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Cheese Pairing Tips From the Experts

Cheese Pairing Tips From the Experts
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If trying every new beer on the market isn’t enough craft exploration for you, have you ever considered escalating your interests by pairing craft beer with food? We mostly hear of beer-paired dinners and often see food suggestions on our favorite beer labels, but if you’re no good in the kitchen and don’t want to purchase a ton of ingredients, there is a simpler solution…cheese! Food pairing is all the rage, and a perfectly executed cheese pairing at your next get-together is sure to impress your guests. The different distinctions of cheese and seemingly boundless beer styles are what makes pairing them so interesting.

The rules (more so parameters than rules) of pairing craft beer with artisan cheese are very pliable. However, there are some universal procedures that you should follow in order to make your guest’s experience more gratifying and unforgettable.

First, you want to select the cheese. There are a multitude of beer styles and flavors out there. By selecting the cheese first, you can help isolate the best options to pair it with. Start by seeking out a local cheese monger. He or she should be able to give you an idea of the flavors you can expect from each cheese. Make sure that you don’t shop too far in advance in order to serve the cheese as fresh as possible. Another thing to consider is serving temperature. Some cheese is meant to be consumed at room temperature, so plan accordingly when serving so that you maximize flavor.

Secondly, and most importantly, when selecting beer, look for mutual characteristics. Comparable to pairing craft beer with food, you want to look for matching flavors and textures between the beer and cheese (ex. intense flavors, body and aroma.) Ideally you want the paring to provide a type of balance, where the beer or cheese will not overpower the other. Instead, they should complement one another. You can either shop many brands or stay within the portfolio of one brewery. Another fun option is to pair locally produced cheeses with locally brewed beers.

Lastly, when conducting your pairing you want to sample from less intensity to higher intensity. Meaning you want to sample the lightest (less complex) flavors first so that your pallet can properly handle the progression to more complex flavors. You also want to provide separate utensils for each cheese in order to prevent the mixing of tastes. Cheese produces a myriad of flavors, some stronger than others, and you want to prevent them from fraternizing with each other.

Last week I was able to conduct a cheese pairing for a group of pupils using only beer from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s portfolio. Here are some of the options I presented:

Sierra Nevada Otra Vez paired with a tangy goat cheese – This beer is a traditional German Gose with a hint of prickly pear cactus and grapefruit. It comes off light and refreshing with a touch of tartness. I decided to pair this beer with a locally produced goat cheese that was slightly tangy. The lightness in body of both the cheese and beer complemented each other well, while the tartness of the beer and tanginess of the cheese battled for dominance with no clear victor.

Sierra Nevada Kellerweis paired with a cow’s milk Camembert – Cow’s milk Camembert is a soft, creamy, surface-ripened cheese. The thick and rich body from the Camembert provided a platform for the remarkable flavors produced by the Hefeweizen ale yeast used to brew Kellerweis. The untamed beer played extremely well with the subtle complexity of the cheese.

Sierra Nevada Torpedo paired with a stinky blue – This pairing is iconic in the beer and cheese pairing world for all of the right reasons. When consuming either the beer or the cheese by themselves, it’s extremely easy to get an overwhelmed pallet. However, when you consume them together, it’s astounding. The blue cheese presents rich aromas and spicy-like complexity with a melt-in-your-mouth texture. The Torpedo, with its high bitterness and complex hop aromas, mimics the intensity of the cheese while its carbonation aids in scrubbing the cheese from your taste buds, leaving your pallet refreshed.

As Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster) has said, “cheese is grass processed through a cow and modified by microbes. Beer is also grass processed through a microbe – yeast.” So it is not surprising that we can find a wide array of common flavors when seeking pairing possibilities. Cheese is a tough dish to match with beverages. It's strong, pungent, earthy, salty and creamy aspects often overwhelm lesser beverages. Beer, with its assortment of carbonation, hop bitterness, and roasty elements, can seamlessly handle the mouth-coating lushness of cheese exquisitely. Happy pairing!

Nate Reynolds
Nate Reynolds

Beer fanatic is quite the understatement when describing Nate Reynolds. From brands to home brews, Nate knows it all (or at least wants to). Obsessed since early college years, Nate dreamed to make a career for himself in the beer industry. Posts written by Nate will be packed full of information (seriously, gauntlets of information) because frankly… that’s what he’s all about; educating people about beer. When he’s not working, Nate can be found brewing up something funky in the Adirondacks with his beautiful wife and Aussies, or at an EQX concert!

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