Monday, 10 August 2015

Beer & Cheese: A Match Made in Heaven


Cheese makes beer even more delicious

In an effort to learn more about styles of cheese and to gain a better understanding of beer and cheese pairing we selected nine different beer styles and matched them with cheese. We gave these pairings our full attention and recorded our findings in detail. We reaffirmed our love of some Belgian beer styles and fell head over heels for aged Gouda and Brillat-Savarin. 

Fig 1.0: The unsullied cheese board(s)

I’ve long been a lover of both beer and cheese. I eaten cheese while drinking beer plenty of times in the past but I’ve never really done it in a serious structured fashion before where I’ve put thought into it in advance. For my birthday last month I was given a book on matching beer and cheese (it was from Chris so I’m pretty sure there was an ulterior motive there) so that I might learn more about different styles of cheese. I read it in a frenzied, non-linear fashion, flicking around between the beer styles, staring longingly at the pictures. Very soon I’d cleared a day (possibly even a whole weekend) in our diaries which we could devote to the serious consideration of cheese and beer. 

I planned this event as a kind of luxury at-home experience and I was willing to pay for quality ingredients, maybe somewhere approaching what I’d be prepared to spend on a meal eaten at a restaurant. So, no, this it is not a cheap alternative to going out; I would consider it more like something you’d do to treat yourself or for a special occasion.

I was aiming to have five or six courses but just in case I wasn’t able to easily source all the beer and/or cheese styles I was after I planned for extra courses just in case. I’m sure you know what I’m going to say next. Yes, we ended up all doing nine pairings in the end.

A variety of different beer styles was what I was after for the pairings, especially those styles we don’t drink too often. From that list of selected beer styles I read through the suggested pairings for each. At the most basic level you’re looking for a cheese to compare or contrast with your beer. By the time I’d gone through the suggestions for each style I had a core of about six styles of cheese, most of which could be tried with each different beer.

Once I my cheese wish list was complete I contacted our local cheese expert, Manish (from Good Taste Food in Gipsy Hill) to check if he could supply everything I wanted. As for the beers, we already had many of them in our beer cupboard but the rest I picked up on the Friday evening from BottleDog or Chris picked up on Saturday from We Brought Beer in Balham.

On the Saturday morning I was positively giddy about going to get my cheeses, skipping off like Little Red Riding Hood with her basket. [NB I am actually eating cheese right now as I type this] I was pretty greedy with the portion sizes because I didn’t want us to run short during the event, plus I wanted leftover cheese too. The intention was for this to be done around the time of the evening meal but I confess that we just couldn't wait that long and started at about 4pm.

See Table 1.0 for the pairings, by round, and the overall ‘winner’ of each round. The winner was the pairing which brought out the best in both the cheese and the beer. In most, but not all, cases we agreed on the winners.


(Flensburger Pilsner)
- Sharpham Brie
- Brillat-Savarin
- Dutch Mistress
(Westmalle Dubble)
- Aged Gouda
Aged Gouda
(Cantillon, “Belgian Flag” Gueuze)
- Aged Gouda
- Brillat-Savarin
- Sharpham Brie
(La Trappe Tripel)
- Maroilles
- Brillat-Savarin
- Aged Gouda
Imperial Stout
(Buxton Rain Shadow)
- Brillat-Savarin
- Aged Gouda
- Cashel Blue
Cashel Blue
Imperial IPA
(Crema Brewery Here’s What You Could’ve Won)
- Brillat-Savarin
- Mature cheddar
- Aged Gouda
- Sharpham Brie
Chris: Brillat-Savarin
Emma: Aged Gouda
(Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen)
- Aged Gouda
- Blue de Gex

Chris: none of the above
Emma: Aged Gouda
(Dupont Saison)
- Blue de Gex
- Maroilles
Chris: Blue de Gex
Emma: Maroilles
(Magic Rock Strongman 2013)
- Aged Gouda
- Brillat-Savarin
- Cashel Blue
- Maroilles
Table 1.0: Numbered rounds of beer styles and the cheeses they were paired with
(see Table 1.2 for cheese descriptions)

Sharpham Brie
Cow’s milk brie from Devon
Brillat Savarin
French triple cream cheese containing >75% fat
Dutch Mistress
Goat’s cheese from Shropshire
Cashel Blue
Semi-soft Irish blue cheese
Blue de Gex
French aged blue cheese
Rindwashed cow’s cheese from France
Table 1.2: Cheese descriptions

Each of the cheeses was gosh-darned delicious in its own right and so were the beers (which we knew before we started doing the pairings) so we were starting from a very solid platform of tastiness. Everything was going to be good, but the question was: ‘how good?’

Fig 2.0 Round 1
We had a few revelations during the tasting. The first was regarding the beers. Yes, of course we’ve drunk pilsners and Belgian beers plenty of times before. We know what they taste like, right? Well, what we did on this occasion was sit down with the beer at a table completely cleared of other distractions. We weren’t chatting to our mates in the pub or watching something on TV at the same time. We were really paying attention to the beer and giving it our full consideration. Our first thought was: blimey, we really don’t drink enough good pilsners. How often are we guilty of overlooking them for hoppier, more bitter beers? Then the dubbel and the tripel: wow. Doing this matching event really relit our fire for Belgian beers, both in their own right and as beers to pair with food. 

Another interesting discovery concerned the 'strength' of the cheeses. As a child I often found mature cheddars to give me a slight allergic reaction. However, sometimes other aged cheeses will still give me a similar 'itchy' reaction. I always thought this was just me and my weirdly over-reactive immune system. But we both experienced an irritation after eating the Blue de Gex (a kind of prickling and itching in the mouth), to the point where we could only have a very thin sliver otherwise it just wasn't pleasant. While writing up our results I learned that this allergic reaction to mature cheeses is the same condition people get when they eat fish which has been allowed to sit around and degrade: the amino acid histidine present in the fish is broken down to histamine, which causes a temporary allergic reaction known as 'scombroid fish poisoning'. #science

Fig 3.0: Round 2
All the pairings were educational for us and I could easily go into detail on every single one. But to pick just a few of the most striking pairings – the most memorable for us both was probably the first round. Pilsner vs. Brillat-Savarin: this seems counter intuitive, putting a delicate ‘mild-mannered’ beer up against a super creamy, rich cheese that’s scarily high in fat. But it works incredibly well. The high carbonation of the dry, refreshing pilsner cleanses and refreshes the palate between each bite of the creamy cheese, literally washing away the fat of the triple cream. In turn the ever-so-slightly sour tang of the cheese brings out the malt flavour of the beer. This is a pairing which contrasts both textures and flavours. When I was sampling the cheeses before buying them Manish told me that the textbook pairing for Brillat-Savarin is champagne so I suppose it makes perfect sense for it to pair so well with a pilsner.

The other two outstanding pairings were the Belgian beers. The dubbel with the aged Gouda was a match which made me smile a lot. This time it was a 'like pairs with like' match, with the sweet caramel notes of the malts snuggling up to the nutty sweetness of the cheese. It was a caramel match made in heaven. The tripel and the rind-washed cheese was a match where two robust characters meet each other head on and neither one gives any ground. I’ve long been a fan of the funk of a rind-washed cheese, but it can be overwhelming. The slight alcohol heat and the slightly sweet malt flavours of the beer easily hold their own against the intensity of the farmyard funk of the cheese. The dry finish of the beer contrasts with the rich creamy texture of the cheese. So with this round we had a comparison and a contrast within the same pairing.

Fig 4.0: Round 4
Our love of beer and cheese was renewed and reinvigorated by this evening of indulgence. It definitely made me want to try new pairings but also just pay more attention to beer and food pairings in general. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys beer (and likes cheese, obviously). Our event was pretty extravagant but you don’t need to have nine different courses! Even just choosing one or two beers to try with two cheeses would be a really good experience, especially if you choose beer styles you don’t often drink.

Finally, I just cannot express how much I love Brillat-Savarin. What a cheese. It seems to pair with absolutely everything you put it next to. It’s magical.

I will admit that the day after we did this we were completely cheesed off. We couldn't look a cheese in the eye, touch a cheese or even think about a cheese without feeling uncomfortable (this was a difficult day as the remaining bits of our fridge that weren't stuffed with beer and hops were occupied by cheese). I think this comes down to us having started our cheese-a-thon at 4pm... yet by 10pm, we were STILL eating cheese. We were simply overwhelmed and so far past cheese that we were Beyond Cheese. But after a 24 hour cheese break we were able to think favourably about it again and get on with finishing off the leftovers.

1. Fletcher, Jane.  Cheese & Beer. Kansas City, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2013.  

[Post by Emma]

1 comment:

Ed said...

Good to see a proper peer reviewed blog post!