While hardly new on the dining scene, beer and cheese pairings seem to be more popular in the fall. Perhaps it’s because seasonal beer makes up 15% to 25% of the more than $19.6 billion in annual craft beer sales according to market research firm IRI. “Cheese is not meant for wine alone,” says Charles Duque, Managing Director of CNIEL, Americas. “While wine and cheese are well known for complementing one another, many gourmet enthusiasts may not know that pairing cheese with beer is just as interesting and delightful for the palate,” said Duque.
Expert Joshua M. Bernstein loves blowing people’s minds about the possibilities of cheese pairings. “Wine might be drinkers’ regular go-to, but beer offers a wealth of styles and approaches suited for every conceivable kind of cheese,” says the Brooklyn-based beer expert and journalist, who regularly contributes to The New York Times, Men’s Journal, New York, Wine Enthusiast and Imbibe, where he’s a contributing editor in charge of beer coverage. “Beer’s scrubbing carbonation cleanses your palate, bite after bite, sip after sip,” adds Bernstein, who’s also the author of four books: Brewed Awakening, The Complete Beer Course, Complete IPA and, most recently, Homebrew World, which was released in this spring.
Cheeses of Europe asked Bernstein to curate pairings specifically for the autumn season. He started by establishing several parameters. First, he opted for more widely available beers instead of geographically limited rarities, preferring to keep the price less than $15 for a six-pack or a large-format bottle. “Beer is one of life’s greatest everyday luxuries,” he says. “You don’t need to spend big to have big, memorable flavors.” Second, as a neat counterpoint to the European cheese, he focused on domestically produced beers. “There are more than 6,000 breweries in America, so it made sense to draw on the domestically produced bounty. Grocery-store shelves and refrigerators are filled with the perfect pairing to everything from brie to a blue.”
Soft-Ripened Cheeses — Brie & Camembert with Saison
“One of my favorite cheese-friendly beers is the Saison, a farmhouse ale with an effervescence that cuts right through a brie’s soft creaminess and the richness of a semi-firm Camembert,” Bernstein says.
He suggests selecting a medium-strength Saison (somewhere in the 6 to 7 percent ABV range) such as Brewery Ommegang’s Hennepin or Goose Island’s Sofie, which is seasoned with citrus peel.
Blue Cheeses — Bleu d’Auvergne and Fourme d’Ambert with Barley Wines
“You need a strong, intense beer such as a barley wine to go toe-to-toe with the gripping flavors of these pungent blues,” Bernstein says. “A barley wine’s strength and sweetness tend to overwhelm most cheeses, but the style meets its match with these blues. Lagunitas Brewing Olde GnarlyWine and Anchor Brewing Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale are two tasty bruisers that you can pour into snifters to sip while snacking on cheese.”
Washed-Rind Cheeses — Pont l’Evêque & Époisses with Wild Beers
“When it comes to finding a running mate for these stinky cheeses, I like to look for beers fermented with Brettanomyces, a wild yeast that lends an earthy, rustic funkiness that complements washed-rind funk,” Bernstein says. “Brett beers, as they’re known have become increasingly common in recent years, most notably Boulevard Brewing’s Saison Brett and Allagash Brewing’s Little Brett, which offers unique notes of blueberries and tropical fruit.”
Hard Cheeses — Mimolette or Cheddar with Brown Ales
“Brown ales may seem boring, but they’re among the most food-friendly beers on the market,” Bernstein says. “The nuttiness of beers such as Tröegs’ Rugged Trail Nut Brown Ale helps them snuggle up to a well-aged cheddar or another hard cheese such as Mimolette, which has a concentrated sweetness that plays well with the brown-sugar depth of Avery’s Ellie’s Brown Ale or the caramel kiss of Brooklyn Brown Ale.”
Semi-firm — Emmental & Comté with Märzens
“Fall is one of my most favorite times of the year for drinking beer, because that means Märzens are here,” Bernstein says. The seasonal style, commonly associated with Oktoberfest celebrations, is a great bridge between summer and fall—brisk refreshment married to malt heft. “This makes Märzens a terrific fit for rich and nutty Emmental as well as savory Comté’s notes of browned butter and roasted nuts,” Bernstein says. Favorite domestic versions include the Oktoberfest from, respectively, Great Lakes and Left Hand, as well as the annual Sierra Nevada collaboration with a German brewery.
“The only thing that could make many beers better is the right wedge of cheese,” Bernstein concludes. “And fall is the perfect time for beer and cheese lovers to experiment and find their perfect pairings.”