There was a time in my life when I thought good cheese belonged with wine and that the only thing to pair with beer was pong and Pizza Hut. Don’t get me wrong–I love to dig into a pile of hastily made mac’n’cheese washed down with draught Genesee just as much as the next girl. But I’m here to tell you that there is so much more to drinking beer and eating cheese.
Let’s start with the basic guide to satisfying that primal need to seek out a hunk of lactic protein and a cold pint.
CHEDDAR & BELGIAN ALE
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar
Pasteurized cow’s milk – The Cellars at Jasper Hill – Vermont
Ommegang Rare Vos
Belgian Amber Ale – 6.5% abv – New York
This isn’t the Cabot cheddar of your neighborhood grocery store. Actually, it is—sort of. Cabot, a New England dairy co-op, sources milk for this English-style bandaged cheddar from a single farm, then passes each 35-lb wheel on to Jasper Hill’s cheese caves for up to 14 months. The cheese is intensely flavored with savory earthy notes, which perk up alongside the sweetness of a malty Belgian; in this case, Rare Vos, a Belgian-style amber ale from Ommegang. Most Belgian ales will fill out this pairing nicely. Sub another clothbound cheddar (from Neil’s Yard Dairy if you can find it). In a pinch, that grocery store extra sharp Cabot will do the trick.
GOUDA & WHEAT ALE
Pasteurized goat’s milk – L’Amuse – The Netherlands
Einstock Icelandic White Ale
Witbier – 5.5% abv – Iceland
One could easily make the argument that gouda is the cheese for beer. Any beer. Those Dutch do drink a lot of beer and eat a lot of cheese—they wouldn’t be doing it after all these years if it weren’t at least a little good. In this case, though, I’ve chosen a young buttery goat’s milk gouda rather than the crunchy aged versions most commonly put alongside beer. Brabander’s smooth caramel notes stand up nicely to the citrus of Einstock’s signature White Ale. Not into wheats? Try this one, trust me—it is bright, aromatic, and slightly salinic—everything a wheat beer should be. If you can’t get your hands on Einstock, Allagash White is a worthy stand-in. Other goat goudas, such as Midnight Moon from Cypress Grove or Killeen, are good backups in the absence of Brabander.
SHEEP & SAISON
Abbaye de Belloc
Raw sheep’s milk – Notre Dame de Belloc – Pays Basque, France
Great Divide Colette
Farmhouse – 7.3% abv – Colorado
Think of Abbaye de Belloc as the lesser-known cousin of large-production Manchego. Sure they’re in the same family, but once you get to them you realize Abbaye de Belloc is the cool aunt who lets you stay up late. Abbaye has a smoother texture and a more nuanced nutty flavor than it’s ubiquitous relative. This subtle flavor profile makes it the ideal companion for an herbaceous farmhouse. Farmhouse beers—also known as saisons—can be spiced with a variety of herbs to create myriad flavors. Great Divide’s Collete is light bodied, with notes of banana and a tart finish and makes a fantastic duo with Abbaye.
STINKY & IPA
Pasteurized cow’s milk – Jacobs and Brichford – Indiana
Firstone Walker Brewing Company Union Jack IPA
American IPA – 7.5% abv. – California
The strong flavors in stinky cheese and IPAs tend to be divisive. But anyone who savors the stench of washed rinds and the bitterness of hops will adore this intense pairing. It is easy for strong cheeses to overpower, and they can be notoriously difficult to pair—same goes for many unctuously resinous IPAs. In this case, though, the strong flavors compete on an equal playing field. The salinity of the cheese brings out the sweeter notes in Firestone’s Union Jack IPA, while the aggressive hoppiness of the beer develops the beefy notes of the cheese. When possible, look for Ameribella, a small-production cheese from Jacobs and Britchford in Indiana. A gooey and salty taleggio is a great alternative when Ameribella isn’t available, as is Grayson, a farmstead cheese from Meadow Creek Dairy in Virginia.
BLUE & PORTER
Cashel Blue Cheese
Pasteurized cow’s milk – Beechmount Farm – Ireland
Thirsty Dog Old Leghumper
Porter – 6.75% abv. – Ohio
As a general rule, blue cheeses tend to be salty and strong. Cashel is no exception, but its richness verges on biscuity sweetness rather than overly sharp and peppery. By far the most decadent pairing of the bunch, this is the set to end on. Cashel’s layers of flavors deepen alongside the bright chocolate flavor of Thirty Dog’s porter. It can be a challenge to find a porter whose flavors aren’t heavy-handed, but Leghumper brings a richly toasted malt flavor with hints of bitterness and just enough chocolately sweetness to prove that not all porters have to overpower.