In the introduction to her book, “Cheese & Beer” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $19.99), food and wine writer Janet Fletcher writes, “Nobody needs convincing that beer and cheese go together.”
A decade ago, that might have been a startling statement, especially coming from a resident of California’s wine country.
“I live in Napa, and I’m married to a winemaker, so we do drink a lot of wine,” Fletcher says during a recent conversation, then laughs a little. “But that’s why beer has been such a fun discovery, because it was not really a part of my life for a long time. It’s been this amazing journey that I know is going to be part of my life going forward.
“I actually think there’s more in beer that’s harmonious with cheese. The malt gives you aromas that range from toast to caramel and coffee and those are really appealing with the aromas that you get from cheese, and especially aged cheese. There are just a lot of aromatics echoes between beer and cheese that you don’t find with wine.”
Of course, as most beer lovers know, there’s another major thing beer has as going for it as a compliment to food in general and cheese in particular.
“Carbonation is a big factor,” Fletcher says. “Apart from sparkling wine, you don’t have that with wine. Carbonation is really very cleansing. You’ve got this fatty cheese on your palate, and then you clean it up with a nice sip of beer that’s got those scrubbing bubbles.”
As a guide for both beginners and aficionados, “Cheese & Beer” begins with primers on buying, storing and serving beer and cheese, and then goes on to suggest pairings according to a variety of ale and lager styles.
“I’ve never found a cheese I can’t pair with a beer,” Fletcher declares. “There’s a beer for every cheese.”
But Fletcher does have favorites, which she describes in terms of “affinities.”
“I love beers that are really malt-forward, like bock and doppelbock,” she says. “They go with cheeses that are nutty, like Alpine-type cheeses, or buttery blue cheeses.
“Another great match for this time of year is strong imperial porter or stout with an aged gouda. Because of their candy-like butterscotch flavors, they go really well with the high alcohol and robust malt in those beers.”
In explaining how she approaches pairing, Fletcher says she puts each beer on a spectrum.
“There’s an alcohol spectrum, a malt spectrum, a hops spectrum, and a carbonation spectrum,” Fletcher says. “And once you plot a beer out in your mind from low to high along those spectrums, you know where to go with the cheese.”
Of course, hoppy beers are a bit more difficult to pair with food, including cheese, but Fletcher takes on IPA and even double IPA in one chapter, noting that the bitterness makes a welcome “chaser” for high-fat cheeses such as triple-creams.
“I love hoppy beers, and they have many good cheese affinities,” she says. “They’re really fun with some of the cheeses that have peppercorns in them with echoes of the spicy notes in the hops.”
When it comes to cooking with cheese and beer, Fletcher admits she doesn’t have much experience, explaining that the expensive cheese she tends to buy would be wasted on the likes of macaroni and cheese.
But we decided to take that notion as a challenge. And we experimented using three different beer and cheese pairings as ingredients for dishes that range over three courses.
A take on the classic tricolore salad with nutty Thomasville Tomme gets tossed with a wheat beer dressing. A hearty fondue with silky, buttery gruyere bubbles up with a pilsner instead of the usual dry white wine. And a rich cream cheesecake gets richer with a strong stout.
These recipes bring beer and cheese together in dishes that are quick and easy to make and feature both bold and nuanced flavor combinations. Pair them with the beers used in each dish, and you’ll have a three-course dinner.
Tricolore Salad With Thomasville Tomme and German-style Wheat Beer Dressing
This contemporary take on the classic Tricolore Salad highlights a colorful trio of greens and a nutty, fruity trio of cheese, pears and toasted pecans, all tossed with a zesty wheat beer dressing.
Easy Beer and Cheese Fondue
Though it’s most often made with dry white wine, this rich cheese fondue gets a jolt of hearty malt flavor and hop aroma, plus a touch of bitterness from substituting a cup of pilsner-style beer. Choose a lighter lager for less beer flavor.
Ginger Stout Cheesecake
A blend of dark chocolate and strong stout, and a crust made with spicy crushed ginger snaps, make this creamy cheesecake a surprise dessert that works well as the final course for a beer dinner.