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Beer or Wine?

March 25, 2010

This question is always on my mind when thinking about cheese as I am always looking for new and interesting pairings.  The ideal pairing romanticized by most people is that of wine and cheese.  A bottle of wine, a hunk of cheese, shared on a blanket while in the French countryside…you get the picture.  The reality is that successful cheese and wine pairings are actually rather difficult, whereas beer often creates a more successful pairing.   I was talking with a friend of mine today, Lenn Thompson of The New York Cork Report , about this very subject.  Cheese tends to leave a film of fat on our tongues, which can sometimes mute other flavors.  Unless there is a certain level of acidity or carbonation to cut through the fat, it is difficult to strike a balance between two things that really should elevate one another.  Beer tends to have low levels of acidity, but the carbonation makes up for it.  A great choice is to pair a Belgian-style Saison with a number of cheeses, both hard and soft.  The citrus notes and slight “funk” of the beer complement the cheese rather than overpower it.  Wine, on the other hand, can present many more challenges.  Since carbonation is generally taken out of the equation (sparkling not included), acidity, tannins, and fruit are all active factors to consider.  I have not had many clashes when it comes to beer and cheese, but wine and cheese is another story.

Balance is the key.  Something about the wine/beer should elevate the cheese and vice-versa.  Lenn and I both agree that there should at least be a one-way improvement.  If I have a dry and somewhat chalky goat cheese, a fantastic sparkling wine or Sauvignon Blanc should, in theory, bring out the positive notes in the cheese, which makes for a good pairing.  On the other hand, there is something to be said for overthinking the idea and making it too complicated.

What do you think?  What are some of your favorite pairings with cheese?   I am anxious to hear your thoughts as this is a subject I definitely want to explore more thoroughly…

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    March 25, 2010 8:26 pm

    Gin. April 10th I am attending a gin tasting at my wifes restaurant. Includes a cheese course. You should come.

    • March 26, 2010 9:53 am

      A cheese course for a gin tasting? That is interesting. I have seen a few whiskey and cheese pairings as of late, but gin is definitely something I haven’t considered.

      I wish I could head down there for that. Let me know what you think.

  2. March 26, 2010 9:50 am

    I am of the belief that the fatty film cheese can leave on your palate is one reason that some lesser wineries offer cheese in their tasting rooms. It can mute or soften wines, making them more palatable than they would be otherwise. Not every winery who serves cheese is looking to mask flavors, mind you, but some clearly do.

    You know this already because we’ve enjoyed plenty of saison together with plenty of cheese, but it really is my go-to for varied cheese plates.

    For the wine-drinking crowd, I often go with riesling — dry or semi-dry depending on the cheeses in question.

    • March 26, 2010 10:05 am

      Lenn,
      That is an interesting comment about wineries offering cheese in the tasting rooms. That actually has the potential of doing more harm than good. Choosing a cheese that balances with everything that they are pouring provides more opportunity for clashes I would think. Have you had experiences in the past where the cheese was detrimental to the wines being poured?

      Couldn’t agree more about the Saison and Riesling suggestions…
      The only other go-to that I have for pairings is a hoppy IPA for really strong Cheddar or aged Gouda.

  3. March 26, 2010 1:03 pm

    I tell my customers the SAME thing ALL the time. But they love their cabs. Beer for most doesn’t seem sophisticated enough. I also tell people when they don’t believe me about wine and cheese being a difficult and finicky pairing, is that in the past when people drank wine and ate lots of cheese all day, everyday, the wines back then weren’t as big and alcoholic like many are today. I find that blends and basic table wines make for an easier pairing than big ticket, special occasion wines. And reds are more difficult to pair with cheese than whites. I became a fan of whites BECAUSE of cheese – they go really well together. I like rieslings too. I have had much success with chenin blancs as well. Oh and I jsut found my favorite cheese to pair with gin and tonics – Sea Hive!!! Give it a try but make sure the gin and tonic is on the light side – no more than an ounce of liquor and not the regular 1.5 ounces.

    P.S. I’m following your blog on Networkedblogs too! 🙂

  4. Dan permalink
    April 1, 2010 7:08 am

    I have always seemed to prefer beer and cheese. It is just so diverse. From super light Helles, Pils, and Wittes, to Russian Imperial Stouts and barley wines. And everthing in the middle. My real problem with wine and cheese is red wine and cheese. That is a tough pairing especially for dry tannic reds. Whites are far more versatile with cheese. Bubbles and riesling lead the way in that category. I also think chards and softer cheeses sometimes work.

  5. April 2, 2010 7:12 am

    Karen – I have not heard of Sea Hive! Where is it from? What style? I would definitely give it a shot with a light gin and tonic.

    Red wine is definitely a harder pairing when it comes to cheese. I just finished up an article on the similarities of Beer and Cheese. The author maintains that beer and cheese go so well together because they are made from the same ingredients. In some cases, the grains that are used to make the beer, are added to the feed for the cows that provide the milk. Interesting idea. Although a specific dairy farm and cheese was not mentioned, I would be interested in finding this combination and trying the beer and cheese side-by-side. The class that I am taking in April will involve making a washed rind cheese with a beer from a local brewery. I am looking forward to trying this cheese after it has been aged appropriately, and having it with the beer that it is washed in.

  6. April 8, 2010 9:55 am

    Aaron,
    Sorry I am only getting around to this, but I am looking foward t more help in this area. I am clueless when it come to wine & cheese pairings. And I don’t want to even touch the beer and cheese part at all 🙂

    I never realized what a cheese can do or leave on your tongue! Makse sense. As well as Lenn’s comment about what some tasting rooms do.

    My preference is to taste wine than consume cheese, alwasy has been.

    Thanks for this!

    • April 8, 2010 10:18 am

      Thanks for the comment Michael! I think the series that I am putting together regarding pairings should be an interesting exploration. There are so many possible combinations that I am looking forward to the experiment.

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