While people often find it really difficult, you don’t have to be the world’s best beer or cheese connoisseur to pair the two together well.
There’s no pairing chairman to answer to, no special degree or certification needed. It’s really as simple as trying the two together and if they taste great, fantastic, job well done.
And if they taste…not so great, then on to the next one. Finding pairings that work should be experimental, and more to the point it should be fun!
That being said, there are a few things to look out for.
In this article, I’ll give you the run-down of what makes a good pairing and what to look out for, as well as my absolute favorite top 10 cheese and beer combinations.
How To Pair Cheese & Beer
There are 4 main criteria to look for when you are making your pairing.
We’ll go through these in a little more detail now but they are as follows: Complementary, Contrasting, Cutting & Cleansing, and Impacting.
The flavors in both your cheese and beer should complement each other well.
You’re looking for things that will connect the two and blend them together seamlessly to make for an enjoyable experience.
How do you know they complement each other? The same way in which we are all aware that chocolate and peanut butter go divinely together.
The richness and creaminess of the chocolate balance out and compliments the sweet nuttiness of the peanut butter.
It’s the same thing with cheese and beer, you’re looking for flavors that go great together. It’s that simple.
This one you’ll have to experiment with a little, because some contrasting flavors go great together, like sweet and acidic fruit jelly with nutty and salty peanut butter, and creamy chocolate with a kick of spicy chili.
However, put together something like tuna and Nutella, well, that’s not going to taste great.
You’ll have to play around with flavors until you drop on something that just works. And hey, that’s part of the fun.
Cutting & Cleansing
Imagine sprinkling a load of cinnamon over a dry cracker. Those two together are going to leave you with a bone dry mouth and everything’s going to taste like that snack for the rest of the day.
The two don’t work together, the cracker isn’t going to neutralize the dryness of the cinnamon, and that flavor is going to overpower your whole mouth.
Flavors that work together well neutralize each other at least to some degree. And it’s the same with beer and cheese.
If you’ve got a particularly creamy or fatty cheese, a bitter beer is going to work well because it will neutralize the cheese flavors.
The carbonation from the beer will cleanse your palette and make eating that cheese a much more pleasant experience.
The impact is basically considering what the flavors of one part of the combination are going to do to the other flavor.
So for example, if you choose a meal such as a light leafy green salad, then a strong imperial stout is just going to overpower the whole meal.
Similarly, if you pick a hearty meal such as a rich stew a light Pilsner will barely be tasted.
A general rule of thumb is that a light meal (or cheese) requires a lighter beer, while a super strong and smelly cheese is going to want to be paired with an equally strong-flavored beer.
Another tip that might help is that what grows together usually goes together.
So a Mexican beer is a strong bet for pairing with chips and guac for example. Where as a Spanish beer will often complement a Paella.
My Top 10 Beer & Cheese Pairings
Pepper Jack Cheese & Scottish Style Ale
Pepper Jack cheese sure is tasty, but you do need to be careful what beers you pair with it.
The cheese is typically very sweet and creamy and then joined by several herbs and spices.
Alcohol, and bitter hops, in particular, do have the potential to enhance the chili within the cheese. And none of us want to be panting like a dog while we enjoy some beer and cheese.
Instead, I prefer to go with a nice Scottish Style Ale which contrasts the cheese perfectly. It brings out the smokiness and spice in a way that isn’t overpowering.
The malty sweetness really pairs nicely with the cheese for a truly enjoyable experience.
Feta Cheese & Belgian-Style Witbier/Blonde
Who doesn’t love Feta cheese? It has a very particular and recognizable creamy and tangy flavor that doesn’t overpower lots of ingredients.
It’s great to get that distinctive taste, without that being the only flavor that you actually taste.
A nice light beer such as a Belgian-Style Witbier or Belgian-Stye Blonde compliments this cheese really well.
They too are fairly distinctive, yet soft and light flavors. From each sip and taste, you’ll be able to distinguish and enjoy both tastes equally.
Goat’s Cheese & American-Style Pale Ales
I love a good goat’s cheese, in particular, the creamy, sweet yet tart, distinctively earthy spreadable kind.
I find that a lot of people make the mistake of assuming that they should pick a particularly light beer for this cheese. But in my opinion, it’s not quite as light as you may think.
And the delicious taste of an American-Style Pale Ale pairs perfectly with this type of cheese.
The spice of the alcohol with that tasty cheese compliments each other exquisitely.
Smelly Cheese (Bleu/Stilton) & Barley Wines/Imperial IPA
Stilton cheese, you either love it or you hate it. I can’t get enough of the stuff. It’s such a complex and strong flavor that you just can’t find in many other cheeses.
It tends to be quite creamy, nutty, and earthy. And it’s certainly bold – a light beer won’t touch this cheese.
When it comes to this cheese, you need to pick something that’s going to make an impact, as we spoke about earlier.
A good barley wine or Imperial IPA is the perfect choice for such a cheese.
Gruyere & English Bitters/American-Style Amber Ale
This sweet, creamy, and salty swiss cheese needs either a rich and complex malt beer or a spicy/earthy hop to truly compliment its flavors.
This is why I absolutely adore to pair it with a nice English bitter or an American Style amber ale.
Parmesan Cheese & Belgian-Style Gueuze/IPA
Parmesan cheese is absolutely delicious, especially sprinkled over a good pasta dish. But what beer does it go well with?
Well, there are a few options you can choose from. You can choose to contrast the salty yet creamy cheese with a refreshing and light wheat beer.
But I much prefer a complimentary option that comes with a delicious Belgian-style Gueuze or even those notes of grassy hops that come with an IPA.
Havarti & Dry Stout
Havarti is a super creamy and very sweet flavored cheese. It’s fairly acidic and buttery too. Delicious. But quite a lot for your palette to take in at once.
It’s quite thick and leaves quite an aftertaste, so I think it’s super important to choose a fairly dry-bodied and high-carbonated beer for this cheese.
I think that a dry stout works as the perfect palette cleanser with this cheese. And both are super tasty to try!
Cheddar Cheese & Irish-Style Reds
This is a cheese I’m pretty sure everyone has in their refrigerator right now. And that’s because it’s popular for its versatility of being either mild, sharp, or extra sharp.
Usually, this cheese tends to be bitter, earthy, and yet creamy and sweet.
We’ll stick with the rule of what grows together goes together here. And so we’ll take a trip to the United Kingdom for our beer of choice today.
While British bitters and stouts do go great with cheddar, I just don’t think you can beat a good Irish-style red.
Manchego & Light & Fruity Largers
Manchego is a Spanish cheese that combines excellent flavors together. Honestly, there’s a little bit of everything. It’s mild and somewhat subtle, with nutty, grassy, earthy, and creamy flavors.
There are quite a lot of beers that go well with this cheese, just because there are so many flavors within it to compliment or contrast.
But light and fruit largers contrast perfectly with those more earthy flavors, in my opinion.
Christmas Cheese (Brie & Camembert) & Bohemian-Style Pilsners
I love Christmas for many reasons, but the fact that brie and camembert seem to make such large appearances on festive menus is definitely one of my main reasons.
But when you’re tucking into that super creamy and buttery, and in the case of camembert, mushroomy, soft, and melted cheese, what drink should you be washing it down with?
For me, you need a beer that’s going to make an impact and cut through those thick and creamy flavors.
A Bohemian-style pilsner is the absolute best option here hands down. It pairs so well.
It’s important to remember there are no real rules or regulations when it comes to pairing beer and cheese.
Sure there are tips and tricks to follow to help you make that match made in heaven. But experiment about, put your palette to the test and go with whatever tastes great to you!