Sure, pairing cheese and beer can feel just as intimidating as other drinks. After all, you don’t want to pick a bottle that doesn’t go well with your cheese—especially with pricier wine or cocktails, where you risk making a heftier investment for a pairing that might not sing the way you’d hoped.
But when it comes to cheese and beer, have no fear. Because...
Beer Is the Easiest Beverage to Pair With Cheese
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that both beer and cheese come from grass.
Ruminants eat grass and transform it into milk, which we make into cheese. Beer is made from grains like wheat, barley, and rye, which are members of the grass family. We ferment those grains into beer. So it just makes sense that their sensory profiles would work well together.
With beer, you don’t run the risk of flavors clashing—always a concern with wine, which just doesn’t jibe with cheese as easily as beer does. If a beer pairing goes wrong, one element might overpower the other, but you’re unlikely to have an unpleasant pairing experience.
That brings us to our first beer and cheese pairing tip, which is...
This rule goes for all cheese and beverage pairing, of course. But since one element overpowering the other is the biggest pitfall when pairing cheese and beer, it’s also the most important.
Think of cheese on a spectrum, with mild, fresh cheeses on one end and pungent aged cheeses with lots of big flavors on the other. We can consider beer the same way, with crisp, light beers like on the mild end and dank IPAs and smoky porters on the other.
If you pair fresh mozzarella or chevre with one of those big, heavy beers, you probably won’t taste much cheese. Similarly, a delicate wheat beer can’t make much of an impression if you’re sipping it alongside a punchy hunk of blue.
Pair lighter beers like kolsch, pilsner, or gose with equally mild cheeses, like fresh varieties, bloomy rinds like Marin French Cheese’s Petite Camembert, or buttery, semi-firm aged cheeses like Opus 42 from Lakins’s Gorges.
Strongly flavored beers like deep, dark stouts go well with blues like Bayley Hazen Blue. Hoppy IPAs pair well with both bitey, sharp American cheddars like Deer Creek’s The Stag and earthy, full-bodied clothbound cheddars like Redhead Creamery’s Lucky Linda.
Opposite Flavors Attract
After considering intensity, it’s time to think about flavor profiles. Pairing like with like still works here.
For example, a citrusy ale or tangy sour naturally go with soft-ripened goat cheeses like Westmeadow Farm’s ash-coated Signal Rock, which tend to offer bright citrus notes. A nutty, toasty Alpine like Uplands Cheese’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve or Meadow Creek Dairy’s Mountaineer will pair well with malty bocks, amber ales, and bready witbiers.
But the fun really starts when you bring contrasting flavor profiles together, which can yield some surprising yet tasty combinations.The salty profile of blue cheese, for example, naturally pairs well with sweet, full-flavored stout and porter, as well as spice-infused Christmas ales and pumpkin beers. You can also sip on a fruit-forward gose or kriek with a feta-centric mezze platter or salad.
With its flexibility, versatility, and lower price tag, beer is the perfect drink to reach for if you’re new to pairing cheese—or if you simply want to experiment.
Keeping these guidelines in mind, you can hit up a cheese shop (or our online store) and pick out a few tasty wedges for a cheese board, then head to your local bottle shop or favorite craft brewery and grab a mix-a-six or variety pack.
Prep your board, get some tasting glasses, and taste through your options, starting with the mildest cheese and beer. Try each cheese on the board with each of the beers you’ve brought and see what you think. (Share with a friend or two so you can empty those bottles without going overboard.)
Some of those pairings might be uninspired or a little blah, but some of them will be really tasty and illuminating—and you’ll learn something from every single one. Those successful experiments will inform your palate the next time you want to pair craft beer and artisan cheese together. Happy pairing!
What are your favorite beer and cheese pairings? Tag us @cheesegrotto on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and let us know!