Autumn’s the time to enjoy longer evenings and richer food.
One traditional way to complement warming beers is with quality cheese. Kieran Haslett-Moore (brewer at North End Brewing) has worked as both a beer retailer and cheesemonger. He has a love for both today, and regularly designs and hosts beer and cheese pairing events.
Beertown.NZ: Cheese and beer are both fermented foods. Does that help them to work together?
Kieran Haslett-Moore: I think fermented foods go well together, for sure. Bread, cheese, beer, pickles – all these things that use fermentation tend to have an affinity with each other.
Going back into the history of beer and cheese, they both started as a way of mankind taking the harvest and preserving it through fermentation. Both started in a farmhouse setting, both went through a period of industrialisation and became bland and boring for a while, and both came out the other end in an artisan renaissance.
As for the ways they specifically work, beer’s carbonation helps to lift the milk fat off the palate and clear it for another bite. Hop bitterness, or sour beers’ acidity, can help to cut through the richness of the cheese.
Some some of the more successful matches we have found through years of tastings have been beers with big crystal malt/caramel/toffee characters with rich hard cheeses like aged cheddars and Gouda.
The most popular matches are often so harmonious that you don’t know where the beer ends and the cheese begins. You’re talking big, rich English-style strong ales with aged cheddars, or German-style Bocks with aged Gouda – those two pairings are perennial favourites.
Beertown.NZ: The ploughman’s lunch is the obvious trad beer and cheese pairing, with an English bitter and cheddar cheese.
KHM: I’d say if you walk down the street and asked people about beer and cheese, then, after they’ve said all sorts of silly things about wine, the one match they’ll name is the ploughman’s lunch. Depending on how punchy your cheddar is you might be better off going with a Burton ale or strong ale like Fullers 1845 (6.3%) or a Pink Elephant Mammoth (7%) or something like that.
The ultimate is having those two together then something sharp like a Granny Smith apple or a pickled onion to jolt the palate and then start again.
Beertown.NZ: Lots of brewers are doing beers soured with Lactobacillus, which is also used to ferment cheese. Does that mean they make a good match?
KHM: Sour beers can work beautifully with cheese. We always look to match funk with funk – washed rind cheeses, with that bacteria going on the rinds, matched with a funky sour beer can work really well. The beer’s acidity can cut through a cheese that’s oozy and mouth-coatingly rich.
Beertown.NZ: Where can I look to find good cheese then?
KHM: It’s best going to a specialist retailer. Some owner-operator supermarkets are good, and Hastings New World has the most amazing cheese department. But the best bet is to go to specialist retailers, particularly if they are hiring staff with specialist cheese knowledge.
Beertown.NZ: So we’ve got our good beer and found some good cheese. How should we taste them?
KHM: If you’re looking simply at beer and cheese pairing, you only need to have bread or crackers to go with them. If you want something more, try including chutneys and pickles.
The beer should be at cellar temperature and the cheese needs to breathe and come up towards room temperature. You don’t want a big temperature difference between the cheese and the beer. I take a cheese out of the fridge in the morning so I can enjoy it in the evening!
And you should be thinking about progressing up through intensity of flavours as you go through a range of beer and cheese pairings. Start with something light and work your way through.