Beer and cheese are natural partners, with equally wide ranges of possible flavors. Here, we offer a few suggestions on how to think about pairing various styles of cheese with different beer styles.
One of the oldest recorded styles of cheese, this Dutch classic is perfect for pairing with beers of the region. As these cheeses age, different characters emerge, ranging from nutty to caramel sweetness depending on the cheesemaker. With orange citrus back notes underpinning the traditional dry and nutty flavors of Gouda, Rembrandt Extra Aged Gouda, aged one year, is great with a bière de garde, where both the beer and the cheese offer a touch of sharpness and warm supporting depth. Beemster Classic, aged 18 months, exhibits a bit more of that sweet nuttiness that’s perfect with German-style dunkels and dopplebocks or even the new generation of American hoppy ambers and browns.
Exhibiting some similar flavors to Gouda, but expressed with goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk, Cypress Grove Midnight Moon offers a touch of brown butter richness with a perfect supporting tang that holds its own even with stouts and porters. A consistent favorite in our own tastings and pairings, we’ve even enjoyed it with out-of-the-box matchups such as smoked beers.
Best known for its use in cooking, aged Parmesan is great on its own paired with beers on the lighter side of bitterness and body—think Pilsners, Helles, and golden ales—where the dryness of the beer accentuates the dry and sharply intense notes of the cheese itself.
Harder Alpine-style cheese
Comté is one of our favorite cheeses for blending into grilled cheese or fondue, and it pairs very well with maltier beers such as altbiers, Vienna lagers, or American ambers that let the natural sweetness shine through.
Emmentaler, Gruyere and other hard alpine cheeses pair very well with Belgian-style dubbels and tripels, where the background fruity notes of the cheeses are complemented by the yeast ester notes of the Belgian brewers’ yeasts.
The exterior of Beehive Cheese’s Barely Buzzed is rubbed in an espresso and lavender mix for an intense roasty and herbal flavor and slight butterscotch sweetness that pairs well with foreign export stouts and porters, but those flavors also work well with dark saisons and farmhouse ales such as Prairie Ape Snake orUpright Brewing Six. Fresh goat cheeses with peppers, such as Montchevre Jalapeño Goat Cheese and Cypress Grove Sgt. Pepper are great when paired for maximum heat with IPAs, as the hoppy bitterness amplifies the spice in the cheese while the carbonation of the beer helps to cut through the creamy fat of the cheese.
Soft Goat Cheese
The creamy texture and subtle notes of soft goat cheeses such as Montchevre Bucheron are fantastic when paired with the subtle fruitiness and light coriander spice of Belgian-style witbiers, the banana and clove notes of German-style Hefeweizens, and American wheat beers.
Fresh Soft Cheeses
When pairing with subtle fresh cheeses such as fresh mozzarella or burrata, consider the intensity of the beer you select and skew toward the lighter side of pale wheats, Helles lagers, and similarly light and bright beers such as Kölsch. Anything stronger can bury the nuance of the cheese.
Soft ripened cheeses such as Brie and Camembert do exceptionally well when paired with earthy beers such as saison and bière de garde. Or for a very fun pairing, try it with a mixed-fermentation farmhouse ale or quick sour ale aged on fruit.
The most popular pairing for sharp cheddars is IPAs, as the bold flavors of the hoppy beers stand up to the intensity of the cheeses. The common English ancestry of the cheese and the beer style add another layer to the pairing, beyond flavor itself.
Blue cheese as a category can range from dry and sharp to subtle, creamy, and sweet funk, so take into consideration the nature of the specific cheese as you’re pairing. The creamy sweetness of Mycella Blue is the perfect pair for sweet oatmeal or milk stouts, while roastier imperial stouts can pair well with more robust blues such as Stiltons. Less sweet but still creamy blues confidently pair even with hoppy beers such as IPAs.
Here’s a chance to pair for pure complementary flavors, as Chimay Grand Cru is washed in Chimay beer as it ages. In the same vein, the curds of Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company’s Alehouse Cheddar are soaked in two types of beer from Harpoon Brewing as part of the cheesemaking process, so it’s a natural to pair with IPAs and hoppy pale ales.
Limburger’s funk develops with time like a great gueuze or wild ale —starting mild and growing more intense as it ages. When to eat it is a matter of personal preference, but it works well at any age with a Belgian-style strong dark ale. The residual sugar in beers such as Cuvée Van De Keizer Blauw or Allagash Odyssey help soften yet focus the cheese’s funk. For really funky cheeses with strong barnyard notes, such as Irish Durrus, try a beer with earthy notes but a bit of sweetness such as a honey saison.
Tangy Ripened Cheeses
For cheeses such as Cypress Grove Chevre Humboldt Fog, a light sour beer such as a Berliner weisse or Gose can make for a nice pairing, as long as the beer itself isn’t too acidic (sour) to the point where it overpowers the cheese. A dark lager such as New Belgium 1554 can also provide a crisp but rich accompaniment to the cheese.
It’s a beautiful thing when American cheese makers, unburdened by tradition, develop their own unique approaches to cheese. Karst begins with cultures of both cheddar and Gruyere and develops ultimately into a slightly sweet and nutty cheese that pairs well with sweet and malty beers such as Odell Isolation Ale winter warmer.
PHOTO: MATT GRAVES