When it comes to pairing cheese and beer, cold weather makes it easy. Winter beers—big, chocolaty porters, bourbon barrel-aged stouts, and malty barleywine ales—beautifully complement a wide variety of cheeses thanks to their sophisticated sweetness. These brews balance the pepper and earth of a Stilton, the barnyard funk of an Epoisses, but they won't necessarily overpower the herbal nuances of a Basque sheep cheese like Ossau-iraty. In that way, winter beers are akin to sweeter wines like Spätlese Riesling, or Vouvray.
Lighter-style, warm weather beers are different though. For example, saisons, pilsners and session pale ales parallel dry, smoky Rosés, mineraly Grüner Veltliners and unoaked Chardonnays. And to pair cheese with them requires a bit more precision. For example, blues and washed-rind cheeses are likely to overwhelm the zesty subtleties of these more delicate brews.
Nevertheless, according to Mike Fisher, manager of excellently-curated beer and cheese shop Milk & Hops in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood, lighter beers do make ideal cheese companions. Try his suggested matches below.
With their smooth texture and overtones of nutmeg, banana and clove, wheat beers pose a pairing conundrum. But cheeses like Cana de Oveja, a Bucheron-like sheep cheese from Spain, couple beautifully. The cheese's fluffy texture and slightly sour finish offsets any of the beer's sweetness. Other suggested wins: Cana de Cabra and Casatica di Bufala, and also Cypress Grove's fan favorite, Humboldt Fog.
Five years ago only a few saisons were on the market, like the classic Saison Dupont and the newer Ommegang Hennepin. Now, one will find dozens ranging from beers that are cava-esque in their zesty effervescence, such as Brooklyn Brewery's Sorachi Ace and Boulevard's Tank 7, to those that are dark and plummy, like the Stillwater's Existent. To match this style, look for cheeses that are robust with a slight sweetness. Try the Itallian classic Piave Vecchio or Sartori's BellaVitano from Wisconsin. Certain cheddars, especially Cabot's Clothbound Cheddar work, too.
Gose is an increasingly popular beer style known for its lighter texture and appealingly dry, sour finish. Great examples range from Westbrook Brewing's Gose made in South Carolina, to Jammer from Brooklyn's Sixpoint, and Almanac's Golden Gate Gose out in San Francisco. Try these alongside extra creamy cheese such as burrata, Meredith Dairy's marinated goat cheese or Piedmont, Italy's soft, funky La Tur.
Session Pale Ales
SPAs are intended for those who like a solid hop backbone, but don't want the sometimes overpowering bitterness or high ABV of many IPAs. To counter the hoppy bite, seek out young, firm cheeses like a youthful Manchego, Ossau-iraty or Berkswell, a raw sheep's milk cheese from England. The butteriness of these cheeses will balance the beers' hops.
Light Lagers, Blonde Ales and Pilsners
Earthy Alpine cheese like Wildspitz Bio, made in Switzerland from mostly cow and part goat's milk, is a great friend to lighter lagers, ales and pilsners. Hoch Ybrig, a hard Swiss mountain cheese, and the more common French Comté, each channel a pronounced nuttiness that serve to enhance the beer's subtle flavors without overpowering them.