I always enjoy writing about beer, but when I say “cheese” something happens to the majority of people that lets me know they feel the same added excitement, the sense of attainable luxury, and the anticipation of an accessible treat that gives me my most photo-ready smile.
Beer and cheese are perfect partners! Way better than wine, just trust me, or message me and ask why. Beer is made from the same ingredients as the crackers you use as a vehicle for your dairy delights. It has bitterness and carbonation to combat cheese’s fatty, salty intensity, and a far more diverse range of flavours to twin with those in the cheese than wine could ever hope to provide. Both also share a bucolic history of farm production, and in recent decades have a groundswell of artisan enthusiasm restoring the respective products to their full complex, diverse glory following years of post-war-consumer-capitalist-monoculture. No lecture, you’ll ultimately make your decision on whether you join the ranks of beer and cheese pairing enthusiasts as a result of trying out the following suggestions.
Also, any cheeseboard would be empty without Saison2’s spent-grain crackers, thus naturally we’re talking three-way pairings:
Saison 2 Crackers
Beer: Champ Libre (mercier)-
simplicité Volontaire Special edition, 4.8%
boosting Condiment :Pesto (I just did my own with carrot and walnuts)
Crackers Saison 2: Newfoundland Sea Salt & Olive Oil
At the lighter end of the intensity scale, Burrata, fresh, leaking creamy strachiatella – but extremely delicate – can be easily overwhelmed. A crisp Pilsner has just enough hop bite to cut through the creaminess, and a lemony, herbaceous hop profile to add an appropriate level of augmentative flavour. A drizzle of good quality olive oil and some sea salt sprinkled on the cheese, I’d be a fool not to dip into our salt and olive oil biscuits for this ensemble to enhance the beer’s flavour.
Beer: HERMITE (victoriaville) –
Orange & Coriander Witbier, 5.5%
cheese: CROTTIN DE L'ATELIER (La Fromagerie L'Atelier, centre-du-québec)
boosting CONDIMENT : Fresh apple/pear slices
Crackers Saison 2: Fennel & Black Pepper
The goaty, lactic quality to this funky chèvre’s flavour, while remaining low-moderate on the intensity scale, demands a step up from a Pilsner, and some characterful aromatics. For me, a blanche; it’s notes of orange peel and coriander really dance with the aromas of the cheese, while the finely moussed, creamy mouthfeel and tart edge mirror those same qualities in the cheese. A dry finish keeps the whole affair relatively refreshing, which is key when tackling an entire cheeseboard. Our fennel and black pepper biscuits echo the beer’s spicy aromatics, elevate the complexity of the cheese, and offer a lovely cereal base to support all the dairy and fruit notes.
Beer: HERMITE (victoriaville) –
Les fermières saison 1, 6%
cheese: la bête à séguin (Fromagerie de l'Isle, isle-aux-grues)
Crackers Saison 2: Fennel & Black Pepper
So multifaceted is this biscuit that we can add a whole other pairing. This time let’s take a punchier, bloomy rind cheese, with a high fat content and a bucketload of barnyardy hay and mushroom notes. Crack into a Saison, with a little more black pepper aroma, and certainly some additional left-field farmyard funk. This pairing is a black pepper party, like you’re crunching the peppercorns yourself between your teeth. Some Brett would be nice here, to echo the cheese’s pungency, while the dryness of the Saison yeast lightens and scrubs away the buttery body’s residue from the tongue. This example is 6% and fairly robust to stand up to the very fragrant cheese, but a lighter Saison would need a more relaxed Brie style.
Beer: Le Castor(rigaud) –
Yakima IPA, 6,5%
cheese: Agropur 5-year aged Cheddar
Boosting Condiment: Artisan Mustard from Gourmet Sauvage (with pine if you really like pine, but I love the white wine variant)
Crackers Saison 2: Balsam Fir & Garlic
Taking it up a couple of notches, no cheese board is complete without a cheddar, and I like mine aged and bold. Rather than creaminess here, we’re searching to combat the intense saltiness of this powerful cheese, while playing off the fruity tang we covet so much. “Fruity tang” sends me straight to an aromatic IPA, where we can simply match the hoppy-ness to the strengths of the cheese (English IPA for moderate, classic examples, or new world IPA for real flavour bombs). It’s fun to notice the citrus and stone fruit in American hops tease out the fruitiness of the cheese. Remember we still want bitterness here, so a NEIPA won’t do the job.
The caramel body of a west coast IPA highlights the sweet flavours of the cheese and is actively enhanced through play with the crystalline salt. I encountered a perfect cancelling out of bitterness and fat in this pairing to allow the fruity aromatics to really sing; the resulting peachiness of the beer was crazy, and like nothing you could experience drinking it alone. Our pine and garlic biscuits link the resinous side of the IPA to the cheese through a crunchy cereal conduit, creating a missing link in the love triangle.
Beer: Emporium(québec) –
Grande Cremosa Sweet Stout, 7,5%
cheese: Bleu d’Élizabeth(Fromagerie du Presbytère, centre-du-québec)
Boosting Condiment: Jalapeno Honey or Chilli Fig Jam (both insane)
Crackers Saison 2: Habanero Chilli & Paprika
Shout out Garrett Oliver (Quebecers look him up, the O.G.). Two titans of flavour meet, the creaminess liquid and solid intertwine and fill the mouth-space, while roasted chocolate sweetness plays off intense saltiness of the cheese like your favourite salt-sweet dishes. Just mesmerising. The umami from both really shines in this particular combo; soy-sauce, Marmite®, hazelnut and mushroom melding with the aged blue funk. The roast of the malt draws out a meatiness that can come with a blue, which is key to my biscuit inclusion. Our habanero flavour, full of green, dry heat on its own, mediates this trio by offering a piquancy to penetrate the veins of the blue. The roast bitterness and rich lactose quality of the beer keep the spice in check; the same concept as a blue cheese sauce with buffalo wings or rack of BBQ ribs. It’s a real explosion of flavour and can take some understanding but at its best it is breath-taking. Add one of these condiments for more mind-blowing sweet fruit and spice.
In a lightning round which I stole from my favourite food podcast Off Menu, I want to tip my cap to a couple of other combinations that yield great results. I love the paprika of our Habanero biscuit with cheddar. IPA and blue cheese can be magical and fun. Aged gouda and any beer with caramel notes, from Bock to Brown, is a sure-fire winner. Sour fruit beers (e.g. Kriek) paired with light, creamy cheese like the Burrata or Marscapone are also a wonderful cheesecake homage. Finally, if you can find an English Barleywine to go with a Stilton, it’s the best of all; it’s just already been written about too often.
While these are guidelines, the most fun way to work your way into this world is simply to grab yourself a cheeseboard of four or five cheeses, and the same number of different styles of beer (also much more economical than wine) and just play with the possibilities, noting what you do and don’t like! It makes for a great evening and I would seriously love it if anyone messaged me their favourite findings.