So, the Mister and I are big beer fans around here. He has been homebrewing for a couple years and I swear that he has never made a bad beer. There has been one or two strange beers but nothing undrinkable. In fact, most of them have been highly drinkable! When I started getting interested in making cheese I felt like there was some kind of crossover potential there. They both relate to the science of applied heat. They both relate to farm life — beer is made from grains, cows eat grains and grasses. But, obviously, these are tenuous connections. The light came on, though, when I started reading about pairing cheese with beer.
Our cheesemaking group, FUCheese, has long talked about doing a home cheese pairing with homebrews (from the guys at BSBrewing, including my husband) so I started doing some research on what kind of cheeses we would want to make and what would be a good pair. There’s a surprising amount of information out there about pairing the two and for good reason: they are delicious together!
Typically, when you think of pairing something with cheese, you think of wine. Wine is a wonderful, wonderful thing and I have had some truly sublime wine and cheese pairings. (The Rioja Santiago paired with Midnight Moon that we had at the sadly defunct Curds & Whey shop in Sellwood comes to mind.) But, at least for me, wine is a little less accessible than good beer. And wine is really more of a contrasting flavor with cheese whereas beer can be more complementary. The tannins and oak and leather and jam of wine is not very present in cheese. However, the grassyness of some hopped beers, the earthy and meaty flavor of porters and the bright freshness in pilsners and hefeweisens can really interact with cheese in a refreshing way. That’s the other thing — beer is refreshing! It can cleanse the palate in a way that wine is hard-pressed to do. Some cheeses are incredibly tongue-coating and not much but something bubbly and cold can hold up to that. And now that the hot weather is finally upon us, it makes even more sense to crack open a beer and keep on enjoying that cheese.
Last year when we got some goat milk and had a goatapalooza of cheesemaking, Nicole and I put together a goat cheese plus beer pairing using as a guide some info we found online (google Garrett Oliver — he loves this stuff!). We were bowled over by how good it was. Then this past winter, Thom (the Mr.) and I joined Dave and Sarah at Saraveza for a cheese and beer pairing with cheese provided by Steve Jones of Steve’s cheese. It was fantastic! The cheeses were incredible and the beers were amazing. So, we’d been talking about this for months and continually pondering which beers would go with which cheeses. I’d push Thom to try some cheese and think of what beer it would go with and he’d push back with some beer asking what cheese I thought would go with that. We were talking about this with his cousin Julie (also a beer fan, she used to work at Bridgeport Brewing, Portland’s oldest craft brewer) who is now at Adidas. She said that a cheese beer pairing would be a fun thing to do with her department at work and could we arrange that? We looked at each other and laughed, “Yeah, we could probably do that.”
So, a few weeks later after some fun evenings of beer sipping and cheese sampling, we came up with a rough plan of attack. We bought beers at Belmont Station and Saraveza (all Oregon beers) and I spent an hour or so at Steve’s Cheese getting the cheeses. And let me take a moment to sing the praises of Mr. Steve’s Cheese, also known as Steve Jones. He is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable cheesemonger who clearly loves his work and puts a lot of effort into stocking the best local and international cheeses. Thankfully, he is also a big beer fan and was able to suggest alternatives and amendments to my cheese list based on the beers that we wanted to serve. I knew the type and flavor of the cheeses I wanted but only had one very specific cheese in mind that I had to have so he was invaluable in finalizing the list. If you live in or near Portland, GO TO STEVE’S CHEESE. Seriously.
The next day, I packed up a cooler of beer and cheese, a big cutting board and my cheese knives (a birthday present — they are so cool! I should write a post on those.), some crostini crackers and sampling glasses for the beer. Thom and I went over to Julie’s house that evening and met a dozen of her coworkers and gave a little talk about what we were about to do. Then, we started sampling!
The menu started with a fresh chevre from River’s Edge paired with Widmer’s Hefeweizen. This is one of my favorite pairings, they work so well together and I think Widmer’s Hef is one of the best of its kind — easy drinking, accessible and inexpensive. Next we paried Pondhopper with Mirror Pond Pale Ale. Pondhopper is an aged goat cheese that uses Mirror Pond Pale Ale to wash the curds during the making process. I wasn’t actually sure how well these would pair because when you taste Pondhopper you don’t necessarily get a “beer” vibe from it or a hops note but they were really fantastic together. Also, Pondhopper is a standout cheese that would be welcome on any cheese plate at any time. We then passed around small samples of Mirror Mirror which is a double of their Mirror Pond beer and aged in oak barrels to produce what is essentially a barleywine.
After that we shifted gears a bit and sampled Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown with the creamy, 3-milk Robiola — an Italian cheese from the Piedmont that is meaty and full and creamy and awesome. You kind of want to roll over and die after eating some Robiola and that’s a good thing. The final pairing matched Cascade Brewing’s Kriek (a sour cherry beer) with a stinky swiss style cheese called Maritchas. This last cheese came straight from Steve because I could imagine a few different types of cheeses that might work with the sourness of the beer but I wasn’t sure how big I wanted to go. Some cherry beers are incredibly tart and the Cascade Kriek is too but not terribly so. Once he cut me a sample of the Maritchas, I knew it would be a good finish to the evening.
Anyway, everyone had a really great time and Thom and I had a blast. I would totally do that again. So, next time you’re at the cheese counter, pick up a few things and then head over and grab a couple beers. Beers tend to be cheaper than wine (though not that Kriek!) and you may come up with an astounding flavor combination. Also, I was asked what would be a good cheese to go with Budweiser and I think a Kraft American cheese slice wrapped around a Slim Jim would be pretty awesome.*
* But I’m not sure I would ever eat that.