Cheese and Beer Matching – by John Kelly of Kirkstall Brewery
How do you match beers with cheese? Does it really work? And is beer as good as, or better than, wine or port with cheese?
There are certainly particular styles of cheese that benefit from pairing with beer rather than wine but the reverse is also true. The ascendancy of craft beer, introducing a much wider spectrum of flavours, has given cheese lovers a lot more to play with when choosing what to drink with their cheese.
John Kelly knows a few things about beer having been heavily involved with the early importing of American-style IPAs (bringing Sierra Nevada to these shores!) that have now become a mainstay of the current beer revolution.
He went on to become managing director of Kirkstall Brewery, and is one half of the Yorkshire beer-power couple (his wife, Christa Sandquist, is operations manager at the brilliant brewer Magic Rock). So it seemed appropriate that The Courtyard Dairy should ask John to find the perfect match for each style of cheese they offer.
“There are no hard and fast rules, so no-one should ever feel embarrassed because they decide they like a certain beer with a particular style of cheese. There are, however, a few guidelines that will serve as a framework for an introduction into matching cheese with beer. Once you know the ropes, you can enjoy experimenting as much as you want. Always try to complement or contrast: picking out identical flavours in both the beer and cheese leads to a dull matching. There are some pitfalls though – and we don’t want the flavour of the beer to overpower the cheese.”
Matching beer with goats’ cheese
Fresh goats’ cheese is incredibly creamy and can be cloying on the pallet. Its beauty is in its subtlety, so we don’t want to overpower it with big beers. You need something clean and bright, crisp and refreshing, a low bitterness pale ale or a pilsner would be perfect here.
Matching beer with soft cheese (Brie/Camembert-style)
With these cheeses we’re starting to come across some more mature flavours, so we can increase the complexity of the beers accordingly. A younger soft cheese pairs well with IPA as the creaminess is at the forefront and the bitterness is a good foil. More mature/pungent soft cheese which carries a little more inherent bitterness is better balanced by a sweeter beers such as New England IPA.
Matching beer with hard cheese
Hard cheeses vary considerably in flavour, texture and intensity, so to make it easier I’ve broken it down into three main-styles. But for a good all-rounder try a golden ale or an old English-style bitter.
- Matching beer to crumbly-cheeses (e.g. Lancashire, Wensleydale and Cheshire):
These rather subtle cheeses, with a tad more acidity and slightly cleaner flavour than goats’, call for a lighter style of beer such as a pilsner or something a little more floral. We don’t want overly bitter notes so something like a golden ale or well-hopped table beer also matches well.
For a great example, try Kirkstall’s Jasmine-infused Whole New World with the tartness of Old Roan, Fellstone or Kirkham’s Lancashire.
- Matching beer to harder British territorial-cheeses (e.g. Cheddar and Leicester):
Cheddars and hard cheeses vary dramatically both in style and acidity. A really sharp Cheddar is absolutely perfect with the sweetness of an old English style bitter.
John recommends’Fullers ESB / 3 Fonteinen Kriek with St Andrew’s Cheddar.
- Matching beer to continental cheeses (e.g. Parmesan, and Comté):
Cheeses such as Parmesan and Pecorino pair unbelievably well with dark chocolate flavours in beer. I didn’t believe this myself until Andy showed me up in a tasting with his ridiculous suggestion, but it’s perfect. Apparently the hardcore Italians always have Parmesan with their coffee, the dark, chocolatey bitterness works so well with the salinity and slight fat of the cheese. Alpine styles (especially older) work really well with lambic beers, both regular and fruited.
For something different try Kirkstall Raynville / Brooklyn Chocolate or Dexter Salted Caramel with Doddington, Parmesan or Old Winchester.
Matching beer with blue cheese
Everybody chooses a decent strength porter or stout to go with the blues and, to an extent, it’s hard to argue with – it really does work. The sweetness of stronger stouts dance beautifully with the high acid on some more mature blues. Barley wine is also a perfect match for drier blues to create a complete mouthfeel.
John suggests Kirkstall/Yeastie Boys Sloe Show with Young Buck.
Matching beer to soft cheese (washed rind)
John still hasn’t found a beer that he enjoys with washed-rind soft cheeses: he’d much rather have an Alsace white wine, Gruner Veltliner or Gewurtzramier.
But Andy enjoys washed-rinds with wheat beers, or wild-fermented sour beers.
John sums up with his final comment:
Both wine and beer have an incredibly diverse matching potential, the only thing I will say is that beer beats wine for affordability.
I firmly believe matching beer with cheese should have a place at the table in the finest restaurants in the world, just as wine already does (and rightly-so), but more importantly they both should be enjoyed matched with cheese on an everyday level too.
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