As we near the end of November, you may be planning a holiday party. Would you like to make it stand out? How about having a beer and cheese party? It's pretty easy to make your party the talk of the season!
Beer and cheese go together like chocolate and peanut butter! If you have ever hosted a wine and cheese party, putting together a beer and cheese party is just as straight-forward. I know wine lovers will hate me for saying so, but beer is actually a better pairing for cheese than wine is! The hops in beer, along with the carbonation, cleanse the palate between bites so you can enjoy the full flavour profile of each different food you nibble on. Also both beer and cheese have a similar origin, grass. Barley is a cereal grass used in making beer and milk is a by-product of a cow eating grass. As a result, beer and cheese complement each other by sharing some common characteristics in both aroma and flavor, such as the nut and caramel aromas found in aged cheeses which are also present in malty beers like brown ales, stouts and porters. Beer is also much less acidic than wine making a pairing with creamy cheese more harmonious.
A beer and cheese party can look however you want it to look. The basic concept is the same as a wine and cheese: the host provides different beers and different cheeses for people to enjoy together. Or the host requests that guests bring a beer and a cheese to pair and share. If your guests are just getting into craft beer, it might be easier for the host to provide the beers and cheeses so that no one feels too much pressure to come up with a good pairing. If your friends are more adventurous and/or beer knowledgeable, it is interesting to see the different pairings that they can come up with. I do want to add though that there are no hard and fast rules to beer pairing - just like with wine and cheese there are a few guidelines that you can follow to increase your odds of coming up with a good pairing, but taste ultimately comes down to the taster.
A beer and cheese party is the perfect time to experiment. You could stick to one family of beers, such as winter themed beers, and try a bunch of different cheeses with them to come up with favourite pairings; you could choose several styles of beers to do a compare and contrast kind of tasting with various cheeses; you could choose regions of the world to follow like German beers with German cheeses; or stay local with growlers of local beers paired with locally produced cheeses. The sky is really the limit on twists you can throw into a beer and cheese tasting.
There are several short-cuts to planning your beer and cheese pairing if you don't have time to spend on the pairings, or fear you don't have the expertise to make executive decisions. The first is to call Benton Brothers Fine Cheeses in Vancouver and get them to choose the cheeses to match your beers. They'll also provide the bread and crackers to put the cheeses on (neutral flavours of course), and dried fruits to complement the cheeses.
If you prefer to remain hands-on in the putting together of your party, get on the internet and find combinations that have already proven themselves to be winners. TheBeerStore.com has a very simple chart of suggestions that you can follow. Thenibble.com also has a more comprehensive pairing chart, including wine pairings in case you want to do a beer and wine and cheese! If you want to pair other foods as well as cheeses with your beers, The Brewers Association has come out with a wonderful chart that even includes suggested beer glasses and serving temperatures for each pairing. If beer pairing is something you think might become a habit, you can also pick up Garrett Oliver's book, the Brewmaster's Table, and have a handy resource always at the ready (p.s. this is also a great gift for the beer-lover on your holiday shopping list!).
Below are a couple of the pairings I put together with an abundance of help from Benton Brothers for a beer and cheese tasting I held last week.
Bridge Brewing's Northshore Pale Ale with Red Leicestershire
Driftwood Brewing's Fat Tug IPA with 4 year Artisan Gouda
Also, any kind of beer tasting is a great time to pull out that bottle of special beer that you've been waiting for the right occasion to crack open. A 650oz bomber bottle or a corked bottle of beer are akin to a nice bottle of wine and add to the party atmosphere! If you don't have any on hand, I suggest picking up one or all of the following:
Chimay Grand Reserve Blue ($12.25 at Legacy) - Belgian Strong Dark Ale, which should pair nicely with a strong gouda or a washed-rind cheese
Brooklyn Sorachi Ace ($13.35 at Legacy) - Saison with lemonly Japanese hops, which should pair nicely with goat cheese on an apple slice (thanks Brooklyn website for that idea!)
Moon Under Water 1 year anniversary Red Wheat Wine ($12.55 at Legacy) - a whopping 11.5% beer, which should pair nicely with a gorgonzola (or if like me you just can't do the blue, a Mont Jacob semi-soft washed rind cheese)
For those too lazy to follow the link above (and no judgment from me on that), here is a quick and dirty pairing chart from TheBeerStore.com:
Fresh, very soft cheeses that are uncooked and unripe or barely ripened. For example, cottage cheese, cream cheese and ricotta pair well with wheat beers or lagers
Soft, spreadable cheeses, such as Camembert or Brie that have bloomy rinds pair well with pilsners, pale ales and porters
Semi-soft cheeses including many monastic cheeses and washed-rind cheeses. Good examples are Gouda, Havarti, Colby or Monterey Jack pair well with brown ales, amber ales, bitters and belgian pale ales
Semi-hard, sliceable cheese as Cheddar, Edam or Jarlsberg pair well with pilsners, extra special bitters and ipas
Hard cheese is very firm, grainy, cooked and pressed or grating cheeses as Parmesan pair well with strong ales, doppelbocks, stouts or porters
Blue vein, marbled cheese, strong flavoured and crumbly, including Roquefort, St. Gorgonzola, and other blues pair well with stronger porters, stouts, old ales and imperial stouts
Goat cheese, Roquefort, Romano and feta pair well with ipas, brown ales, stouts and porters
Pasta filata (the stretched curd cheeses of Italy, such as mozzarella and provolone) pair well with wits and wheat beers