherry. There’s some cherry juice in the Zombie Killer too, so the cherry on top of the cheese really tied the entire pairing together.

I’ve really enjoyed Shushan Snow from 3 Corner Field Farm before, but I didn’t know the farm produced an aged sheep’s milk cheese. Ossau Iraty is one of my favorite cheeses, and this regional brebis is produced in the same style. There’s a delicate nuttiness to it that I find really appealing. Jeremy contrasted this with the juicy tropical fruit and citrus aromas from Hoponius Union, an India Pale Lager from Jack’s Abby.

A bunch of tasters were floored by the pairing of a Belgian ale with a local gouda. The cheese is made just outside of Utica, and it’s fantastic with both caramelized notes of gouda and an undercurrent of fresh cream. I thought the Petrus Aged Red might have something to do with the famous wine of Pomerol, but it doesn’t. The beer is a blend of sweet and sour, which echoes the cheese as it was presented on a slice of dried orange.

Jeremy brought Nine Pin’s signature cider to the Yelp event at fin – your fishmonger many months ago, and back then I was impressed with how well it balanced the salinity of the oyster. At the cheese pairing it did the same thing with the Cascadita aged goat cheese, which is made in Poland, New York. Jonathan had the clever idea of soaking apple slices in Nine Pin’s cider to prevent browning.

Jonathan ended the structured tasting with a huge closer, the Rogue River Blue. I’ve had this before and it’s magnificent. It really needs something strong and sweet to balance it out, and Jeremy brought Gulden Draak, which is a dark brown triple ale from Belgium, which in itself had layers and layers of flavors.

As an extra special treat, Jonathan had a wheel of Jasper Hill’s Winnimere in a state of scoopable perfection when the formal tasting was over. There were other cheeses too. But let’s circle back on this beer thing for a moment.

Beer plays well with cheese for a couple of reasons.

One is its carbonation. Bubbles help to refresh the palate and scrub it of the fatty cheese. Sparkling wine does this too, and that’s one reason why Champagne’s proponents will claim that it goes well with everything. They’re right. I’ve had Champagne with burritos and it was a delicious combination.

The other is about sweetness. We don’t often think of beers as being sweet, but that’s largely because the sweet malt elements are balanced by bittering hops. And playing sweet against salty is always a taste win.

Dry tannic red wines may go great with grilled fatty meats, but they are troublesome to pair with cheeses. Whites do much better. And not all beers would work well with cheese, as I could imagine the newly popular sour beers clashing with dairy products.

So, as always, the best way to figure it out is by tasting, especially since everyone has different preferences. Last night’s event was a great chance for me to have a few of my favorite cheeses, try a few new ones, and further expand my beer horizons.

It’s unlikely we’ll break the tyranny of “wine and cheese,” but the more people turn onto pairing beer with cheese, the closer we get.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 4, 2015 2:23 pm

    That was a great event last night, Daniel. Glad to have met some other folks in the community passionate about food, as well as get educated on how to better pair beer and cheese. Good work.

    • December 4, 2015 3:13 pm

      Thanks. I do love doing events like these. And there are a lot more to come.

  2. December 4, 2015 3:01 pm

    That sounds fun. Thanks for sharing what you learned. Aside: There is no “e” in Jack’s Abby. Despite the fact they are one of my favorite brewers, I add the “e” as often as I remember to not.

    • December 4, 2015 3:10 pm

      Fixed. Thanks. I think I pissed off a vegan dad who was waiting in the checkout line when I was explaining the joys of cheese to his daughter (before I knew they were vegan).

      • December 4, 2015 4:05 pm

        You should have covered your tracks by referring her to this Vegan Black Metal Chef video concerning vegan “cheese.”

      • December 5, 2015 9:17 am

        Oh my. I feel your pain. Last night I brought the dessert to my first dinner with a new friend. Chocolate cupcakes contained wine. Half were topped with frosting flavored with Laphroaig and half were topped with chocolate ganache flavored with mezcal. You see where this is going, right? Friend is in recovery, as they say. I disclosed my mistake and he still enjoyed them. It’s getting tough out there!

  3. -R. permalink
    December 7, 2015 11:36 am

    Mr. Dave, thank you so much for linking to the Vegan Black Metal Chef – educational and highly entertaining!!

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