The idea that wine should take center stage as the natural partner to food is one of those preconceived notions that really winds me up.
It never ceases to amaze me how celebrity chefs and restaurants can go on preaching about high-quality cuisine – opening up venues, paying close attention to their wine list, and then serving up the same old crap when it comes to beer.
Crazy, huh? And they call themselves experts!
I believe wine has only dominated as the go-to partner with cheese out of sheer snobbery and gastronomic convenience. I mean, wine is generally viewed as the more sophisticated drink so it must be more suitable with any food, right?
Wines dominance at the dinner table is quite frankly snobbery combined with good PR from the wine industry. Supremacy is unfortunately encouraged even further through beers reputation by some as a mono, one-dimensional beverage served ice cold and fizzy.
Thankfully, however, beers culinary credentials have made a huge leap forward in recent years, with many experts going so far as to hail beer as wines superior when it comes to gastronomic matrimony.
One such advocate is Britain’s Beer Sommelier of the Year, Jane Peyton – who recently stated the following in an article for the UK Independent on Sunday:
“Beer isn’t just something you glug while watching the footie. It’s actually a much better pairing with food than wine, and there are so many special beers for fine dining.”
Claiming beer is better than wine with food period is a bold statement, and while I do sense some bias, I can agree that often it is better. Take chocolate for example – in what way, shape, or form is wine better than a stout when paired with chocolate deserts?
To be honest, I can’t think of many wines that pair well with desert – except for, perhaps, sweet German wines – but in any case, deserts are a well-known area of difficulty for wine and food matching.
Cheese and Beer
Despite popular belief – cheese is another area experts find persistently challenging when it comes to pairing with wine.
Well, as stated by Stone Brewing CEO, Greg Koch on craftbeer.com it’s all down to complementary flavor profiles:
“Beer and cheese often have complementary flavor profiles—toasty, bready, grassy, herbal, caramelly—which certainly helps when pairing. Carbonation also cleanses your palate, helping you taste each bite as if it were the first.”
Often, the flavor profile of wine just can’t match up to cheese in the same way beer can, and in many cases it can even clash. For example, the high acidity of many white wines will simply blow most cheese out the window. Pairing with beer just makes more sense when you consider the flavor and texture in a logical way.
It boils down to one simple mantra: the sum should be greater than its parts. You’re looking for balance or contrast, and with that in mind, it seems only natural that beers more earthy and often rustic flavor profile would work better with cheese than wine does. Consider how cheese is typically served; with biscuits or crackers right? Well, beer has similar ingredients – with some additions of course – but you get the idea…
Like anything, it takes some experimentation and experience, but according to many experts – unpalatable combinations are rare when compared to wine; the flavor harmonies and contrasts are just more in tune with one another.
Try it for yourself:
So there you have it – a growing number of professional wine and beer experts agree: the grain is a superior partner to the cheese board than the grape. So why not swap your chardonnay for a nice crisp Pilsner next time you’re in the mood a nice piece of fromage?
To get you in the mood: here are three great beer and cheese combos to try at home:
1. IPA and Stilton
Classic English Stilton calls for a robust beer capable of standing up to the rich, pungent umami flavor. Barley Wine or Stout would be an obvious choice, but I really like how the hop bitterness of IPA’s cut through. The creamy texture also acts to soothe the bitterness and create balance.
IPA hop profiles, though, vary greatly – particularly when comparing the UK to the US/Canada. Generally speaking I find the earthier profile of British hopped IPA’s to work best with the rustic character of Stilton – think more floral and spicy with a touch of citrus rather than full on grapefruit. Your milage, however, may vary as they say.
2. Pilsner & Goats Cheese
Weight is a crucial factor when considering the right beer match, and for something as delicate as Goats cheese, you’ll want to avoid heavier, darker beer styles. In this instance, Pilsner works really well; the light floral notes from the cheese compliment the herbal hop profile and crisp texture of a good quality German Pilsner like peas and carrots.
The rich and fruity flavors of barley wine compliment the creamy texture, and complex nutty flavor of mature Cheddar really well. With each mouthful or sip, you’ll be wanting more of both.
Fuller’s Vintage Ale – aged for three years – with its matured, brandy-like quality is particularly divine with a nice slice of top quality vintage Cheddar. I’d highly recommended it for the long winter nights or after a hearty Christmas dinner.
What do you think?
Do you have a favorite beer and cheese combo? Let us know in the comments. Alternatively, if you disagree and you think we’ve given wine a hard time, feel free to give us a hard time back.
Finally, if you’d like to read more about the delights of artisan cheese paired with beautifully crafted beer, check out Janet Fletcher’s very well researched book on the topic; even the aforementioned Greg Koch is a fan:
“Cheese & Beer is an excellent guide that explains how different beers are crafted and what gives these different types their synergies with superior cheeses.”
Until next beer, cheers.