We all know that cheese traditionally pairs well with wine. But as the dining scene continues to evolve, people are starting to explore different beverage options that complement this decadent food, and many have come to the conclusion that beer makes for a good partner as well.
Will Frischkorn is the owner of Cured Boulder, a small local shop that sells hand picked selection of cheeses, cured meats and table wines. His latest endeavor is to taste cheese with beer, and he says that there is a notable difference from the wine/cheese pairing.
“The biggest difference is that with wine you’re generally pairing things based on contrast, and trying to find a wine to cut through the heavy cheese, or flavors that balance,” Frischkorn says. “But with beer, you’re really playing with similarities.”
Frischkorn likes the idea of experimenting and discovering the possibilities.
“It’s really fun to explore what works, what doesn’t work, and then discuss why,” he says.
Due to the wide array of cheeses and beers out there, most beers find their cheese partners quite easily, especially when they share similar flavors.
“You get a lot of the same malty, beefy, earthy characters in both,” Frischkorn says. “You get a lot of similar flavor profiles to play with.”
Although most people can be creative with types of beer-and-cheese pairings, Frischkorn has a proven list of types of beer and cheese that commonly make a good partnership.
“White or wheat beer goes well with goat cheese; they’re light, they’re bright, they’re really fresh; they both have a citrusy component,” he said. “Cheddars are awesome with brown ales, and then if you go for really big beers, big stouts, heavy porters, triple cream cheeses that have really rich, buttery pieces are particularly fun. … If the cheese is really big and heavy and the beer is really big and heavy, but the flavors are all from the same spectrum, they balance each other really well.”
But Frischkorn has come across some pairings that he might never try again.
“Blondes, like white beers, and bleu cheese seem like they always clash to me,” he says. “That’s one I would stay away from.”
Joe Osborne, the marketing director at Avery Brewing Company, says that his personal favorite is the Gouda-and-stout pairing.
“I’m a huge fan of Gouda, so if I started with that and this time of the year with stout, it’s freaking fantastic,” Osborne says.
Osborne isn’t surprised at the idea of pairing cheese and beer.
“There’s a huge spectrum of beer flavors in the beer world, all the way through the pales and lagers,” he says. “There are infinite possibilities with the flavors of beers, so it only makes sense people have started getting creative and pairing it with cheese.”
Working with beer is fundamentally different from working with wine.
Osborne says that beer and wine are made from completely different ingredients, and that allows for an array of possibilities.
“Wine is all grape-based, so you’re always focusing on the grape,” he says. “With beer there are a lot of elements of yeast involved, and essentially it’s something new; it’s a lot more variety.”
In contrast to cheese and wine pairings that match opposing flavors, Osborne and Frischkorn agree that beer and cheese with bold flavors typically work well together.
“Our [Avery Brewing Company’s] sales director swears by a really stinky … bleu cheese with an IPA because they’re two really powerfully flavored profiles, so they both bring each other out,” Osborne says. “They’re really different from each other too, so it’s a cool contrast.”
While beer and cheese pairing seems to be gaining the approval of both beer and cheese enthusiasts, the classic marriage of wine and cheese still holds strong in kitchens and tables around town.
Carlin Karr is one of the sommeliers at Frasca Food and Wine, an Italian restaurant on the eastern end of Pearl Street. According to Karr, pairing wine with cheese has been a tradition in many winemaking parts of the world.
“It is a cultural thing,” says Karr. “The oldest regions for cheese production are all also usually wine regions. The wines that pair best with the cheese are usually from the same region.”
There are some tried-and-true combinations of cheese and wine that have proven themselves through the centuries, but Karr acknowledges that some beers could complement certain types of cheese better.
“Sharp cheddar or English cottage-styled cheese are classic pairings with English or Scottish ales,” she says. “Strong bleu cheeses would go well with dessert wines and sweet wines, but black lager or stouts also work as an alternative to the traditional wine pairing.”
But even though some beers can replace wines when it comes to complementing the wide selection of cheeses, Karr maintains that there are some wine and cheese pairings that are simply irreplaceable.
“A goat cheese paired with Sauvignon Blanc — there’s nothing more classic than that,” she says. “I would be hard-pressed to find a beer that would bring out the same kind of flavor. It’s like they’re made for each other, because the same people that make that cheese make that wine. It’s so regional.”