Beer and cheese are made for each other. While people usually reach for a bottle of red to go with their cheese platter, Kirrily Waldhorn, known to friends as the “Beer Diva”, says beer is actually a better pairing for cheese than wine.
“Wine has really owned that whole cheese occasion for a long time,” says Waldhorn, “[But] beer has that fabulous carbonation which you need to cut through the richness of cheese.”
Waldhorn has recently been hosting cheese masterclasses as part of the Good Food and Wine Show around Australia, and the one thing she requests of attendees is to experiment with beer and cheese. “There are so many varieties of cheese and so many varieties of beer,” she says. “The combinations are endless. You can really experiment without hitting any major roadblocks or having any huge disasters.”
Waldhorn says some cheesemongers even wash their cheese with beer. She suggests the best match in that instance would be to combine those with the beer they are washed with.
We’ve put together some other classic combinations that will have you heading straight for your nearest cheese shop and craft beer bottle-o, ASAP:
Cheese: French double and triple crème cheeses
Ideal beer pairing: Raspberry Berliner Weisse; unsweetened Belgian Lambics.
Similar to brie, but richer owing to a process called ultrafiltration, French double and triple crème cheeses are great starters with beer. Owing to the style’s rich texture, bread might provide a better option than crackers for the base here. This is the sort of cheese that demands to be cut through, hence a zippy, fruity and well-carbonated raspberry Berliner Weisse or a Lambic-style from Belgium will provide a fun pairing. These styles also have similar bacteria to many cheeses, and Waldhorn explains their bright flavour and carbonation are a great match on the palate.
Cheese: Goats cheese
Ideal beer pairing: Belgian Wit
Both Wits and goats cheese have citric qualities that Waldhorn says are perfect together. The fattiness of goats cheese is begging for a beer with high carbonation, and Belgian Wits have that in spades. This style of beer will also bring subtle yeast-driven characteristics. Orange peel and coriander are even added by some breweries to lift the estery (fruity) banana yeast profile even further. It’s all rounded out with a more-ish saltiness from the cheese.
Cheese: Smoked cheddar
Ideal beer pairing: Porter
Waldhorn says Porters have “roasty notes” that are “beautiful” when paired with smoked cheddar. The beer’s smoky aroma accentuates cheddar’s punchy sharpness, with its creamy underbelly providing a perfect accompaniment.
Porters are usually lighter in flavour and body than stouts, and the character of the cheddar complements the beer’s subtle cocoa and chocolate notes.
Cheese: Aged Gouda
Ideal beer pairing: Brown ales or English Special Bitter
Aged Gouda is known for its well-rounded caramel and nutty flavour, and its golden orange hue lifts the colour of any cheeseboard.
Waldhorn says gouda’s flavours complement almost any malt-forward British ale, describing the combination of hard cheese and English Ale as a “classic ploughman's lunch”.
Cheese: Strong, mature cheddar cheese
Ideal beer pairing: American IPA/Double IPA
Strong and sharp aged cheddar is a must for any cheese platter, especially if it’s to be paired with beer. The bite of such cheese calls for something equally brash, like an American style IPA.
Double IPAs are perfect for mature cheddar as its tremendous hop character complements the bite, while the tropical fruit character of the beer provides much-needed contrast. Waldhorn says to make sure the cheese is really bitey and mature to stand up against the bitterness of some modern Double IPAs.
Cheese: Blue cheese
Ideal beer pairing: Barleywine (American or English)
Waldhorn describes this one as a “classic”. The texture, sharpness and funk in blue cheese varies from style to style, but a typical blue cheese, such as the famous Roquefort, strikes the perfect balance.
Expect to find salt, earthiness, light pungency and plenty of funk, with neither element being too overpowering. The sweetness and complexity in a good Barleywine will happily contrast and complement the complex flavours. Think of it as you would a fortified wine; boozy, rich and decadent.
This article is part of the Summer Craft Beer Quarterly presented in partnership with James Squire.