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It’s September and a time for football and tailgates.  So forget the wine and cheese parties – the best partner for cheese isn’t wine, after all – it’s BEER.  Die-hard wine enthusiasts (myself included) may scoff at the notion but, the grain-based nature of beer, which gives it its earthy, yeasty, musty, fruity, floral nuances, jibe in a way that wine simply cannot.  Wine can make a good partner for cheese but it will never be its soul mate.

Although you’ll find many happy matches that break the following rules, these guidelines are a good starting point for bringing the two together in harmony.  Whether a pale ale, pilsner, wheat ale or dry stout, you’ll find that beer has a broad range of flavors that link up easily with the flavors in cheese.

Match strength with strength — delicate cheeses work best with delicate beers, and strongly flavored cheeses demand assertive beers. Intensity of flavor may involve many aspects: alcoholic strength, malt character, hop bitterness, sweetness, richness, toastiness and so on.  When it comes to pungent washed-rind cheeses, I prefer some of the darker ales, porters and stouts.  These beers have a bready character, hint of chocolate malt and less hops bitterness that can stand nose to nose with big washed-rind flavors.  Good cheddars are sharp, bright and fruity, and you could say the same about good American pale ales.  They, too, make a great match.

Think about Texture — Richer cheeses succeed when paired with more effervescent beers. Crisp, clean and refreshing, light lagers serve as a palate cleanser and pair well with dense, creamy cheeses. Conversely, beers with density and substantial mouth-feel might not be the best choice for a triple-crème.

Find Harmonies – Combinations often work best when they share some common flavor or aroma elements.  Complementary tastes really have the potential to elevate your sensory experience.  Goudas tend to have a big caramel flavor with nutty undertones.  They match up with brown ales or amber ales that have lots of caramel flavor, too.  Even October or Christmas Ale with their clove and cinnamon aromatics blend well with the sweet nutty flavors of Goudas.

Consider Contrast – In the case of beer and cheese, opposites do attract to create a yin-yang experience.  Bock-style beers are rich and malty with a creamy finish.  Contrast the slightly sweet, creamy finish of a bock with salty, nutty cheeses, such as aged Pecorino, Parmigiano Reggiano or aged cheddar.  A bold, rich chocolate stout with toasty nut-like aromas complements a sharp, salty and intense blue cheese perfectly.

It’s a fun change of pace to drink craft beer with cheese instead of wine.  Here are some of my favorite soul mate pairings:

Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill paired with Cherry Kriek Beer:  Sweet Grass Dairy, located in Thomasville, Georgia, produces this rich, creamy, buttery, soft-ripened cheese that is probably the best brie-style cheese made here in the U.S.   Berries and cherries are a traditional pairing for soft-ripened cheeses like Green Hill so finding a soul mate beverage was obvious.  Here I’ve taken a spin on it with Kriek Beer, a sparkling and sweet Belgian Lambic with the intense flavor of fresh, ripe cherries.  Try it and you’ll agree.

Beaufort paired with Belgian witbier:  Beaufort is a tiny farm town in the northeastern Haute-Savoie region of France.    This AOC cheese is a massive wheel of creamy, ivory, raw cow’s milk, much like Swiss Gruyère weighing in at 80 pounds.  It has a firm texture underneath a beige rind with no granularity and a mild, fruity, sweet flavor.  It melts extremely well, think fondue.  The spices of the Belgian witbier – coriander, orange peels and other “secret” flavor ingredients – make it a natural fit for the nutty and fruity Beaufort and other Alpine cheeses.

Vintage 5-year Gouda paired with Green Flash Brewing Company Nut Brown Ale:  For the perfect balance of salty and sweet, no cheese rivals Vintage Gouda from Holland.  Deep caramel in color, crunchy and flaky, yet meltingly smooth on the tongue, this cheese bursts with flavor.  The hint of butterscotch at the finish is a signature of this cheese and why I have dubbed it my cheese candy.  It melts in your mouth and begs to be washed down with this rich, nutty ale.

Colston Bassett Stilton paired with Below Decks Barley beer:  Yes, even Stilton has a soul mate out there in the beer world (don’t tell Port).  I tend to go for stronger beers with some residual sugar, where the cheese and beer can disappear into each other; like strong stouts and barleywine style ales.   Stilton’s creamy, piquant paste is the perfect contrast for this sweet, mellow beer.

The simple fact is that cheese and beer are ideal partners.  So, when an artisanal cheesemaker and a craft beer brewer joined forces to infuse cheese with beer, the results were nothing short of spectacular.  Rogue Creamery and Rogue Brewing Company don’t only have their name in common.  Earlier this year they introduced the award winning Rogue Chocolate Stout Cheddar.  The cheddar curds are hand-rolled in Rogue Ale’s Chocolate Stout and Dagoba organic chocolate and when the curds are pressed it creates a beautiful ivory-brown marbled appearance.  Richly flavored beer and cheese all intertwined in one scrumptious bite-now that’s what I call soulmates!

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