by Willard Brooks
Recall that hilarious Monty Python sketch where John Cleese walks into a cheese shop and orders a long list of cheeses only to discover that the shop actually has no cheese? Among the English cheeses he requests are: Red Leicester, Cheshire, Dorset Blue Vinney, Wensleydale, Ilchester, Cheddar, and many more. A dizzying array of cheeses, no? Perhaps not when considering that the British Cheese Board lists over 700 cheeses. Cheese is such a big part of British food culture that a British cheese shop with no cheese would indeed be a joke!
The love the Brits have for cheese seems bested only by beer where they list a jaw dropping 2,000 different brands and many regional styles. Yet, the combination of cheese and beer may appear strange, as that combo seems reserved in the minds of many for wine and cheese. Perhaps, but, on closer examination, the beer and cheese combination makes perfect sense. Farmers grow grasses and grains—cows eat grasses to produce milk that farmers use to make cheese; the same farmer takes the grain from the grasses and makes malt for beer and flour for bread. Given this, doesn’t it seem natural that a farmhouse would make breads, brews, and cheeses? Perhaps wine and cheese is the odd man out!
Now that you are sold on beer and cheese, the next question is how to decide which cheeses pair best with which beers. A few key points are in order. One point is to put delicate with delicate and strong with strong (e.g. put a strong blue cheese with a bold flavored barley wine). Another approach is to work either with complimentary flavors (e.g. a creamy St. Andre with a Belgian Blonde ale) or with contrasting flavors (a simple-tangy California Teleme with a complex-sweet Chimay Blue). The characteristics of cheeses are firmness, complexity from age, and intensity. The features of beers are hop bitterness, carbonation, fruit, spices, malt sweetness, yeast characteristics and, sometimes funk and tartness. Experimentation is encouraged, surprises are welcomed. Try these:
■ Sierra Nevada Ovila Dubbel & von Trapp Camembert. The camembert goes very well with the yeast notes in the dubbel. Similar flavors.
■ Freigeist Pimock Hefeweizen & Holland Beemster. The Pimock worked very well with the Beemster.
■ Hamburg White Corner Wheat & Maplebrook Burrata. The carbonation of the White Corner magnifies the cheese flavor of the burrata very nicely.
■ Gordon Biersch Märzen & Jasper Hill Clothbound Cheddar. You will find this to be a solid pairing where the floral notes in the cheese contrasts the malts in the beer.
■ Community Beer Works—That IPA with Maplebrook Smoked Mozzarella. The smoked mozzarella is a perfect choreography of hops and smoke!