Beer & Cheese
Apologies mes amis for my inactivity last week, I was suffering from le Squirrel Flu. Maybe I should take a leaf out of my woodland friends the hedgehogs’ book & hibernate over winter next year! I hope this week finds you all well & ready for more beer & food investigations.
To help us through these chilly days, I think it’s about time we experimented with one of the finest beer & food combinations you can find: beer & cheese.
Contrary to popular belief, wine is not the natural partner for cheese. No, my friends, it is a myth! Although some combinations work well together, the components of wine & cheese fight each other. The fat in the cheese coats the tongue, masking the taste of the wine.
Not so with beer. Bitterness, acidity & carbonation work together to cut through the fat in cheese, cleansing the palate & bringing out the cheese flavour. The saltiness in cheese is also a perfect match for the sweetness found in even the hoppiest of beers.
When you think about it, it makes perfect sense: as the old adage says, “If it grows together, it goes together”. Both beer & cheese originated as farm produce & even today are still produced in close association. You could say that together they make a complete & beautiful circle of recycling heaven (yes, squirrels can be poets too). Most beers are made with barley, the husks of which (known as spent grain) are a by-product of the brewing process, which is sold to farmers to feed their cattle. The cows produce milk which is then used to produce cheese & voilà, the circle is complete!
Most monks who brew beer also make cheese. Some even wash their cheese in beer to encourage growth of the mould & bacteria that give the cheese its distinctive colour & flavour. The famous Stinking Bishop cheese is made in a similar way, its rind being washed in Perry.
Here is the wonderful Garrett Oliver, renowned brewmaster, beer & food expert & editor of The Oxford Companion to Beer demonstrating the many splendours of beer & cheese partnerships:
So we have a bit of everything: sweet, salty, fatty flavours, recycling & religion, what more could we want? But where, I hear you ask, do we begin? The world of cheese is almost as huge & varied as the world of beer. In Belgium alone, there are more than 300 cheeses to go with more than 1,000 beers! Well, I say start at the beginning & keep trying until you find the combinations you like. To narrow things down a bit, here are my top 5 generic beer & cheese matches to get you started.
Wheat beer + cream cheese
Raspberry beer + goats cheese
German Pilsner beer + Gouda
IPA + mature cheddar
Barley Wine (it’s a kind of beer, don’t worry!) + blue cheese.
Plenty of writers have their favourites, like Adrian Tierney-Jones, writing in the Sabotage Times. Ben McFarland (Beer Writer of The Year) has several pages of his book “World’s Best Beers” devoted to the subject. Even the British Cheese Board has a list of British beer & cheese combinations, but when the cracker crumbles, it’s down to you to decide what works for your taste.
Next time, I will be looking at my current favourite combination: Bath Ales, Gem + Comté cheese
Allons-y mes amis, to the cheese board tout de suite!