Pairing beer and cheese has been a gastronomic delight for centuries, the most common example being the ploughman's lunch. A simple dish of farmhouse cheese, a piece of bread and a few accompaniments matched with a local brew has restored field workers for centuries. The simplicity of matching two fermented products may seem mundane to some; however, simplicity is key to unlocking a host of wonders for your guests.
The basic idea with beer and cheese pairings is to allow each product to stand on its own while complementing each other and keeping the palate intrigued. Take a quick whiff of the beer's aromatics with a taste of the cheese, wash the cheese with a short quaff to get the components of each mingling on the taste buds, then follow with another small bite of cheese.
A good first pairing is a pale ale and English Cheddar. The delicate hops gently rinse the sharp flavors and balance the fat of the cheese. Try the Oskar Blues Brewery's Dales Pale Ale, with a sharp English Cheddar
Stilton and barley wine is another classic pairing. Barley wines, known for their deeply complex almost Madeira-like flavors, and the pungency of the Stilton are a perfect match. Promote the combination for the end of a meal, along with some candied walnuts and experience total decadence. Stone Brewing Company's Old Guardian paired with classic Stilton is pure pleasure.
An applewood-smoked Cheddar paired with a dark lager such as Braueri Hirt's Hirter Morchl or a Weizen Bock such as Capital Brewery's Weizen Dopplebock is sure to intrigue. The dark roasted malt character of both beers and the hints of smoke from the cheese play very nicely together.
A pilsner such as New Glarus Brewing Co.'s Hometown Blonde, paired with Swiss Gruyere yields excellent results. The clean, biscuity flavors of the pilsner combine with the earthy, nutty flavors of the cheese to make a great party starter or fondue match.
Try the Lindemans Cuvee Rene Gueuze Lambic or Brouwerij Oud Beersel Gueuze with a creamy washed rind cheese. The tart, quenching flavors of the Gueuze match up with a runny cheese, and are pure “funk on funk.” It's a pairing that is a little more adventurous, but delightful.
An Imperial Stout with a Dutch Gouda is a killer combination, as the deep-roasted notes of the stout surround the caramel notes in the cheese and meld beautifully. Try Northcoast Brewing Co.'s Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, and let the flavors melt away on your tongue.
Consider which pairings will work best before or after a meal and recommend appropriately. Educate your staff by holding a few beer and cheese tastings of your own to give them the full experience.