Putting together a beer and cheese tasting is as easy as assembling an assortment of cheeses of different textures and types and choosing a bevy of beers to go with them. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Cheese Plate Tips:
Cheese No. 1: Go big or go home. Pick one blue-veined cheese to serve. It will provide a vibrancy of color to your plate
Preserve Your Fruit: Serve your favorite jam or preserves alongside the cheeses. This adds the sweet flavors of fruit without over-crowding a plate with slices of fruit
Cheese No. 2: A soft-ripened cheese is the perfect second cheese for your plate. Familiar to many but daring to some, it serves as the perfect bridge for those still learning about the vast variety of cheese types
Forget the Crackers: Nuts provide that rich, earthy texture without all the bulk – leaving more room to taste the many notes in each cheese. We like almonds, pecans, hazelnuts and pistachios
Cheese No. 3: The magic number three is perfect for a cheese board too. Try serving a semi-hard cheese for your third selection. Yes, Cheddar falls into this category, as does Gouda, Swiss and Gruyère
Presentation & Slicing: Place roughly quarter-pound servings of each cheese triangle evenly apart on a large cheese board or serving plate. Scatter the nuts between the cheeses and set the preserves in the mix. Last but not least, make sure you have a separate cheese knife for each cheese and for your preserve(s).
Now for the libations pairing. Much has been written about wine and cheese pairings, but with the cult-like fervor surrounding craft beer, I think it’s paramount that we address this void, don’t you?
Beer and cheese have a natural affinity beginning with a similar origin, grass. Barley is a cereal grass used in making beer and milk is a by-product of a cow eating grass. They also share similar flavors: nutty, tangy, floral, and earthy. They can both offer a sharp, dry texture or a smooth and creamy one. And where there is no complement there is delightful contrast; the sweetness of some beers is an ideal foil for cheese’s saltiness. And beer’s carbonation can work to cleanse the palate and bring out the many nuances of cheese.
Here are some DO’s for pairing craft beer and cheese from Craft Beer.com:
- Choose the cheese first. If the multitude of styles of craft beer seems daunting, try shopping for the cheese first. If you start with a local cheese retailer, they can offer insights on the cheese and help you decide what might pair best with different styles of craft beer.
- Look for common characteristics. Similar to the tips for pairing craft beer and food, look for characteristics (both in flavor and texture) in what you’re pairing that will complement each other. Ultimately, you should expect a great pairing to provide some type of balance; just like what you’re looking for in a great craft beer!
- Pick only one or two cheeses. One of the advantages of pairing cheese with craft beer is versatility. Many different beers can pair nicely with the same cheese. Pairing a few different beers with the same cheese allows distinct characteristics of each to come through.
- Order is everything. Typically, when tasting craft beer, you normally taste in order from lightest mouthfeel and lowest alcohol content, to heaviest mouthfeel and highest alcohol content. The same is applied to pairings.
Earlier this month I spent four days in Las Vegas as a Blog Ambassador at Food Fight Write – eating, drinking, tweeting, and educating myself as I went along. Sometimes it’s difficult to decide what breakout session to attend at these conferences because there are so many subjects of interest. This dilemma nearly caused me to miss the beer, cheese and salumi pairing, but I slipped out of a “you must do video” session to crash the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board‘s cheese and beer pairing for a little speed tasting before Sarah Hill cleaned up.
Featuring Chicago’s Goose Island beers and cheeses from Wisconsin family-owned artisan and specialty cheesemakers, it was a true taste sensation:
312 Urban Wheat Ale (312’s spicy aroma of Cascade hops is followed by a crisp, fruity ale flavor delivered in a smooth, creamy body that’s immensely refreshing) with Holland’s Family Cheese’s Gouda – a farmstead creamery owned by Rolf and Marie Penterman who emigrated from the Netherlands and craft authentic raw milk goudas aged on Dutch pine planks.
Honker’s Ale (combines a fruity hop aroma with a rich malt middle to create a perfectly balanced beer) with Sartori BellaVitano – founded in 1939 and dedicated to the highest standards in crafting their Italian specialties – the Sartori Reserve line features award-winning specially selected and aged varieties as well as BellaVitano, a new Sartori original Limited Edition and World Cheese Award winner.
Sofie (sparkling Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale, wine barrel-aged with an abundance of hand-zested orange peel. Spicy white pepper notes contrast the citrus tartness) with Carr Valley Casa Bolo Mellage – one of the “American Originals” line of cheeses from Carr Valley, a fourth generation company, owned and operated by Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook, the country’s most awarded cheese maker. Collectively, Carr’s “American Originals” have won over 400 awards; Casa Bolo is a world competition winner.
Mathilda (complex Belgian Style Pale Ale is fermented with the wild yeast Brettanomyces, dried fruit and clove aromas, a spicy yeast flavor, and a satisfying dry finish) with Upland’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve – only made in the summer months and, until recently, the only cheese made by Upland, Pleasant Ridge has the rare honor of winning three Best of Show awards in the American Cheese Society competition (2001, 2005 and 2010).
Class of ’88 Belgian Style Ale (a collaboration with Deschutes Brewing, Michigan Riesling and Oregon Pinot Noir grapes age with Mt. Hood whole flower hops and Pilsner malt in Muscat casks. The fruit aroma unites with Belgian yeast esters and oak for a crisp, dry and slightly tart flavor) with Hook’s 6 Year Cheddar – Tony and Julie Hook have been making award winning cheese for 40 years; they use a special aging process that ensures their cheddars are always moist and creamy.
Peppe Nero (farmhouse ale brewed with black peppercorns, roasty sweetness melds into a lingering, earthy, black pepper finish) with Roelli Dunbarton Blue – a cave-aged cheddar with a slight blue vein, providing the flavor of a fine English Cheddar with just a hint of Blue, the company’s signature cheese.
Wisconsin Cheese offers a fabulous pairing guide, fetchingly called Cheese Cupid; simply select the cheese or drink of your choice and let the Cheese Cupid suggest its soulmate!
Cheese course at Au Petit Riche, Paris
When given the choice of a savory cheese plate or decadently rich and sweet dessert, I almost always choose the cheese!
Disclosure: It was a pleasure meeting Sarah Hill of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and tasting incredible artisan cheeses made here in the U.S. I received no compensation for writing this post and all opinions expressed here are my own.