Craft beer in America is booming — we now have more small breweries than at any time since the 1880s, and more are opening every day. There are plenty of good reasons why: The flavors are great, the price is right and you and your college-age niece finally have something to agree on. So why not celebrate by hosting a beer-cheese tasting?
What? You say you’re used to serving wine and cheese, not beer and cheese? Well, think about it: beer and cheese are actually a natural match. Nachos at ballgames. Pizza and beer. Even the old British ploughman’s lunch of washing down a fancy sort of cheese sandwich with beer.
When it comes to pairing beer and cheese, the most important idea is 'like with like', a creamy beer with a creamy cheese, a smoky beer with a smoky cheese. That's the same idea behind wine pairings — red wine with red meat, for instance. The only difference is that with beer, often you're really focusing on secondary characteristics. A beer like a Belgian ale might seem predominantly delicate and fine, but it has secondary characteristics, like a lemony finish, that allow it to pair with beer.
If you’re sport to try it, pick three or more of these suggested pairings and set out a spread.
And never forget, if you want to use up the leftovers the next day you can always whip up a batch of that Wisconsin classic, beer-cheese soup.
- Nut Brown Ale and Cheddar Nutty with a hint of coffee, brown ales, like those from Newcastle or Red Hook, go beautifully with a great, tangy cheddar.
- Oatmeal Stout and Mascarpone Deep, dark oatmeal stouts like those from Samuel Smith or Goose Island go wonderfully with a creamy dessert cheese like mascarpone, spread on bread or ladyfinger cookies.
- Gueuze Lambic and Cave-Aged Gruyere The Champagne-like Geuze-style lambics of Belgium have a fine, flowery aroma, perfect with the deep caramel tones of aged gruyere.
- Smoked Beers and Smoked Cheese It’s a longstanding tradition to make some beers from grains that are smoked over smoldering wood. Typically called Rauchbiers, they're imported from Germany or made domestically by such producers as Alaskan Brewing or Sam Adams. Pair with any smoked cheese, like smoked gruyere or gouda.
- Marzen and Parmesan Marzen beers, once made in March, are the last beers made in winter. They are typically very red, spicy, fruity and dry — not unlike a great Italian Chianti. They go beautifully with good parmesan and spicy walnuts or pecans. They're very popular at Oktoberfest.
- Pils and Manchego Traditional Czech and Bohemian pilsners, like Pilsner Urquell, tend to be crisp, a little saline and terrifically dry, not unlike dry Spanish fino sherry. This makes them the perfect complement to crumbly Manchego cheese, as the dryness of each accents and amplifies the other.
- Barley Wine and Blue Cheese Despite its name, barley wine is just a sort of strong, sweet beer. Try one from Sierra Nevada or Dogfish Head. Because of its big flavors, barley wine goes wonderfully with blue cheeses. A dollop of honey sweetens the indulgence.