There aren’t many things I like as much as I like beer. But cheese? Yeah, that’s pretty damn close. But the only problem with cheese and beer is that, for as many times as a pairing of the two will be unbelievably tasty, there are just as many pairings that are offensively bad. It’s a risky line to ride. But we’re here to help you. We’re taking the risk out of the equation.
My friend Erika Kubick, the mind behind the fantastic cheese blog Cheese Sex Death, lent me her expertise in the wide world of creamy, aged dairy, and we came up with some foolproof pairings to make sure every cheese plate you serve works harmoniously with the beer you’re pouring and drinking. Let’s do this.
Pilsner and Soft-Ripened Goat Cheese
Pilsner is the beer that tastes like beer, and it also happens to be my favorite type of lager. It’s crisp and clean, with just a whisper of hoppiness, and when it comes to flavor, it’s not the most aggressive. That makes it a perfect pairing beverage. We’re going to pair a simple beer with a simple soft-ripened goat cheese—the white, soft, crumbly stuff that you’ve seen sprinkled in salads circa 1996. The density and creamy mouthfeel will give the pilsner something to cut through. “Generally, anything from the Loire Valley in France of the Northeast U.S. will be great,” Kubick says. “Vermont Creamery’s classic chevré would be perfect. But anything with a little bit of lemony flavor to compliment the lemon rind notes in a traditional pilsner will work just fine.”
Imperial Stout and a Creamy Blue
When it comes to the aggressive, sweet, boozy flavors of an imperial stout, we want something with enough flavor to hold its own. That means we’re reaching for blue cheese. “You want a creamy French blue, instead of a dry, biscuity English blue,” explains Kubick. “A French blue, with a super creamy mouth coating texture, will turn the stout and cheese into a milkshake-y thing. In a good way!” And when it comes to picking a blue cheese, remember that the bigger the pockets of blue mold, the more flavor you’re going to get. If you’re pouring a 14% stout that saw some time in whiskey barrels, you want those big ol’ pockets. And if you’re serving any chocolate or coffee, this would be the time to do so. Those flavors play beautifully with both blue cheese and imperial stouts.
A Bitter IPA or Pale Ale and Dry Blue Cheese
It might be news to you, but not all IPAs are hazy and fruit-forward. If you’re serving something a little more old-school, like a Victory Hop Devil or a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, you’re going to be dealing with some bitterness. “To balance out that bitterness, look for a dryer, more crumbly blue cheese,” offers Kubick. “An English-style blue like stilton would work, as would Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen Blue. You want to get some intense flavor on both ends of the spectrum, so neither get overwhelmed.”
Porter and Aged Cow’s Milk Gouda
The porter, especially the robust porter, is the more versatile cousin of the stout. There’s less sweetness, less booze, and less of a syrupy mouthfeel, which means your cheese doesn’t have to shout to stay in the conversation. “An aged cows milk gouda is going to bring so much sweetness and plenty of nutty notes to the table,” Kubick explains. And those flavors are exactly what you want to balance the slight bitterness of the porter’s hops and toastiness of the malt. This pairing ends up tasting something like caramelized pecans or cashew, which (now that I’m thinking about it) wouldn’t be too shabby of a secondary pairing themselves.
A Fruity IPA and Clothbound Cheddar
Now we move on to the fruity stuff, and I’m glad we are, because the big notes of mango, blueberry, pineapple, and passionfruit that you’ll find in most of today’s IPAs pair perfectly with one of my favorite styles of cheese: Clothbound cheddar. “I pretty much go with this same style cheese every single time I pair with a fruity IPA,” says Kubick. “Every clothbound cheddar has this dirty pineapple flavor and a slight tanginess. The tanginess, helps bring your mouth back to balance, and the fruit brings out more in the hops.” Here, it’s safer to go with an American cheddar, which will be less acidic and a touch sweeter. American clothbound cheddars also happen to have a more buttery texture that helps coat your mouth. If you haven’t noticed, that’s kind of the name of the game when it comes to beer and cheese.
Farmhouse Saison and Alpine-Style Cheese
The farmhouse saison is one of the most complex, beautiful, thought-provoking styles of beer, and most of the time, that makes it a real pain to pair. A cheese can pair perfectly with one flavor in a farmhouse ale, while clashing with another. What we want here is a cheese that has substance without offering too much flavor. “I’d definitely go with an Alpine style with a saison,” says Zubick. “They have a slight funk that will match with the saison’s, but the other flavor notes are more subtle and won’t compete.” If you really want to get nerdy, try pairing an alpine cheese that comes from the same region the saison was brewed in. French with French. Swiss with Swiss. Belgian with Belgian. You get it.
Belgian Tripel or Dubbel and Washed Rind Cheese
When talking about a beer as classic as a Belgian Tripel or Dubbel, you want a pairing that follows suit. “The obvious answer here is a washed rind cheese,” Kubick says. “There’s something crunchy and sugar-coated about the sweetness in a washed rind, and the texture is rich and buttery, with a little bit of stink.” Those are perfect qualities to stand up to the intense mouthfeel and warming booziness of a traditional belgian beer. You’ve got everything you need for balance in the flavor department, but if you wanted just a little more, a salty, smoky slice of bacon wouldn’t hurt the cause.
Sour Ale and Burrata
There isn’t a pairing that better demonstrates the similarity in building a flavors in a dish and building flavors with drink pairings than a sour ale and a fresh, young, cow’s milk cheese. In this case, we’re talking burrata. Whether you’re pouring a gose, Berliner weisse, or tart saison, the beer is filled with acid. In both cooking and pairing we want balance for that acidity, which means we want fat. “What you’re doing here is basically adding balsamic vinegar to burrata,” explains Zubick “It’s the same move they pull at restaurants, except instead of vinegar, we’re using beer.” And if you wanted to get even fancier, you could introduce some peaches to the equation. The slight tartness and bright sweetness will take both the cheese and beer to another level.
Hefeweizen and Sheep's Milk Tomme
The classic notes of banana, clove, and straw that are inherently involved in a hefeweizen are distinct, but this isn’t a loud beer. When it comes to the cheese, we should echo that philosophy. “I would choose a mildly aged, firm tommex,” Kubick says. “This is a sheep’s milk cheese that’s highly snackable, one you could eat all day without really getting tired of it.” And that’s exactly how I’d describe a hefeweizen. Well, not snackable. But a beer you could drink all afternoon without getting bored. And the spices in the beer will interact with the buttery flavors of the tomme to taste something like a brown butter coffee cake. Hefe, tomme, and imaginary cake all afternoon? Yes, please.
But What About a Cheese That Goes with Everything?
We’ve made our way through your options for quite a few styles of beer. But what if you’ve invited people over and everyone brings something different. You’re not going to go out and buy ten different cheeses—but if you are, please invite me to your party. Instead, you should go for a cheese that will pair well across the board. “A French Triple Cream cheese will go awesome with anything from a stout to a pilsner,” offers Zubick. “The creaminess and luxurious mouthfeel can stand up to any style or flavor, and really, who doesn’t love something like a French Brie?”
I do. I love a French brie. But you know what I like more? Eating it while drinking a beer.
Photos by Cheese Sex Death