News and views | How to organise a beer and cheese tasting

News and views

How to organise a beer and cheese tasting

Today my son Will and I did an artisan cheese and craft beer tasting at the Great British Beer Festival to promote our new book An Appetite for Ale (due out at the end of September. Hint.) It seemed to go down well so I thought it might be something you’d enjoy trying at home with your friends.

What we were aiming to show was not only how good beer is with cheese but to come up with some unexpected pairings that might impress any non-beer drinkers in the party. Here’s what we tasted and why.

Goats' cheese and wheat beer
An ideal pairing to kick off this kind of tasting, both goats cheese and wheatbeer are very versatile, ideal for this time of year. The goats’ cheese was a Golden Cross from Sussex - a goats’ cheese log that was quite well matured and the beer a bière blanche called Colomba from Corsica flavoured with the wild plants of the Corsican Maquis (densely wooded hillsides). The lemony herbal notes of the beer picked up perfectly on the slightly acid cheese. It’s a style of beer I really like to drink with goats’ cheese salads. Any witbier or bière blanche would work equally well.

Camembert and Kriek
Kriek is the famous sour Belgian fruit beer made with cherries. We used Liefman’s for the tasting which has a particularly refreshing sour (but not sharp) cherry flavour. The Camembert we paired it with was an artisanal cheese from Normandy, again well-matured which meant that the rind was a little bitter for the beer. A younger example would have been a better match. The fresh fruity flavours of the beer are a great contrast to the creamy paste (the central part of the cheese).

Cheddar and American IPA
Cheddar is generally paired with pale ales or bitters in this country but they can get overwhelmed if the cheese is very strong. This was the case with this award-winning unpasteurised Montgomery’s cheddar from Somerset which was about 14 months old. I like this style of cheese better with an American IPA which are stronger, sweeter and more hoppy than their typical British counterparts. The one we used at the tasting was a great favourite of Will’s and mine, Goose Island. We were amused to see on their website that they also recommend it with Cajun food and carrot cake!

Washed rind cheese and strong Belgian Trappist ale
A classic pairing from Belgium. The beer we used was Chimay Blue which at 9% is the strongest beer in the Chimay range. The monks also make a washed rind style of cheese but we chose a British example from Gloucestershire, Stinking Bishop from Charles Martell. So called not because of its odour (which has been compared to unwashed socks) but because the rind of the cheese is washed with perry made from the Stinking Bishop pear. It’s the kind of cheese-lovers’ cheese which totally annihilates red wine but the sweet, strong Chimay more than held its own. You could also try it with a French cheese like Epoisses or Livarot.

Stilton and porter
The first of two pairings with Stilton. This, on the face of it was the more unlikely combination. Anchor Porterfrom San Francisco with its dark, bitter flavour of coffee grounds and mature Colston Bassett, one of the most highly regarded Stiltons, the kind of cheese with which you’d normally reach for the port. But in fact the two got on like a house on fire, the bitterness of the blue-veined cheese rounding out the flavours of the beer, the beer providing a refreshing contrast to the cheese. They looked great together too. Magic.

Stilton and Barley Wine
With the same cheese we then put up a barley wine, a Thomas Hardy Ale from O’Hanlons of Devon. At a stonking 11.7% it’s not for the fainthearted - wonderfully rich and sweet with intense dried fruit flavours. The brewer says it will keep for 25 years. It behaved much more like a port with the cheese, providing a rich, sweet contrast. Personally I would have liked some kind of dried fruits like raisins or Medjool dates to nibble with the combination but it was pretty good on its own.

When we asked the audience which beer they preferred with the Stilton about 60% preferred the porter and 40% the barley wine so which way you go is a question of personal taste.

We finished off the tasting (and you could finish off your evening) by showing how well three of the beers also went with desserts, partnering the Kriek with a creamy cheesecake (one of my favourite pairings), the porterwith a70% dark organic chocolate (which it offset like an espresso coffee) and the barley wine with a classic English fruitcake. The last two were uncannily alike but the great thing about beer is that its palate-refreshing carbonation enables you to partner it with a similar ingredient without one cancelling out the flavour of the other.

The Great British Beer Festival is on at Earl's Court until Saturday evening. Visit www.gbbf.org.uk

Photograph by Vanessa Courtier

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