In recent weeks, we’ve noticed a rash of beer and cheese matching events appearing in the Crafty diary. Heck, when we popped into a London pub to meet a fellow beer writer recently, it wasn’t long before some goat’s cheese appeared to accompany the Sorachi Ace IPA being launched that night. What’s more, a friend of the Crafty Keg revealed he’d stumbled into a beer and cheese pairing event at a British stately home recently when all he was supposed to be doing was taking his grandkids out for the day.
So, it seems appropriate to speak to some of those people involved in putting the two together across Australia to find out why they’re doing it – and whether they’ve got any advice for those of us at home who’d like to give it a try. We contacted Matt Kirkegaard, founder of Brews News and the man behind Brisbane’s Good Beer Lunches, Beer Diva Kirrily Waldhorn and beer writer and dinner host Mark Chipperfield to find out more…
Why beer and cheese?
Matt: Because it works, beautifully, together. People love to take time with cheese and graze and a lot of the beers being produced by craft brewers lend themselves to this style of eating as well as being great pairings – sipping and enjoying rather than guzzling.
Kirrily: Beer and cheese are quite simply one of those matches made in heaven. Whilst Australians have dedicated years to the pairing of wine and cheese, it has been fairly well documented that in fact wine’s acidity can often overpower cheese and clash with cheese, whilst also reacting like oil and water in the mouth, beer and cheese have been produced and consumed alongside one another for centuries. The monks who we nod our heads in appreciation to for creating the marvels of Belgian beer were also great cheese producers and beer and cheese was a common form of sustenance for them. The classic English ploughman’s lunch, an ale and a chunk of bitey cheddar is another great long-time pairing of beer and cheese.
The science of beer and cheese are closely linked with both being created as a result of a form of fermentation. There are many complementing flavour characteristics across beer and cheese; nutty, earthy, bitey, citrus-like, tangy etc. These complementing flavours are near to impossible to find with wine and cheese. The carbonation in beer is the perfect palate cleanser for rich foods such as cheese. And finally, it’s simply because we like beer and we like cheese!!
Mark: I know that most people pair wine and cheese, but craft beer works fantastically well with good, strong-flavoured cheese – especially, malt-driven ales, porters and stouts. Red wine can overpower more delicate cheese. That doesn't happen with beer.
When did you first discover they worked together?
Matt: The first time I had a mainstream lager and pizza… My preference for the matches has changed, but the basic enjoyment is still there.
Kirrily: About two years ago when I met Claudia Bowman from McIntosh & Bowman, who is an incredibly passionate and informed Cheesemonger. Claudia was running beer and cheese events and I went along and my cheese world changed forever. Her knowledge of cheese is incredible and when we played around with pairing different beer styles and cheeses, there really were some magical moments.
Mark: Growing up in England. Ploughman's Lunch is pretty much standard pub fare. A good wedge of Stilton or Aged Cheddar with a pint of bitter – what could be better? And of course the Trappist monks in Europe have been brewing beer and making cheese for centuries. It's a natural combination.
What’s your number one matching experience – one that would convert people to the beer and cheese cause?
Matt: The one I always love to use is Redoak’s Wee Heavy Ale or BrewBoys Seeing Double matched to blue cheese. Both are made with peated malts and I always get people to try the beer first and many hate it because it is so strong and so different to anything they have tried before. Once they try the cheese and then the beer again many are just blown away by how well they work. Apart from showing them how well beer and cheese can match, it also shows that just because they don’t like the beer when they first try it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad beer or that they won’t like the beer. This overcomes the mindset that you either like a beer or you don’t and introduces the idea that some beers are right for the time and the pairing.
Kirrily: There are so many, but one of my personal favourites is Le Chevrot, a French goat’s cheese with a Belgian Wit. Both delicate but steeped in complexity. The herbaceous character of the beer pairs beautifully with the pungency of the cheese.
Mark: One matching that really zings is the Alpha Pale Ale and chilli-infused cheddar. The pale ale’s fruity palette (think citrus, lychee and almond) is the perfect antidote to the chilli hit from the cheese, and softens its tart aftertaste.
How have punters taken to it when you’ve first introduced the concept to them?
Matt: Beer and cheese is one of the most powerful weapons I have found in bringing people to beer. People who have a developed appreciation for cheese already know about new and interesting flavours and they are also attuned to the situation that we have with beer where the least interesting style is the most dominant. Explain that most mainstream lagers are the same as blocks of supermarket cheddar and they immediately know what you are talking about and are receptive to the flavours you are introducing them to. Even if they don’t like all of them (and they rarely like all cheeses) they are open to the idea of them.
Kirrily: I can’t deny there have been a few sceptics in the room, but pretty much after the first pairing you can see the lightbulb go on and the amazement that there is an alternative to wine when enjoying cheese. We find at our regular Beer and Cheese tastings, many initially come for the cheese experience and leave with a far greater appreciation of beer.
Mark: Some people refuse to take beer seriously. But for those with an appreciation of hand-made and boutique beers, matching them with fine cheeses is not a big stretch. Increasingly, people want to challenge their taste buds and these beer events are a great way of doing that.
Why do you think people are only switching on to it now?
Matt: Because there are actually beers these days that pair, thanks to the new generation of craft brewers. I spoke to a cheese evangelist at the [Brisbane] cheese awards who said that he’d being trying to interest the big brewers for 20 years about the benefits of beer and cheese but they didn’t want to know…
Kirrily: I think it’s all part of the continuing beer revolution Australia is experiencing and, frankly, there are more of us offering this type of event to the public. I’ve said it before: “Wine has had its time, now beer is here”… ha, ha!
Mark: Australia has been slow off the mark. North America, New Zealand and the UK have been exploring beer and food pairings for years. But Australians generally enjoy novel gastronomic experiences – especially involving great flavours and textures.
Any pairings to avoid if you don’t want to send people scurrying back to the comfort of their Botrytis Semillon?
Matt: No – I hate it when people say there are rules to matching. Experiment and discover what you like together. You learn more from a bad pairing than you do from a good one, even if you enjoy the good ones better!
Kirrily: I guess you probably want to avoid a Roquefort with the Belgian Wit… the cheese would completely dominate. Just think the first rule of any pairing is balance.
Mark: A really bland lager isn't going to do much for cheese of any description. Strong-flavoured cheese obviously needs to bounce off a fairly robust beer, such as lambic ale or maybe a strong English bitter. Never drink light beer with cheese.