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Waiter, There’s a Cheese With My Beer

When we think of beer and food, what usually comes to mind (and is shown on TV) are pizza and burgers. Who doesn’t love a great beer to complement them? Just like milk with cookies and soda with popcorn, beer is a great dining and snacking companion. Let’s get back to pizza and burgers though. When I think of them, the first thing that comes to mind is cheese – that glorious accompaniment that makes just about everything taste better. Combine cheese with beer and you have just created magic. Have you ever tried the melted beer cheese on those big German pretzels at World of Beer? Delicious!

DSC_5369As a cheese AND craft beer lover, I decided to go to a tasting event recently. Three different beer styles and cheeses were offered. I had never heard of these European fromages, but I definitely knew the beer styles offered: Hefeweizen, Saison, and Stout. With very limited experience on the subject of beer and food pairing, I was eager to learn (not to mention hungry and thirsty). Since beer and cheese are both fermented foods, why wouldn’t they work? While they certainly do, the combination has to be right. With so many different flavors happening at once, it’s important to know what tastes best with what. While taste is subjective, there is something to be said about observing flavor and taste from beer and cheese experts alike.

Here’s what I learned first and foremost: have an open mind. Even if you think you don’t like something from either side, the combination may surprise you. I usually don’t like any strong cheeses like blue, Roquefort or Stilton but I was delightfully surprised to thoroughly enjoy blue cheese with Stout! Second: opposites don’t always attract. When it comes to this particular kind of pairing, I’ve learned that you should usually pair like with like. For instance, the peppery and earthy blue cheese also tastes lovely with the hoppy and bitter IPA.beer-and-cheese-pairing-guide_52e921e29818b

Third: if you still don’t like a particular style of cheese and beer together or apart, move on to the next flavor. The fact that you tried something new, gave yourself a sensory experience and learned something valuable is what matters. Now you’ll definitely know what you don’t like. Fourth: there is a method to tasting. Little did I know that this simple method makes a difference. You should first try each separately – eat and drink very slowly and purposefully to get the full flavors of each. Next, try them together. What does it taste like? Does the combination work? Why or why not? More importantly, did you enjoy the pairing?

Fifth: have something to eat beforehand. Whether it’s a full on meal or something lighter like a salad, don’t arrive with an empty stomach. Trust me, you’ll lose your focus. When I arrived to the event, I was so hungry that I salivated at the sight of the white and golden nuggets of dairy heaven. I wanted to eat that cheese with reckless abandon. I was getting hungry.

You don’t have to wait for an event like I did to try craft beer with cheese. With both items readily available, it’s easy to host a pairing get together. Start with different kinds of craft beer, such as Stout, Hefeweizen, IPA, and Pilsner. Don’t know which cheeses to choose? Here’s a handy infographic to get you started. For specifics, ask your local cheese expert to help you. While I certainly enjoyed the blue cheese-Stout combo, I’m not ready to crumble any of it on my salad or dip my chicken wing in the dressing. I haven’t reached that point yet and it’s okay. Tastes change and change takes time. I learned something new and I’m ready for more. Are you? Cheers!

Gloria Rakowsky