BrokeAss Beer and Cheese
BrokeAss Beer and Cheese A barleywine, suggests The Cheese Dude, might go well with Stilton or something else smelly.
Being a BrokeAss gourmand is a tough act to play. The guides and manuals all tell us that, to be proper gourmands, we must first and foremost drink good wine with each dinner (and hold the glass just so). I like that idea just fine, but other beverages are so much cheaper (and other glasses so much easier to hold), and in times like these many of us must veer toward beer. Happy it is then that a growing number of experts vouch for beer as not just a tide-me-over until the next job but a fine accoutrement in itself to the white tablecloth. Better yet, these same men and women have approved beer and cheese as an excellent pairing, and just like that we have entered the realm of the affordable gourmet.
But what beers can we drink with what cheeses? Oh, pity us! Such dilemmas we must face in this hardship called life! Kidding, and I must here provide the disclaimer that I generally do not take the pastime of food-to-drink pairing very seriously. You won’t, for example, catch me on the cell phone in the wine (or beer) aisle saying, “Hey, it’s me. What do you think we should drink with the fondue?” In fact, this whole nibble-sip-and-ponder business makes me a bit nauseous, but in life occasions will arise when we stumble unexpectedly across white a tablecloth set with an impressive display of fancy bottles and fine bites, and on such occasions it pays to know how to proceed. So listen up.
Tony Magee, owner of Lagunitas Brewing Company in Petaluma, CA, recommends a tart and pungent cheese – perhaps a cheddar – to nicely cut the spiciness of a bitter beer – like an IPA. The Cheese Dude, an international cheese consultant based in the Bay Area, agrees with Magee and says that an IPA is best softened by a cheddar cheese, whose high fat content nicely lifts the sting of the beer’s alpha acids from the palate.
Magee warns that bitter beers can make soft, mild cheeses taste unpleasantly sour. The Cheese Dude concurs; brie, he says, is notoriously nasty with any beer, and one combination that is “spit-on-the-floor bad,” he says, is a bock beer and a young brie. The match-up releases ammonia like flavors from the rind and can spoil an evening.
In Colorado, Peter Archer, marketing man for the notoriously big-beered Avery Brewing Company, suggests matching foods and drinks in which a characteristic of one complements that of the other – like a smoked gouda to a roasty-toasty imperial stout. On the other hand, he also enjoys taking a sweet-and-sour approach, such as a barley wine with a pungent blue cheese or something else smelly.
And in Los Angeles, the illustrious Cheese Impresario (a.k.a. Barrie Lynn) says that daring gourmands should try a Limburger (the cheese that stinks to the highest heaven) and eat it with Leinenkugel’s Honey Weiss Beer. In this case, the sweetness of the beer contrasts with and balances the smashing aromas of the cheese, from which cartoon characters on TV once fled with fury. Limburger is made today by only one dairyer in the United States, Chalet Cheese Cooperative in Monroe, Wisconsin.
We considered the advice of these experts and crafted a tasting tray of our own: four cheeses mixed and matched to several beers. We nibbled the cheese, washed it down with beer, ate more cheese, and continued until the tasting notes came flooding. Read and drool.
1) Widmer’s Cheese Cellars Eight Year Old Cheddar (starting at $12.60/lb). This sticky brick is a splurge, so just buy a few ounces. It is sharp and fatty like any cheddar but with the precious crystallized quality of an old Gouda. We washed it down with Deschutes Brewery’s Red Chair IPA (6.4% ABV, $4.69 for 22 ounces) and noted how the creamy fat softened the bitterness of the beer. I couldn’t help but wonder why someone would make a beer bitter only to have consumers squash it with a cheese.
We tried the same cheese with Napa Smith Brewery Bonfire Imperial Porter (8% ABV, $4.99 for 22 ounces). In this case, it was the creamy coconut coffee flavors of the beer that balanced the sharpness of the cheese.
2) Bel Gioioso Medium Provolone ($7.00 to $10.00/lb). Marked by the mustiness of a Swiss cheese, firm and a bit mealy in the mouth, and very mellow, the Provolone would certainly be crushed by a barleywine, porter or IPA, so I took a suggestion of The Cheese Impresario and matched it to a lager – the Lagunitas Czech Style Pilsner ($8.99/6-pack). The beer is vibrant and zesty and we felt it brought the quiet yet charismatic cheese to life.
3) Widmer’s Cheese Cellars Wisconsin Lager Kake Brick ($6.00 to $8.00/lb). A nutty, mild and milky cheese inside, the Brick’s crunchy rind gives a slight funk to the rear of the throat. The flavors not only held up against the Napa Smith Imperial Porter, but the coffee-chocolate notes of the beer melded smoothly and distinctly well with the milky cheese; the two combined wonderfully to make a better thing. I’m a skeptic – but certainly try this combo.
4) Ambassadeur Danish Esron ($10.99/lb). Pungent and a bit stinky, this soft cheese went best, I suppose, with a two-year-old Avery Hog Heaven Barley Wine (9.5% ABV, $6.99 for 22 ounces). The beer had matured into a thick fudge-and-caramel, malt-and-toffee treat, and its powerful body washed away the stink of the cheese – but again, I couldn’t help but wonder why we are expected to eat things that cancel out the valued qualities of the other. That, however, is the game that gourmands play.