Cheese and Beer

Excellent article from the Toronto Star:

Beer and cheese: A match made in hops heaven

Brie and Chablis? Get lost. Gouda and rosé? Blech.

Cheddar and a strong English bitter? Roquefort and a dark, fruity Belgian ale? Now we’re talking.

Wine and cheese might be a staple of party planners everywhere, but for a truly rewarding match, knowledgeable foodies should turn to beer.

Photos: Josh Rubin’s six perfect pairs

Whether it’s a range of flavours that can’t be found in wine, or the palate-cleansing power of carbonation, beer has a whole lot of advantages over its snootier cousin when it comes to matching cheese, according to brewers, cheese aficionados and even some sommeliers.

“People will put out a red wine and a cheese. Most of the time, it ruins both,” says Scott McKenzie, the founder of George Brown College’s fromager program and a cheese consultant. (A fromager is the cheese equivalent of a sommelier.)

When speaking at food shows or private events, McKenzie tells his audiences to try pairing beer, not wine, with their cheese. Most are surprised.

“I just love the faces of people discovering cheese and beer is a great match. The simple mention of it makes people smile. They suddenly realize, ‘Oh, you can do that?’ It’s almost a relief,” he says.

Ben Shillow, assistant sommelier at Canoe, has also been touting beer’s virtue at the table, particularly with cheese.

“If I’m going to do a cheese pairing, I’ll go for beer more often than not,” says Shillow, because there is more potential for matches.

But not everyone’s a convert.

“Sometimes there’s a reaction like, ‘How could you suggest beer?’ But if people are game, I’ll tell them how it works. I’ll stake my reputation on the pairings.”

A big reason beer is a better match than most wines? The bubbles help break up the fat in the cheese, lifting it off your tongue so you can taste it better, says McKenzie.

“Even just the effervescence gives you more flexibility with pairings. It helps counter the weight of the cheese,” McKenzie says.

For food-and-beer-pairing guru Garrett Oliver, there’s another crucial element: flavour.

“When you’re pairing food and drinks, the most common things you look for are either a harmony of flavours or a contrast. With cheese, wine can only do contrast. Beer just has such a broader range, so it can do harmony as well,” says Oliver, brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and author of The Brewmaster’s Table. (Disclosure: Oliver is also editor in chief of the upcoming Oxford Companion to Beer, to which I contributed).

As an example, Oliver pointed to a sharp well-aged cheddar. Sommeliers will often pair it with something sweetish, such as an off-dry riesling. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

“The riesling can only do the (sweet-salty) contrast. But a well-aged cheddar can have an almost caramelized character to it. Tell me where in the wine world you can find caramel? You really can’t,” says Oliver. In a strong English-style ale, however, there is often a distinct caramel note from the types of malt being used, he noted.

“The bitterness and the carbonation in the beer will be able to cut the richness of the cheese so you can taste it, but you’ll also be able to get the harmony of the caramel.”

So if beer and cheese are so good together, why are wine and cheese so often mentioned in the same sentence? Because it’s convenient, Oliver believes.

“Cheese is one of the few foods you can put out for hours at a time and it won’t really get hurt. So people planning things like gallery openings put it out. So then everyone else starts to associate the two things. But it’s usually not very good cheese or very good wine to begin with at those events.”

Here are Josh Rubin’s six perfect pairs. Do you have a perfect beer and cheese match? We want to hear about it. Tell us below in the comments.

Six perfect pairs

Papillon Noir Roquefort, with Unibroue Trois Pistoles ($12.95/six at the Beer Store)

The dried-fruit notes in this dark, bottle-conditioned Belgian-style ale provide a delightful contrast with the tanginess of the classic blue cheese, while the powerful carbonation helps counter some of the richness.

Eight-year-old Ontario cheddar, with Fuller’s ESB ($2.55/500mL can at the LCBO)

There are caramel notes in both the cheese and beer, while the sweetness of the brew parries the cheese’s intense sharpness.

Five-year-old gouda, with Mill Street Barley Wine ($11.95/500mL bottle at the LCBO; winter only)

The sweetness of this strong (11.1 per cent) English-style ale is a good counterpoint for the saltiness in this Dutch treat. But it’s also an excellent complement for the nutty, buttery character of the cheese.

Ossau Iraty, with Black Oak Nut Brown Ale ($12.25/six at the Beer Store and LCBO)

The hint of chocolate sweetness in this Ontario brew contrasts with the tanginess in this Basque sheep’s milk cheese. The nuttiness found in both cheese and beer make this a perfect complement as well.

Riopelle de l’Isle, with Duvel ($3/330 mL bottle at LCBO)

The richness of this thoroughly decadent Quebec-made triple cream can be a little overwhelming. The lively carbonation in this Belgian ale, however, provide a refreshing foil, while candied pear notes in the beer complement the buttery flavours in the cheese.

Cendrillon, with Cuvée Rene Gueuze ($6.45/355 mL bottle at LCBO)

The funkiness of this ash-covered Quebec chèvre (and 2009 world cheese of the year) is matched by the funk in the spontaneously fermented Belgian brew. The acidity and carbonation in the beer also cut through the richness.

by Josh Rubin

Link to the article: Beer and Cheese, Toronto Star

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