Beer and cheese matching

Kirrily Waldhorn, The Beer Diva, on matching beer and cheese

Beer and wineBeer and cheese, really?
It’s funny, most people think the most romantic pairing is wine and cheese, that’s what we’ve been led to believe the only match is. But beer is a great partner to cheese, one of the key reasons, apart from the fact you find complimentary flavours in both, is that beer’s carbonation cuts through the richness of the cheese.

How does that work?
The bubbles work as little brooms on your tongue and clear the richness from the cheese whereas wine and cheese can act like oil and water on the palate.

So is beer and food matching a new thing?
No, the classic ploughman’s lunch was pint of ale and chunk of cheddar. This isn’t revolutionary but it was forgotten for awhile when whine dominated.

Do you think beer is a better match for cheese?
Yes, if you speak to a wine maker they would probably say they wouldn’t match certain wines with cheese because they can out-do each other. Beer doesn’t have that issue, both are fermented products, beer comes from grain and cheese comes from the milk of an animal fed on grain so they share a lot of similarities.

What are your favourite pairings?
I love a really nice herbaceous Belgian style witbier with a beautiful, creamy citric goat’s cheese. An English style beer goes with a classic cheddar, amber ales are extra special with bitey cheddars. A blue cheese such as stilton or gorgonzola,  with a rich, creamy dark stout is something that everyone should try before they die.

It’s magical and so unexpected. The bitines and sharpness of the blue contrasts with some of those creamy characteristics of stout. It’s almost a contrasting combination that works really well together.

How do you go about matching flavours?
The thing to look for is to match the weight of food with the beer. You wouldn’t match a stout with a scallop, it will overpower it straight away, so look for a more delicate style beer. A big hearty steak would be perfect with a stout but would overpower a witbeir.

Should you look for complimentary or contrasting flavours when pairing beer and food?
There are three principals when we match beer, we look for complimentary, contrasting and cleansing flavours. Beer itself is very complex, there are over 100 different styles which can contain herb, coffee or chocolate notes so you look for complimentary characters in food.

And for cleansing?
You use beer’s carbonation to cut through the food and cleanse the palate. Think of a hot curry with a beer, that carbonation cuts through and also tapers down the curry’s heat. It’s a combination of the hops and the malt. The sweetness of the beer, the malt,   cools the palate and the hops, cools the heat. Match a hot vindaloo to an Indian Pale Ale while a Kingfisher lager goes well with butter chicken.

What about contrast?
A classic one is a sweet chocolate dessert with a heavily roasted stout. I’ve found that a really hoppy Indian pale ale and beautiful white chocolate dessert go really well, you’d never expect it to work but they do.

Do you think the burgeoning craft beer scene has piqued people’s interest in pairing it with food?
Yes, beer has a lot to thank wine industry for because it taught people about flavours and matching food to wine. The same principals translate to beer. We have high quality beer at our disposable, craft beer has that aura of sophistication and this wonderful complexity and diversity that hasn’t been found in beer in a long time. People are beginning to understand it can be just as good a match for food.

This was first published in The Daily Telegraph’s Best Weekend magazine on Apr 12, 2014

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