Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Full-flavored cheeses partner well

Sips: Beer

By Ed Westemeier
Enquirer contributor

Those of us who enjoy full-flavored beers often share a similar taste for full-flavored cheeses. Some of my favorites fall into the category known as "stinky cheeses," but I just say "aromatic."

Many of us will be doing some holiday entertaining this month, and a good cheese plate always seems to be a welcome sight at a party. Unfortunately, the incredible variety of the world's great cheeses can be somewhat daunting when you're trying to figure out what to serve with them.

You can find lots of guidance for which wine to serve with cheese, but that doesn't help if you prefer beer. Yet beer is often a far better match for good cheese, and I'm not the least bit biased about that. Well, OK, but only a little.

Why is beer better than wine with cheese? When you consider the great cheeses of the world, it's clear that most cheese making countries are better known for their beer than their wine. Sure, France may have the widest variety of cheeses, but the majority are made in the northern half of the country, just like most French beers. As for other great cheese countries like Belgium, Denmark, England, Germany, Norway, Scotland, and Wales, I'll bet you can name a typical beer from those countries faster than a typical wine.

Some of my beer connoisseur friends like to say that the giant national beer brands in this country are to real beer as Kraft Velveeta is to real cheese. I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but in general the more flavorful the beer or cheese, the higher the price you're likely to pay.

So, what do you serve with a highly flavored cheese? My first suggestion is to consider the typical beer of the region where the cheese is made. That's what the cheesemaker probably enjoys with it, so it's generally a good choice.

For example, look at those aromatic cheeses I mentioned. The Trappist cheeses, such as Chimay, go beautifully with the beer produced by the Trappists, such as Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle and the rest. What could possibly be a more perfect match than beer and cheese made at the same place? Substitute Port du Salut or the wonderful Gethsemani Farms cheese of Kentucky if you want.

Bottle conditioned ales, are generally good matches for hearty, mold-ripened cheeses as Stilton or Gorgonzola. Many "old ales," such as Old Peculier, will also complement these cheeses well.

The soft, white mold cheeses such as Brie and Camembert seem to be in the "love it or hate it" category. If you're the type who enjoys these cheeses as much as I do, try them with a French saisonor farmhouse ale such as St. Amand. The earthy notes of the beer complement the delicate mold in the cheese rind. Believe it or not, you can also match many English (but not American) ales with these cheeses. Try Fuller's London Pridefor example.

If you enjoy smoked foods, a nice smoked Gouda and a beer made with smoked malt, such as Schlenkerla or Spezial Rauchbier, is a match made in heaven.

The ever-popular Swiss cheeses, and I'll include variations such as Emmental and Jarlsberg, keep improving with age, so look for the oldest examples you can find. Gruyere is another great cheese in the same family. I would match them first with a good porter, but an English brown ale such as Newcastle can be an excellent pairing.

Don't forget the ever-popular aged cheddar. With such a typically English cheese, you'd expect an English beer to go well. Sure enough, almost any good English stout does the job. But here's one you might not expect: try a good Cheddar with a really fine Pilsner beer. The balance and body of top quality Pilsners give them what it takes. Pick up a growler of Flying Pig Pilsner from the BarrelHouse brewery in Over-the-Rhine and see what I mean.

Contact Ed Westemeier by e-mail:

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