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Beer and Cheese 
Pairing Ideas
By Owen Ogletree

Beer works well with cheese.  The carbonation and elegant maltiness of a fine beer compliment the creamy texture and thick mouthfeel of cheese.  The biased opinion that wine goes best with cheese is simply not true.  Wine is very acidic with cheese -- it quickly washes the cheese coating (and flavor) off the tongue.  Beer nurtures the flavors of the cheese in the mouth, thus producing quite an interesting array of remarkable combinations.

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How does one begin to choose a beer to pair with a cheese?  There are several lines of thought here.  A beer that is lighter in body and flavor would be a perfect marriage to a mild, mellow cheese; and, conversely, a dark, rich ale would stand up well to a heavier, more pungent cheese.  Many people prefer their beer and cheese to have similar flavors, while others look for more contrast to keep the taste buds at attention. Beer and cheese from the same country also tend to work well together.  If it is popular to have a certain style of wine with a certain type of cheese, give some thought to which beer may be a close approximation to that wine. With beer and cheese, experimentation is most of the fun.
  • Try a Pilsner Urquell with a mellow white Cheddar cheese.  These two compliment each other so well and produce a beautiful blend of mild, butter-like flavors in the mouth.  It makes sense that the Pilsner style lager that is so popular around the world would go so well with one of the world's most well known lighter cheeses.
  • Asiago is a wonderful cheese that is experiencing new notoriety in cooking circles.  Asiago is a semifirm Italian cow's milk cheese that exhibits a somewhat nutty flavor.  Nibble on some Asiago while sipping a nut brown ale for a smooth, nutty flavor blend that is close to perfection.  Some Asiago can be quite sharp with its strong aroma and flavor; the malty brown ale tends to mellow the cheese.
  • A malty beer would also be tasty with a bit of Gruyere.  Gruyere is a creamy, unpasteurized cheese from Switzerland with a flavor that tends to start out somewhat light and fruity and end up nutty and earthy.  A malty Bock, Munich Dunkel, or Oktoberfest would be a great beer match to the rich flavor of this cheese.
  • The hop flavor and bitterness of a classic pale ale tends to be enhanced by the smooth flavor and somewhat bread-like texture of Provolone.  Provolone is a semi-hard, all purpose cheese that can be quite mild when young and more sharp, smoky, and spicy when aged.  Cabernet Sauvignon wine is often served with Provolone, and many would consider the dryness and bitterness of a good pale ale to be reminiscent of a Cabernet.
  • If the floral, fruity flavors of a Chardonnay cleanse the palate after a taste of rich Brie or Camembert cheese, it follows that a German kolsch, Belgian blond ale, or French Biere de Garde would accomplish the same thing.  These pale beers have mild to moderate fruity esters produced by their yeast that are in lovely opposition to the thick, rich, pungent nature of French Brie.  Brie, considered to be a nice dessert cheese, can also go quite well with a stout.
  • Banon is a French goat's milk cheese that is wrapped, cured, and served in chestnut leaves; it is sometimes washed in Cognac.  Banon has a mild, citrus flavor and a herbal, earthy character from the influence of the leaves.  The malty, butterscotch flavors of a Scottish ale make a fantastic compliment to this cheese.  Banon, often difficult to find in local cheese shops, can be ordered from some gourmet sites on the internet and ships fairly well.
  • Don Feinberg of Vanberg and DeWulf Importers and Brewery Ommegang in New York is very correct in recommending the ruby red, tart Rodenbach Red Ale with a fine French Munster cheese.  Rodenbach has flavors of wine, cherries, oak, and sherry and is a wonderfully complex beer that makes a perfect contrast to the mild, creamy cheese.  Munster forms a mellow background that allows the intense flavors of the red ale to be appreciated.
  • Some beer and cheese combinations can be very obvious.  The flavors of Chimay Grand Reserve Trappist Ale and Chimay Trappist Cheese together in the mouth are inspiring enough to almost make one want to become a monk.  This creamy cheese is actually washed in the Chimay beer, and together the cheese and beer reach a new level of flavor and complexity.  The flavors of this combination explode with undertones of fruit, nuts, allspice, clove, and other earthy qualities.
  • Since herbal Sauvignon Blanc wines are often favored with a Chevre goat cheese, try a tart, refreshing beer (perhaps with some wheat character) with this cheese.  Chevre boasts a tart, earthy character that matches well with a sour Belgian Gueuze Lambic such as Boon, Cantillon, or Cuvee Rene from Lindemans.  These Lambics have a complex barnyard earthiness that makes a nice counterpart to similar flavors in the cheese.
  • What could be better than a dry, spicy, mineral-like India Pale Ale with a dry, spicy, salty Parmigiano Reggiano?  Be sure to choose authentic Italian Parmigiano that is an unpasteurized, hard cheese made from skimmed cow's milk.  The aroma of this cheese is fruity and the flavor is definitely piquant.  A chunk of this noble cheese and the hop bitterness and flavor of a fresh IPA make for a superb summer combination.
  • Mascarpone is a very creamy, buttery Italian soft cheese made in much the same way as yogurt.  It is added to desserts and flavored with other ingredients or spread on toast.  Mix a bit of chocolate syrup, molasses, or maple syrup with the Mascarpone, spread it on bread or a cracker, and eat it along with a porter or stout.  The chocolate and coffee flavors of the dark beer with the cheese will seem like chocolate cream pie on the tongue.
  • If a rich Port wine is needed to stand up to the intense flavors of English Stilton cheese, then a barley wine should also do the job.  Stilton is a ripened, crumbly blue cheese with blue veins of sharp mold running throughout.  Roquefort and Gorgonzola are similar.  The plum, raisin, toffee, and heavy malt components of a fine English barley wine meld into an extravagant symphony with these cheeses.  Be sure to save this combination until last (to save the tastebuds) if sampling several beers and cheeses in one sitting.
  • Experiment with different beers and cheeses and find complex, unified combinations that suit your palate.  Search out top quality cheeses that are authentic from their countries of origin and pair them with fresh, craft brewed beers.  Have some friends over for a beer and cheese tasting of your own.  Some people may have a "wine and cheese bias"and can be a bit skeptical; but it is almost guaranteed that, after sampling these fine brews and elegant cheeses, any bias will crumble. 
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