Perhaps one of the most intimidating aspects of cheese is how and what to pair it with. Allow us to reassure you of two important points:
- Cheese is easier to pair with beer than wine. The tannins, acids, and oak (when used for aging) in wine can be problematic when pairing with cheese, whereas beer and cheese have similar production methods (they’re both grain-based, fermented products, and tend to have similar flavor profiles).
- While there are some key tips to follow with regard to pairing, there are exceptions to every rule. The bottom line, in our opinion, is to eat and drink what you enjoy, and dissenters and haters be damned!
Still, we think it’s helpful to provide pairing rules of thumb, because a good match is, in the words of a cheesemonger we know, like a good marriage. Both parties should have their own, distinct, positive qualities, but when combined, magic happens.
Read on for what we feel are the most crucial points to remember in pairing cheese, be it with wine, beer, spirits, or “dry” or other specialty sodas.
- Match intensities. For example, a big, bold, young Cabernet Sauvignon or chocolatey Stout will completely overpower many cheeses. Conversely, a soft, delicate varietal will be lost when paired with a super funky or sharp cheese.
- Bear in mind terroir. Don’t just assume “this grape varietal will go with this cheese,” because variations in climate, geography, vintage, and production method vary greatly. The same is true of cheese. Ultimately, tasting before you buy or serve is the best way to determine if you have a match; barring that, talk to your cheesemonger, or refer to this handy post!
- Aim for similarties or contrasts. A rich, buttery cheese such as a triple crème or brie will go well with a wine or beer with similar qualities. That said, too much butteriness is overkill. You want your palate to be refreshed and cleansed by the beverage. Strive for balance, and when in doubt, bubbles go with every style of cheese.
- Think about what you’re trying to achieve. If you have a super bomb, special cheese, talk to your local wine shop about what to serve with it. Conversely, if you have a rare, 1959 Chateau Lafite, you want to make sure you find a cheese that does it justice.
Some of our favorite pairings for Haystack cheeses follow. Use them as a guideline for pairing similar styles:
Camembert or othery earthy, mushroomy bloomy-rinds: Beaujolais or other soft, fruity-driven red wines.
Snowdrop or other floral, grassy bloomy rinds: Sauvignon Blanc, Lambic, or Belgian Ales.
Haystack Peak or other grassy, slighty salty/ash-coated bloomy-rinds: Fruit-driven white wines like Pinots Gris, lambics, or Pilsner.
Queso de Mano or other nutty cheeses: Hefeweizen or light-to-full-bodied red wines.
Sunlight or Red Cloud or other stinky/washed rind cheeses: Bring on the beer, baby! Belgians, ales, hard cider, lambic, or floral IPA’s. Wine? Try fruit-driven whites like a dry Riesling.