5@5 - Cheeses that pair well with beer
May 9th, 2012
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Editor's Note: Emiliano Lee is the Artisan Market Manager at Farmshop in Los Angeles, California. He also serves as a judge for the American Cheese Society.

One of, if not the most, frequently asked questions I field on the cheese counter is, "What's your favorite?" To which I almost always reply, "Well, that depends."

What's ripe? What's tasting particularly good at any given moment? What am I in the mood for? What's the weather like? What am I drinking? Ah, yes, the age-old pairing question.

In the end, it really does boil down to personal taste, but there are certainly some combinations that work better than others.

Many people want to pair wine and cheese, and while I can dance to that, I'm personally more of the malt and hops persuasion. For me, beer is a more natural choice, and as many others will attest to, it plays tremendously well with cheese.

Looking at my cheese case right now, here are a five wheels that are tasting particularly nice along with some of their best drinking buddies.

1. Extra Mature Bandage Wrapped Cheddar by Fiscalini Farmstead Cheese (Modesto, California)
This traditional, farmhouse-style English cheddar speaks to the passion and skill of its cheesemaker, Mariano Gonzalez. This raw milk beauty has won the top spot twice at the World Cheese Awards in London, beating the British on their home turf.

Its dense texture crumbles and melts creamy on the palate, bringing out various sweet and savory notes. Think butter and toasted nuts with hints of caramel and pineapple. Its complexity lends well across the board to many types of beverages (it pairs just as nicely with reds as whites when it comes to wine), but what could be more fitting to pair with a good farmhouse cheddar than a nice hearty ale? There are few pleasures more satisfying.

For some fun, one of my favorite pairings is Lagunitas Brewing Company's India Pale Ale. With the beer's combination of bold hoppiness and deep malty foundation, the complexity of flavor in the cheddar steps up and sings right in tune. Add a hearty rye bread and some pickles and call it a meal.

For a mellower combination, pair with your favorite brown ale or special bitter to bring out the buttery notes and bright fruit.

2. Vivace by Andante Dairy (Petaluma, California)
Cheesemaker Soyoung Scanlan has a reputation for creating some of the finest small batch cheeses available. While we've been familiar with her beautifully crafted goat cheeses reminiscent of the finest you'll find abroad, she has only recently begun to incorporate sheep’s milk from a nearby farm into her repertoire.

Vivace is a blend of sheep's and goat's milk with a delicate rind that holds in an unctuous paste that develops from the outside-in. The creamy texture instantly coats the palate in tongue-smacking delight. Flavors are rich, yet fresh and bright, with sweet hay notes lingering on the finish.

Alpine Beer Company concocts just the beverage to wash this one down: Willy. This beer is full-flavored, yet light enough to be crisp and nutty at the same time. The effervescence cuts through the rich paste of the cheese, leaving you with a mildly sweet finish and bringing out grass in the nose.

In lieu of Willy, pair with a wheat beer of your choice or even a lighter red ale to bring out more of the musky animal notes if that's your kick.

3. Winnimere by Jasper Hill Farm (Greensboro, Vermont)
Andy and Mateo Kehler started Jasper Hill Farm in 2003 and have, in a short several years, become one of this country's preeminent sources for American farmstead cheeses.

Their Winnimere cheese is wrapped in spruce bark from Jasper Hill's own trees and washed with ale from a neighboring brewery. It's best enjoyed by simply peeling back the top rind, allowing the bark to act as a bowl and digging in with a spoon or just a hunk of crusty bread. The silky texture wraps itself around your tongue with a symphony of flavors: sweet, smoky, salty, creamy, fruity, woodsy, beefy. A friend now famously likened it to taking a walk through the bacon forest.

One of my favorite things to have alongside this cheese is dried tart cherries, so a lambic cherry beer like Timmermans Kriek is a perfect pairing with this seasonal wonder. The carbonation helps break down the cheese and bring out individual flavors. The light tartness complements the savory qualities of the cheese, and the cheese itself tones down the sweetness of the beer.

4. Nicasio Reserve by Nicasio Valley Cheese Company (Nicasio, California)
A relative newcomer to the farmstead and artisanal cheese scene, the Lafranchi family has been producing some consistently good cheese in a very short period of time.

One of those cheeses is Nicasio Reserve. The Lafranchi family went to their roots in Valle Maggia, Switzerland, to learn the craft and bring it home to their Marin County farm.

Nicasio Reserve is an Alpine-style cheese that's dense and creamy with a light fruity funk on the nose. Across the palate, the impressive sweet cream flavor of their milk (certified organic, by the way) hits you right off the bat before mellowing into a complex play of stone fruits, grass and hazelnuts. The sweet cream follows through once more on the finish.

This cheese instills warmth, as does the beer I've paired with it: California Ale from Telegraph Brewing. It may be a flavorful medium-bodied beer for a flavorful medium-bodied cheese, but by no means is it a medium-bodied experience.

5. MT  TAM by Cowgirl Creamery (Point Reyes Station, California)
Wherever it's offered, when properly cared for and represented, this cheese is one of the most popular and best-selling - and for good reason. Unlike other more readily available and one-dimensional cheeses, MT TAM has more to offer than its big buttery base.

When ripe, the center of the wheel is soft and luxurious. It's  often likened to vanilla ice cream, and something I'll often eat with whatever seasonal preserves I'm in love with at the moment.

However, this puppy can match up with bold and savory just as well. It's one of the few sweet, creamy cheeses you'll want to pair with a good Pinot.

Triple creams love bubbles. While sparkling wine is a natural match, I like something with a bit more body and flair. In this case, I would suggest Grand Cru, a Belgian-style ale from AleSmith Brewing Company. The bubbles cut through the butterfat, allowing the sweet cream to meld with the various flavors encased in this hefty bottle.

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Beer • Bite • Cheese • Dishes • Sip • Think

soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. Beer Lover

    If ever in the Milwaukee are the Sprecher Brewery always has a good beer and cheese tasting.

    May 11, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  2. KP

    Best pair: Grilled panir (Indian origin cottage cheese) + Ginger beer

    May 11, 2012 at 2:27 am |
    • Varun

      yuck...and I'm indian.

      May 11, 2012 at 4:21 am |
  3. Cheesehead

    Rye Round w/Beer Cheese baby!

    Beer Cheese:
    2 packages – 8 ounce cream cheese
    2 jars – Kraft Old English Cheese Spread
    Garlic to taste
    salt to taste
    1/2 can beer

    May 10, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Chees Lover

      those are not cheeses

      May 11, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  4. jmizzle

    barleywines with gouda...mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm good!

    May 10, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  5. Solo

    Our country is broke. Bring back the "welfare cheese" from the '80's.

    May 10, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • mngirl65

      I liked those big blocks of cheese!ha I'm in Wisconsin, cheese capital, can't believe all of his recommended cheeses are from CA.

      May 10, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
      • Careme

        Hear here!! Wisconsin has some of the BEST artisanal cheese in the country. The best book on making farmstead cheese also comes from your University.

        May 10, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
      • jarlsberg

        Wis cheese is just marketing. Making the most super market cheese is not being the "cheese capital"

        May 10, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
        • Chees Lover

          Amen to that

          May 11, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  6. KWDragon

    These cheese mongers frustrate me. I live four miles north of nowhere, and I can't get any of these. What I would truly appreciate is a more generic list.

    What would I pair with pale ale? What would I pair with a darker lager? Cheddar? Swiss? Brie? You can give me your specific faves, sure, but please include some generalizations for those of us without access to artisan, regional cheeses or beers.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • Ed Gein

      See, now, you don't understand how great of a position you're in. You can start fresh. Experiment, baby, experiment. Go with what rocks your taste buds. For me, the more aromatic the cheese, the more aromatic the beer. Lighter cheeses get lighter beers. Be careful with sharp cheeses, like sharp cheddars, they'll mess your taste buds up a little. Get a good hardy porter or a fresh spring bock and pair it with smoked gouda and a nice nuetral wheat cracker. Mmmmm! Excuse me, it's lunch time.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
      • KWDragon

        Thanks, Ed! I appreciate your thoughtful take on the matter. And your list made me hungry, too!

        May 11, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Mike in Pekin

      Forget the elitists. Eat whatever cheese you like with whatever beer you like. I was a Chef for 20 years, and the thing I hated most was how other chefs would make pronouncements like this, as if any other choice was wrong and somehow shameful. The culinary Arts are and Art, not a science, and as such, are personal to every individual. Want to experiment? Pick your favorite cheese, and your favorite beer, and start from there.

      May 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
      • KWDragon

        Thanks, Mike!

        May 11, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • ban

      with such limited choices you can just try yourself, why ask an expert?

      I imagine the only options you have are:
      -Blue cheese crumbles

      You might have Gruyere which is good for eating plain. You can throw out Provolone and Muenster, those arent for eating plain. Swiss is a lame attempt at americans copying Jarlsberg, you can throw that out too. So your choices are plenty narrow enough to try yourself.

      May 10, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • kegger


      May 10, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
      • keggerator

        Paired with O'Doul's

        May 11, 2012 at 7:00 am |
  7. laughingsunbrewing

    Reblogged this on laughingsunbrewing and commented:
    We've been working on the idea of bringing gourmet cheese to the pub. We would love your comments on that. We would also like to bring some freshly made breads, made with spent grain to the pub as well. Freshly crafted beer, cheese, and bread... sounds delicious to me. What you say?

    May 10, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Ed Gein

      Fresh, warm, soft pretzels are awesome with beer. Had 'em in Munich. Awesome, baby, awesome. Also, don't forget about the Drunk Monk beer (Frazenkahner Heffe-weissen sp?) is known as a liquid wheat bread. The best! Man, I'm thirsty!!!

      May 10, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • DPCFOH

      I say I wish your brewery was in my neighborhood, I'd be there all the time.

      May 10, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  8. Ed Gein

    Let's see...Wisconsin produces the best beer (New Glarus) and the best cheeses (pick almost any) in North America, yet most all of the selections in the article are from CA???? Hmmmm? Me thinks there's a bias is among us. Excuse mewhile I get another beer and some deep fried cheese curds. Mmmmmmm.

    May 10, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • FirstAve

      Wisconsin Beer and Cheese! Can't beat it! Go Packers!

      May 10, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • animalpants

      I won't argue with the cheese because I dont know anything about cheese, but saying Wisconsin makes the best beer in the US is a bit laughable

      May 10, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
      • wavejump1100

        you do realize Milwaukee is in wisconson

        May 10, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      GO NINERS.

      I live 15 minutes away from Leinenkugel Brewery. But I no like it.

      May 10, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • Lenny

      It's OK man, at least this guy did not call his cheeses and beers " the best 5 combinations in the world" like the "50 best restaurants in the world". He just made some recommendations. He's from Los Angeles, so he would recommed things he has tried. Been to WI, awesome beer and awesome cheeses. What about the beer and cheese soup???yummm

      May 10, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • millertime

      hell ya bro, nothing compares to a Miller High Life, they dont know jack about beer, its Miller Time son

      May 10, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  9. Wes Conzen

    How bout American cheese slices & PBR?

    May 10, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Lenny

      That's hilarious. But why not bud light? I think PBR is much better than budlight?

      May 10, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  10. clark

    Hey hammerpants. What do you drink with Frumunda?

    May 10, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      Grundel Juice.

      May 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  11. clark

    Velvetta Sucks! How bout a Bud and some Mootown Snackers?

    May 10, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • ummmmm

      microwave velveta with spicy salza and some chips.... any beer will do, beer is an afterthought actually

      May 10, 2012 at 11:45 am |
      • DPCFOH

        beer should never be and afterthought, at least if you appreciate tasty beer (and Bud Light ain't it)

        May 10, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  12. Wes Conzen

    Yeah Velveeta and Old Milwaukee

    May 10, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  13. Tesla

    Ah, yuppies.

    Notice that all but one of the cheeses are from California? Pshaw. Gimme some Wisconsin love! We do three things here: Beer, Cheese, and Football; and football season is over. More time for beer and cheese!

    May 10, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • Edison

      Just because something is done, doesn't mean it is done well.

      May 10, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • FirstAve

      No love for the Badger State ever...guess I'll have another 12er or 24 beers

      May 10, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Careme

      AMEN!! Wisconsin is still home to some of the greatest cheese in my book. Held's deli about an hour north of Milwaukie (off hwy 49 I think) gets a special trip every time I'm in the area.

      May 10, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
  14. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    Don't forget Frumunda cheese.

    May 9, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
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