Three cheers for beer!
International Beer Day takes place on the first Friday in August every year. In this blog post, I’m raising a glass and bringing you some of my favourite beer and cheese combos.
HISTORY OF BEER AND CHEESE
Beer and cheese has been enjoyed across Europe as far back as Neolithic times. It is believed that one of the reasons farming began in Britain was to produce more crops to make beer and rear more milk-producing animals to make cheese. As well as tasting great, the fermentation process acted as a natural preservative, preventing the beer and cheese from spoiling.
Historians discovered that Europeans during this time were lactose intolerant. People started making cheese to reduce the amount of lactose in their diets while still benefitting from the nutrition in dairy. Ceramics from this time have revealed evidence of cheesemaking as well as the production of other dairy products such as yogurt. It wasn’t until the Late Bronze Age when Europeans started to inherit a genetic mutation that allowed them to digest milk. This introduced the enzyme lactase into people’s guts, which helps to break down the lactose in the body.
THE PANDEMIC’S EFFECT ON THE BREWING INDUSTRY
COVID-19 had a drastic impact on the brewing industry in the UK and over 200 breweries have closed since the pandemic began. The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) also estimates that 87 million pints of beer were thrown away due to pub closures during lockdown.
The brewing sector, like the cheese industry, had to adapt its practices to survive during the pandemic. This included reducing the range of beers produced, changing from keg and cask to bottled and canned beer and moving their businesses online.
Although some regions have seen a bounce-back, a combination of factors are still hitting breweries hard. These include increased grain prices, higher production costs and the impact of the cost-of-living-crisis on people’s spending habits.
Looking for ways to support the British brewing industry and local independent brewers? Head over to the Society of Independent Brewers Association (SIBA), Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and BBPA websites. They have information on current campaigns, latest news and upcoming beer festivals and events across the UK.
When thinking about cheese and drink pairings, many people’s first thought goes to wine. However some cheeses, like Cheddar or Wensleydale, match better with beers. This is because they both share similar flavour profiles – sweet, salty, nutty, caramel, creamy, citrusy and earthy. The carbonation of some beers also helps to cut through the richness of certain cheeses. Here are a few of my favourite beer pairings with different styles of cheese.
These fresh cheeses such as Buratta, Mozzarella, Lypiatt, Dorstone or Driftwood are aged for a very short amount of time, anywhere from 24 hours to a week. They have little to no rind which means they have to be eaten within a short timeframe. Some fresh cheeses are rolled in ash or activated charcoal which acts as a preservative.
This style of cheese usually has a delicate taste, which means it needs to be paired with a beer that isn’t going to overpower the subtle flavour. A lighter pale ale or wheat beer would be a good option. The beer amplifies the cheese’s creamy notes and the cheese helps to boost the citrus notes in the beer.
Bloomy rind cheeses
A classic example of this cheese would be a Brie or Camembert. They are injected with a mould during the production process. This allows a firmer rind to form around the outside, with a soft, gooey paste in the middle.
Think rich, buttery and creamy flavours. Younger cheeses can have a lactic or yogurt-like tang to them. As these cheeses mature the flavours becomes more intense – buttered cabbage, mushroom or even a slight taste of ammonia.
With these types of cheeses, citrusy and juicy ales are a good choice because the fruity notes in the beer complement the creaminess of the cheese. They also partner well with a Belgian Kriek fruit beer or a blonde beer.
Many of these cheeses fall under the British territorial category. This means they’re named after the place they were made, such as Cheddar, Wensleydale, Cheshire or Lancashire.
The flavours can range from creamy, buttery, nutty, lemony, salty, milky, mushroom and caramel. They will often have a well-flavoured and harder rind.
These cheeses partner especially well with beer and you can opt for quite a few different styles to complement your cheese. I particularly like hazy or hoppy IPAs and citrusy pale ales. With more delicate tasting cheeses you could opt for a lighter lager, Helles or Kölsch beer. With bolder-flavoured cheeses you could even go for something a little more full-bodied like an amber or golden ale.
The clue here is in the name, these cheeses have been washed in liquid, usually brine or alcohol. The result is a pungent and heavily flavoured cheese, often with a wrinkled and slightly sticky rind. Examples of this cheese include Stinking Bishop, Epoisses, Rollright, St Helena and Merry Wyfe. The flavour of these cheeses can be meaty, creamy, fruity, salty and, in the case of the cheeses washed with alcohol, slightly boozy.
With stronger flavoured cheeses you can afford to match them with a beer that packs a powerful punch. Saison, gose and fruit beers are a perfect accompaniment to washed-rind cheeses. The sour or fruity flavours can help to cut through the richness and the funk in the cheese.
Most blue cheeses contain the Penicillium roqueforti mould, which allows distinctive blue veins to develop during the ageing process. These cheese include Stilton, Roquefort, Dolcelatte, Stichelton and Shepherd’s Purse. Although their appearance can be fairly similar their flavours can differ wildly. From creamy to earthy, spicy to savoury, meaty to metallic.
The classic pairing is Stilton with port, a fortified wine with flavours of ripe berries, bitter chocolate or roasted coffee. For a beer option, try a stout or a porter, where the grains are roasted to release more of the toasted, nutty and caramel flavour.
It’s the rich, sweet notes in the beer that help to enhance the creaminess in the cheese and amplify its umami and salty taste. A classic, comforting and very moreish pairing, but it can be a little overpowering for some. If you’re new to pairing beer and cheese, it might be better to start out with something a little more subtle in flavour.
These are a few of my favourite suggestions but it’s fair to say I’ve had my fair share of cheese and beer pairings that didn’t work so well. If you’re new to pairing beer with cheese, try out your favourite cheese with your beer of choice and go from there. Sometimes contrasting combinations actually make the best matches, so why not mix it up and try some more unusual pairings.
Beer not your thing? Check out my previous cheese of the month posts for some alternative drinks pairings suggestions.