Story by Adrienne So
From cheese puffs to a triple-cream brie with a rare bière de garde, one thing’s for certain: Throughout the centuries, beer and cheese have been a time-honored tradition, and a combination that’s occasionally—and puzzlingly—overlooked in favor of a much less complex alcohol, wine.
Most cheesemongers admit that beer is a much better partner for their product. The carbonation cuts through the fatty, oily coating that cheese leaves on the tongue. Because beer incorporates any number of interesting ingredients, the flavors can often be much more complementary. And beer comes in a greater variety of price points. When was the last time you brought a jug of Carlo Rossi to a party?
As your fall entertaining schedule heats up, we’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that every time is a good time to serve a beer and cheese combination. Unlike a wine and cheese gathering, beer and cheese don’t have to be restricted solely to cocktail hour, with colored napkins and six different kinds of knives. A set of working taste buds are all you’ll need to enjoy the savory combos we’ve tasted and tested.
Board game night
pizza and Vienna lager
suggested beer: Snake River Lager, Snake River Brewery, ID
Italian food is traditionally eaten with wine. Mediterranean climates are ideally suited for growing grapes, and beer never caught on with the early Greeks and Romans, either. But pizza has transmogrified from an Italian creation into cucina internazionale. And we respectfully submit that the experience of eating this gloriously chewy, cheesy concoction can only be amplified if enjoyed with beer.
If you’re ordering by phone and tipping by card, a six-pack of any canned lager is held by general consensus to be the perfect accompaniment. However, for anyone looking to take their pizza enjoyment to the next level, we suggest following the lead of esteemed beer writer Michael Jackson by picking a Vienna lager. The name is somewhat misleading. The beer is actually much closer in taste and style to a märzen, and the slightly sweet, reddish, caramel notes complement tangy tomato sauce perfectly. We also suggest adding a rich red bock directly to the tomato sauce if you’re making the pizza at home.
If hunting down a Vienna lager seems a little difficult for a convenient midweek meal, which is not surprising, given that few are made even in Vienna anymore, a Negra Modelo or Dos Equis offers a similar—and slightly cheaper—pairing experience.
Sunday afternoon guests
blue cheese dip and barleywine
suggested beer: Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws, Hair of the Dog Brewing Company, OR
It’s that hazy in-between time when the weekend begins to wane, but the last thing you want is to tuck away your party pants for another five days. On a lazy Sunday afternoon, put off preparing your PowerPoint presentations and to-do lists and gather your friends around a variation of that classic farmhouse meal: a ploughman’s lunch.
For centuries, western Europeans derived the vast majority of their calories from cheese, beer, and bread, in varying combinations. Even today, a ploughman’s lunch—usually consisting of cheese, cold cooked ham, and a pickle, served with beer—is a common meal or snack in English pubs.
Save your usual Velveeta-salsa concoction for the Super Bowl and instead create your own classic English meal. Stilton—that veritable king of (smelly) English cheeses—makes for an unusually rich, pungent cheese dip that is best enjoyed with squares of dark bread. Pick an equally strong, sugary barleywine or imperial stout that’ll hold its own against the flavors of the cheese. To make a real meal out of it, thin the cheese dip with milk and use it as dressing on a steak or salad. The main goal: starting Monday without a hangover.
Impressing your in-laws at Thanksgiving
Manchego and chocolate STOUT
suggested beer: Double Chocolate Stout, Rogue Ales, OR
It doesn’t matter how well you get along with your in-laws. Whether you address them by their proper names or by Mom and Dad. Whether you can tease your mother-in-law about her new bangs or sit respectfully silent as your father-in-law rails on about gun laws. At some level, there is always the fear that they will judge you too loud, too poorly dressed, or just too provincial for their beloved offspring.
Head off any lingering insecurity at the pass by leaving the pre-cut cheese cubes and Ritz crackers behind, and bring a Manchego to work up everyone’s appetite. This sheep’s milk cheese is a Spanish national treasure, and its firm, creamy slices are a staple at nearly every meal. Manchego comes in three varieties—fresco (fresh), curado (cured) and viejo (aged)—that range in sharpness from extremely mild to almost peppery.
Next, pair your sophisticated cheese selection with the unexpected choice of a chocolate or caramel stout. Sheep’s milk cheese has a nutty character that goes surprisingly well with these sweet, dark beers. Even if your mother-in-law disapproves of your usual beverage
of choice—she’s a seasoned wine drinker, herself—she can’t help but enjoy these toothsome confections.
Crowded dinner party
chèvre and saison
suggested beer: Saison de Lente, The Bruery, CA
Assembling the guest list for a dinner party can be as complex as putting together the menu. You have one friend who is a militant vegan. Can she be in the same gathering as your cousin who owns a chain of barbecue restaurants? Will your single friend appreciate being mired in couples, or your Mormon friend comfortable with freely flowing alcohol?
Despite the headaches involved in putting together a guest list, everyone has one friend who is always welcome—sprightly and talkative but never puts his foot in his mouth. If that friend were a cheese, he would be a good chèvre. And his girlfriend, an equally accommodating saison, would accompany him.
The secret to always being invited to dinner parties is to be exceptionally malleable. The soft, tangy acidity of fresh goat cheese goes well with any number of herbs and spices, but particularly well with fruit. Likewise, the nature of a saison is similarly flexible. Legend has it that the style originated in the Belgian countryside, as farmers offered whatever brews they had on hand to their saisonniers, or seasonal workers. This makes saisons difficult to categorize, but easy to enjoy.
Some saisons are spicy, some are fruity, some dark, and some light. So it’s practically guaranteed that you’ll find one to match whatever toppings you’ve decided to sprinkle on your goat cheese. And most importantly, a saison is usually dry and carbonated, and rarely so alcoholic that an innocent partygoer will accidentally get tipsy off the first glass.
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