Beer is one of humanity’s earliest culinary achievements — people have been brewing it for at least 8,000 years. Turns out, cheese is old, too: The ancient Egyptians and Greeks knew how to make it. Sooner or later, someone was bound to realize that these two creations were delicious together.
These days, Canadians spend $16 to $30 a month on cheese. And with specialty varieties getting increasingly popular (and pricey), we want to get our money’s worth, right? That’s where knowing how to pair cheeses with brews comes in.
Beer and cheese are natural friends for a few reasons. First, they have yeast in common — it’s essential for certain kinds of cheese, and you can’t make beer without it. Next, beer’s gentle acidity helps whisk away any oiliness left on your tongue after a bite of cheese, refreshing your taste buds. Lastly, cheese is salty, which calls for a cold, refreshing drink to quench that sodium-induced thirst. Bonus: Beer and cheese are both super-easy to prepare — just set them out and dig in.
One general rule — and an exception
When you’re pairing beers and cheeses, try to match textures and intensities. Generally speaking, a light-bodied beer with plenty of carbonation — such as a pale wheat beer or a pale lager — goes best with lighter-tasting cheeses. On the flip side, a more intense beer, like a stout, an India pale ale (IPA) or a Belgian-style ale, works best with rich, dense cheeses.
Then again, some perfect pairings are unpredictable. Rich, hefty stout with delicate, creamy Brie is just one of the mouth-watering partnerships you might enjoy. Here are some of our faves.
Soft goat cheese
Pale wheat beer plays nicely with light-bodied cheeses like this. The brew’s clean citrus flavours match up well with all that grassy, earthy freshness, and its effervescence helps showcase the cheese’s fluffy, spreadable texture. Pale, sparkling pilsner also works, for similar reasons — you’re pairing light with light.
These beers may also pair well with: other mild, spreadable cheeses, such as mascarpone and ricotta.
You can’t go wrong serving a British-style ale with this utterly English cheese. The softly bubbly, malty-sweet suds complement the firm texture and nutty, sharp taste of the cheese. This pair is the backbone of a traditional ploughman’s lunch (a simple cold plate of bread, cheddar and other flavourful fixings, like pickles and onions). Some brew pros also recommend stout or porter with cheddar, because their roasty chocolate flavours bring out the nutty notes in the cheese.
Brie likes a sweet partner. If you’ve ever tasted a warm wedge of it topped with fruity jam, you’ll agree that a berry– or cherry-flavoured beer is this creamy French fromage’s love match. But Brie enjoys the dark side as well — nibble some with a chocolaty stout or porter for an incredible contrast that just works. Stout in particular has a well-deserved rep as a versatile cheese sidekick.
Fruit beers may also pair well with: other soft cheeses with fluffy white rinds, such as Camembert and Neufchâtel.
Any smoked cheese is a flavour bomb — and that goes double for smoked Gouda. Its firm texture and bold taste call for a beer that’s just as complex and intense. Flavourful and subtly spicy, a Belgian-style ale is the right fit. Another tasty choice is hoppy lager — the complexity of the hops lets this brew hold its own against fierce flavours and rich textures. Plus, its light body adds a refreshment factor that’s really nice.
These beers may also pair well with: other smoked firm cheeses, such as smoked cheddar and Gruyère.
A pale wheat beer is your go-to for soft, mild cheeses like this snow-white stunner. The beer’s light fizz won’t get in the way of the mozzarella’s subtle, salty milkiness or delicate texture. But also consider other bright, clean-tasting beers that help this cheese shine, like helles lager, kolsch and cream ale.
These beers may also pair well with: fior di latte or burrata.
Funky is good when you’re a washed-rind cheese. Gently stinky but deliciously mild and tangy, Oka was invented by Trappist monks in Quebec. Pair it up with a saison or a sour Belgian-style ale and you’ll agree they were born for each other. The tartness of the beer cleanses your taste buds after each creamy bite and gets you ready for the next round.
These beers may also pair well with: Oka’s distant French cousin, Port Salut.
You may be used to slapping Swiss on a big old sandwich, but try savouring it on its own or with bread or crackers. You’ll notice its rich, sweet and salty taste, which calls out for a beer that is just as balanced. A pale ale, either American- or British-style, delivers complex spice and bitterness via the hops but is also light and refreshing with Swiss cheese. You can also try a traditional Canadian ale, which is deliciously balanced and an effective palate cleanser.
These beers may also pair well with: Jarlsberg, Gruyère or Edam.
This king of the Spanish tapas hour offers nutty flavours, so it’s best with a beer that serves up some caramel-like malty sweetness. Manchego is also quite salty, so its brew partner needs to have a refreshing quality to quench the inevitable thirst. Red ales and red (or Vienna) lagers are up to the job.
What’s true for shirts and pants is true for cheeses and beers: blue and brown are a perfect match. English-style ales and brown ales have a malty sweetness that contrasts with the powerful veins of blue in this cheese. Some beer pros also say IPA works well here — the idea is that pungent food requires a muscular, potent beer. Try it and see.
These beers may also pair well with: many other blue cheeses, from soft to firm.
Looking for a funky flavour challenge? This could be the cheese for you. Some fans say Camembert’s aroma is like getting a whiff of barnyard in your face, but they mean it as a compliment. When you’re pairing a challenging cheese like this, that intensity calls for more intensity. If you’re thinking of grabbing a hoppy IPA to go with that ripe Camembert wedge, you’re absolutely right. Or, for a more palate-cleansing option, try a farmhouse or saison ale. You might detect a little funk in them, which harmonizes with the aromas the cheese gives off.
These beers may also pair well with: Gorgonzola, Limburger or other funky, soft cheeses.