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Beer’s freshness, carbonation, and intricate flavours make it the perfect pairing with cheese. And while wine and cheese pairing are common knowledge, learning to pair beer and cheese can unlock a whole new world of flavour.

“Beer is so uniquely positioned to be great with cheese,” says beer sommelier Roger Mittag. “Both are originally farmhouse creations that have been fermented and aged, and the characteristics of beer help to bring out the best of both. The sweetness in beer (from malt) often helps reduce cheese's saltiness or acidity. Carbonation in beer (plus bitterness from hops) helps cleanse our palates just a little so that we can enjoy beer and cheese without losing either.”

There are no hard-and-fast rules when pairing beer and cheese, but there are some principles to keep in mind.

Everybody’s palate is different. “Some pairings might be home runs for you and not for your friends, and that is OK,” says brewer Jeremy Taylor from 2 Crows Brewing in Halifax. “These events are best if they spark conversation. They’d be boring if everyone was munching and nodding their heads.”

Have fun. “My best suggestion is to get a variety of cheeses and a variety of beers and let people try many combinations,” says Mittag. “Most beers are really decent pairings, but every once in a while, you'll get something that blows your mind.” 

Strong cheeses need strong beers. Light cheeses need light beers. “Balance, intensity, and weight of cheese and beer should be similar,” says Gregory Burns, executive chef at the Prince George Hotel in Halifax. “For example, a barrel-aged beer with a high ABV (alcohol by volume) won’t work with a mild light cheese.
We are looking for similar intensity.”  

Pairings should complement. “It might help to think about what you would normally pair the cheese with,” explains Taylor. “Do you like a bit of honey with cheddar? Look for a sweeter beer to pair. Think citrus flavours would work well with fresh, soft cheese? Look for a wheat beer with citrus notes.” 

What grows together, pairs together. “Often in the world of wine, we speak of terroir and what grows together, pairs together,” says Burns. “Sol beer from Mexico, for example, pairs great with avocados (think of guacamole and chips). For instance, a local way of thinking is Propeller Brewing’s Bohemian-style pilsner pairs beautifully with local oysters and mussels.”


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Some pairings to try

Dragon’s Breath Blue
with stout or IPA

Dragon’s Breath Blue is a surface-ripened blue cheese that has become cheesemaker Willem van Den Hoek’s signature piece. Produced at That Dutchman’s Cheese Farm in Upper Economy, N.S., the black wax-covered cheese is a complex creamy, sweet, and tangy layering. To eat it, slice off the top and scoop out blobs of pungent deliciousness. When selecting a beer to pair with the richness of blue cheese, a malty, dark porter with notes of bitterness from the hops cut through the creamy richness of the blue and complements the texture and flavour.
“I would use a stout or an IPA, possibly even a fruit beer,” says Mittag. “For a stout, Cereal Killer from Big Spruce is a must-have. The glory here is that the chocolate and coffee notes reduce the impact of the saltiness and pungency of Dragon’s Breath. For an IPA, Propeller’s Galaxy would be beautiful. The tropical fruit notes would bring down the pungency a touch, and then we have the tropical fruit sweetness working in harmony with the saltiness of the cheese.”

Knoydart Sharp Cheddar and Truffles
with brown ale

Nestled on the bucolic coastline of the Northumberland Strait, near Merigomish in Nova Scotia, is a family-owned dairy making a range of organic cheese curds and cheddar cheese. With passionate cheesemaker Frazer Hunter at the helm, the dairy is renowned for its grass-fed Holstein and Jersey cows, who transfer the unique terroir of the area and a salty quality from ocean breezes into each cheese. A piquant cheddar combined with truffles brings an earthy flavour. “For this cheese, we want a beer with some depth in savoury notes, preferably a brown ale or a Vienna lager from Tatamagouche Brewing,” explains Mittag. “Instead of keeping things separate, we want to highlight the more interesting parts of the cheese. In this cheese, we also have truffles. which need a beer with some umami or earthiness.
A brown ale is perfect.”

 

Fox Hill Smoked Gouda
with Irish red ale

A sixth-generation dairy farm, Fox Hill Cheese House in Port Williams, N.S., produces cheese from the milk of the farm’s 50 Jersey and Holstein cows. The salty marsh of the nearby Wellington Dyke and the rich land surrounding Fox Hill Farm, where most of the forage for the herd grows, results in a uniquely flavoured feed that leads to high-quality cheese. This semi-hard gouda has a slight tanginess and subtle smoked flavour. “It’s got wonderful buttery notes and depth of flavour,” says Mittag. “When there’s an added touch of smoke to it, you need a beer that has excellent carbonation to cut the richness of the cheese and balance out that smoke. I would pair this with an Irish Red Ale like Boxing Rock Temptation Red or a classic IPA like Gahan 1772, where the malt body helps to bring out the caramel, and the citrus reduces the smoky notes.”

 

Cows Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar
with fruity IPA

Crafted in the fashion of classic British cheddars, Cows Creamery’s Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, made in Charlottetown, P.E.I., follows a recipe that originated from the Orkney Islands found north of mainland Scotland. The cheese is handcrafted using milk sourced from Holstein cows on small local farms nestled among the rolling hills of Prince Edward Island. This natural milk, gently warmed without pasteurization, encourages the nurturing of beneficial microbes that enhance the cheese’s depth of character and overall flavour. The iron-rich soil and salty air of P.E.I. further enhance and refine the cheese’s flavour profile. Wrapped in a breathable cloth, this cheddar ages superbly to develop an even richer, robust flavour.

“Cow’s Clothbound Cheddar has a nice fruity note to it and a bit of a tang to the finish, so I would pair with 2 Crows Space Words,” says Taylor. “It’s a super fruit-forward IPA with massive amounts of tropical-tasting hops. If you want to kick the pairing up a notch, drizzle a bit of local honey on that cheddar. The extra sweetness brings out the best in the beer and the cheese.”

 

Holmstead Feta with witbier or light lager

Nick and Susan Tziolas established Holmstead Cheese in scenic Aylesford, N.S., in 1985 and started selling their handmade feta door-to-door. Made with cow’s milk, this semi-soft feta, cured in 17 to 20 per cent salt brine, has a subtle sweetness and crumbly texture. “If I want to reduce the saltiness, I recommend a lager or a fruit beer like Upstreet Brewing’s Rhuby Social — a strawberry, rhubarb witbier," says Mittag. “But if I want to bring out the barn and grassy character of a feta, I recommend something with a bit of its own funk like 2 Crows, out of the beautiful foeders (oak barrels).”

“Holmstead Feta, with its tangy, fresh, and briny character, will work nicely with our AC Light Lager. AC is bright, fresh, easy, and crisp and will serve as a bright little complement to the cheese,” says Taylor. “Nothing overpowering, just a hint of malt-bready character.”


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