Featured in Beer Paper LA – June 2016
Cheese and craft beer are as natural companions as wheat and dairy (and I would argue, just as fundamental); they share an array of affinities that span from the simple marriage of ‘beer mac-and-cheese’ to funky, deep, and ‘it’s complicated’ relationships of farmhouse style ale and a creamy/earthy soft cheese treats. Both are produced with a limited number of ingredients, curated by the affinueur and brewmaster, using techniques that are both varied and historic, to create a vast array of styles, each with its own unique flavors. Both depend on the inner-workings of tiny micro-organisms to achieve that final pour of beer or fresh cut of a wheel of cheese.
What gives these indulgences (read: necessities) their character, their composition, their (very) tasty flavors, and, most importantly, their perfectly paired personalities? Well, let’s start with some basics. All cheeses have a certain percentage of butterfat content and salt; all beers have alcohol and carbonation (some highly carbonated, and some so subtle you wonder if it’s there at all). These fundamental factors allow what’s at work on the palate stand out when beer and cheese are coupled together. While the butter fat content in the cheese goes to work coating the tongue and giving off the perception of richness in the mouth, the salinity adds a dimension of umani that heightens flavor. Along comes the alcohol in beer to tantalize the palate and contrast the cheese’s lavishness. Not only that, but the alcohol also cuts through fat, giving carbonation a chance to play a lively role – cleansing the palate, and reinvigorating the senses to start the process all over again.
Tips To Pairing
The first thing to consider when paring beer and cheese is matching the intensities of the beer with the flavors of the cheese. While beer oxidizes and mellows in intensity as it matures, the flavors in cheese tend to become more robust, funkier and sharp when left out at room temperature. Beyond the fundamental interactions of harmonious tastes, flavors, and aromas of a specific beer and cheese, one can also discover contrasting factors which stand up to the boldness of some cheeses.
For example, the pungent flavors of the washed rind cheese Epoisses are beautifully contrasted and highlighted by a brettanomyces saison, such as ‘ My First Rodeo’ from Brouwerij West, bringing balance to the intense flavors of the cheese. LA Craft Beer + Artisan Cheese Pairings Pale Ale & Cheddar Freshly hopped beers pair incredibly well with a vast range of cheddars both mild and intensely sharp. When pairing hop centric IPA’s or Pale Ales’s with cheddar, match the hop strength to the sharpness of the cheddar. From dank hop giants to subtle hop sessions, these beers bring out the mineral character, salinity and tanginess of a cheddar.
Phantom Carriage (Carson, CA)
Fog Island (5.7%) + Clothbound Cabot Cheddar
Fog Island is Pale Ale generously dry hopped with 100% Mosaic which exude a spectrum of flavors – pine, citrus, blueberry, bubblegum and fresh herbs. This beer is highly drinkable, clean and refreshing. Subtle hop characteristics play well with the oceanic like salinity and sharpness of the clothbound cabot cheddar.
Saison & Soft Ripened Cheese
Saisons are my go-to style when my taste buds need to be quenched by funky earthy farmhouse succulence. When this style is accompanied by a soft ripened cheese, the earthy flavors are harmonized and deepened, while the effervescence of the ale lifts the heavy, creamy texture of the cheese off of the palate, and elevating it to a rapturous experience. If you like farmhouse flavors, this is your jam (speaking of which – for some truly amazing results, try topping this cheese with fresh fig jam).
Brouwerji West (San Pedro, CA)
Of the many go-to saisons in my arsenal, this is both one of my favorites and an apropos example for pairing. This beauty pours luminously ruby red, with pleasant acidity and crisp freshness. The soft ripened cheese Delice d’Argental, with an intense silken creamy texture and delicate, subtle earthiness, shines best enjoyed alongside this bubbly saison. Dog Ate My Homework Blackberry Saison provides a palatal balance to this unctuous decadently rich French cow’s milk cheese, which is taken to another level during its production by enriching the milk with crème fraiche. On its finish, the acidity imparted by the saison cuts the butterfat content and allows one to take in this cheese without overloading the palate with its earthen notes.