We've done a lot of pairings over the past few years, including pairing cheese with wine, beer, tea, chocolate, meats and a few weird and wonderful other foods, but our most enjoyable pairing for cheese is probably with beer. This has been greatly helped by the explosion of new craft beer producers in London in recent times but cheese has paired well with traditional beers for a number of years. Just think of a nice cold pint with a ploughman's lunch for example.
There are so many different flavours across the spectrum of beers in the world that pairing them with cheese is fun and challenging, but very rewarding too. So what gives a beer it's particular flavours when there are so few ingredients? It's just malt, hops, yeast and water right?
Malt - malt is a grain, usually barley, which gets soaked, then roasted in order to convert starch into sugar, which ultimately is converted into alcohol. The roasting of malt (malting) is similar to roasting coffee beans and you can get darker, stronger flavours depending on how long you roast it for. This in itself has an effect on the flavour of the beer as does the type of malt used. Different malts yield different flavours such as caramel, honey, chocolate and the roasting time can lighten or intensify these.
Hops - the predominant flavour of hops is bitter, but depending on the variety a number of other flavours come through such as citrus, grass, floral, pine and more and again this contributes to the flavour of the beer. The type of hops and when they are added to the beer-making process affect the flavour of the beer.
Yeast - Many yeasts don't add much in the way of flavour to a beer but some, especially those used in Belgian beers have a definite influence on the beer, often fruity and floral but less so that hops or malt.
There are other ingredients too that affect flavour and at the moment adding various fruits to beer is popular, with London's Beavertown Brewery regularly brewing high quality craft beer with peaches, blueberries and other tropical fruits.
The principles for pairing cheese and beer are similar to what you would look for when pairing wine with cheese. First and foremost there needs to be a good balance, in that you don't want one to over power the other. You should also look for complementing and contrasting flavours too, favours in both cheese and beer that are similar or if providing a contrast, how well do they work together? Selecting pairings is great fun as you will try a variety of wonderful beers and cheeses and stumble across some great matches, and similarly some that don't match at all!
Both beer and cheese play an important part in the history and culture of certain countries such as Britian, Belgium and Germany, so this is often a good place to start and there are a few basic guidelines to think about.
- Washed-rind cheeses tend to be strong and full of flavour so will need a beer that can stand up to them. Strong, hoppy flavours can work as can the powerful, malty flavours of Belgian Dubbels.
- Aged cheeses such as vintage cheddars, aged goudas or Alpine cheeses such as Comté or Gruyere also need a full flavoured beer to work well with their flavours. Hoppy ales or brown ales can be a good match.
- Triple cream cheeses such as Finn or Brillat Savarin can work well with a porter with a strong chocolate flavour as this can give a bit of a dessert feel.
There are more but this is a good starting point to get you thinking along the right lines.
We've found a few good pairings that we'll share with you now. Some we stumbled upon by accident, some we thought would be a great match and others were suggested to us. Have a try and see what you think.
Oxford Isis and Barbar Belgian honey beer
This is a really interesting pairing. Oxford Isis is a soft cheese from Oxfordshire which is washed in honey mead. It's this washing that brings out the pungent aroma and strong, earthy-sweet flavours in the cheese. Barbar is a strong, dark Belgian honey beer which is full of malty flavour with a hint of honey. This strong sweetness works really well the Oxford Isis with the sweet flavours intermingling and the malty strength of the beer standing up to the strong flavours of the cheese.
Black Bomber and Neck Oil
Black Bomber is one of our most popular cheeses in the shop and at market. It's distinctive black wax coating contains a delicious, extra mature cheddar, with a fudge like texture (thanks to the wax coating) and sharp but smooth flavour. Often overlooked in favour of the Somerset cheddars but Black Bomber is a really delicious cheddar. Neck Oil by Beavertown is their core session IPA, which is nicely hopped and eminently drinkable. The hoppy flavour is an ideal foil for the tangy cheddar and as both flavours aren't at the extreme end of the spectrum they play nicely together rather than compete for your tastebuds. This is a pairing that's hard to beat.
Cerney Ash and Studio Pilsner
Goats cheese is traditionally associated with white wine but we've found what we feel is a really unusual pairing that actually works. Cerney Ash is an absolutely delicious goats cheese with a wonderful mousse like texture and light, citrusy tang to the flavour and a perfect amount of nutty goat flavour. Studio Pilsner by Signature Brewery is a light pilsner, but has a touch of rye which gives a little bit more than a standard pilsner and its this dryness which works really well with the texture of Cerney Ash. In addition to that the ever so slight hop flavour brings out the lemony flavours of the goats cheese.
Rainbow's Gold and Madness IPA
Rainbows Gold is a delicious and strong cheddar type cheese. It's a little softer than a typical cheddar and after it get swashed in a local Somerset Ale it gets a much sharper flavour than a cheddar. This is a great example of a strong hard British cheese and needs something equally as strong to accompany it. We have chosen Madness IPA by the Wild Beer Co as this is a full on, hoppy IPA which is both strong and flavoursome. The strong flavours of the cheese and beer collide head on and create burst of amazing flavours. The grassy flavours in the Rainbow's Gold are brought to the fore while the hoppy flavours of the IPA are enhanced along with a background of citrusy acidity. An amazing match.