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Beer and Cheese: It's Better Than Wine and Cheese

For generations people have assumed wine and cheese are a pairing made in culinary heaven.  So often, you hear phrases like “the wine and brie crowd”.  Willy Gluckstern, a New York wine critic, has called wine and cheese “a train wreck in the mouth.”  Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewing and Fred Eckert have both written extensively of the pairing of beer and cheese.

Beer and cheese have far more in common than wine and cheese.  Both are simple and nutritious, each born of Graminae and carefully nurtured in an ancient fermentation process.  Of course, the beer aficionado must be forgiving of the fact that cheese residue remaining on the lips will crash the finest head formations of any beer.  If you can put up with that inconvenience, you'll find that most beer styles are quite compatible with most cheese types.  The same cannot be said of wine and cheese.  The cream and rich fat will overwhelm any, but the hardiest and most robust wines.  Naturally, some wines do go well with some cheeses, but the pairing is much trickier. 

The wedding of Lactobacillus and Saccharomyces is fraught with perils of another nature.  The marriage of milk and grain is a melding of fat and carbohydrates--calories compounded by more calories.  This is not a diet for the weak hearted nor for weight-loss champions.  Deal with it.  Remember, losing weight is fun only if you have some to lose.

Beer and cheese are the results of fermentation.  Yeast produces alcohol, while the bacteria of cheese (and yogurt) produce lactic acid.  Early beer was dark, overbearing and sometimes wild, whereas cheese evolved from a sour, semi-solid mess.  Your beer, in those times, was limited to what your local brewer could produce, and the same was true of cheese.  You took what you could get or could make yourself.

What Beer?  Which Cheese?

Beer pairs wonderfully with cheese, however, cheese combinations only appear to be simple.  A few simple rules can ease your beer and cheese pairings.  To start with, we need some idea about the types of cheeses there are.  Most cheese authorities agree that there are some eight different categories or styles in the world of cheese.  Let us examine each to see what beer types will complement them.

1. Fresh, very soft cheeses are uncooked and unripe or barely ripened; coagulated with rennet or by lactic fermentation, or even by using lemon juice; and packed simply into tubs, crocks, or molded by hand.  Some are very soft, even spoonable.  Very soft cheeses include pot cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese and ricotta.  Beer: These cheeses have low taste profiles and go well with more mellow beers such as American wheat beer, American lagers, amber lagers, and Munich lagers.

2. Soft, spreadable cheeses, such as Camembert or Brie, have bloomy rinds.  Beer: These go well with pilsners, pale ales, porters and American fruit ales.

3. Semi-soft cheeses include many monastic cheeses and washed rind cheeses that are cured with brine, beer, wine or spices.  Trappist cheeses and Muenster are good examples, as are Gouda, havarti, Tilsit, Liederkrantz, Port-Salut and American, Colby, Monterey jack and similar cheeses.  Beer: These all go with more energetic beer at the lower end of the hop rate, such as English brown ales, amber ales, golden ales, bitters, and Belgian pale ales, plus Vienna lagers, mellow bocks, or Oktoberfest brews, not to mention rye ales and Bavarian whites.

4. Semi-hard, sliceable cheese.  Cheddar (there are many varieties, including white aged cheddar), Swiss, Cheshire, Tilsit, and other sliceable cheeses, such as Edam, Gruyere, Emmentaler, Jarlsberg, and aged Gouda.  Beer: Good sandwich cheeses go well with pilsners, extra special bitters and pale ales, plus IPAs, double bocks, strong ales and almost any Belgian ale, particularly wits and fruit ales.

5. Hard cheese.  These are very firm, grainy, cooked and pressed grating cheeses, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano.  But they are also nice nibbley cheeses and need something heavy in a beverage.  Beer: Strong ale or doppelbock, stout or porter.

6. Blue vein, marbled cheese, strong flavored and crumbly, including Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, and other blues, especially those from Wisconsin, but particularly including Maytag Blue from Iowa.  Beer: Try stronger porters, stouts, and heavier dark beers, such as old ales, barley wines, and Imperial stouts.  The latter matches Stilton especially well.

7. Goat cheeses--chevre--are usually a bit more flavorful than regular cheeses of similar types.  Roquefort, Romano and feta are good examples.  We should note here that goat cheeses are at the cutting edge of popularity these days.  Beer: Think IPAs, ESBs, American brown ales, stouts and porters.

8. Pasta filata are the stretched curd cheeses of Italy, such as mozzarella and provolone.  Beer: They go well with Belgian wits, Bavarian whites, and heavier Bavarian wheat beers (doppelweizen).


Cooking with Beer and Cheese:

Welsh Rarebit

            One of the few recipes that epitomize the pairing of beer and cheese is the traditional Welsh Rarebit.  Few pleasures surpass the blending of the sharp tang of cheddar with the roastiness of stout, poured over toast.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Coleman’s Brand mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup porter beer
3/4 cup heavy cream
6 ounces (approximately 1 1/2 cups) shredded Cheddar
2 drops hot sauce (optional)
4 slices toasted sourdough bread or baguette

In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour.  Cook, whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes, being careful not to brown the flour.  Whisk in mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper until smooth.  Add beer and whisk to combine.  Pour in cream and whisk until well combined and smooth.  Gradually add cheese, stirring constantly, until cheese melts and sauce is smooth; this will take 4 to 5 minutes.  Add hot sauce.  Pour over toast and serve immediately.


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