Perfect Food & Beer Pairings to Take Your Cheese Board From Ordinary to Extraordinary

By: Laura Werlin  |  November/December 2016
Finding the right accompaniment for a cheese can amplify the flavor and enhance the eating experience. Match a ripe blue cheese with a drizzle of sweet honey, enhance the creamy characteristics of a triple crème with rich, tart preserves, or pair a nutty alpine-style cheese with an Italian salumi. Take your next cheese board up a notch with these brilliant ideas for perfect pairings.

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Perfect Pairings

Blue Cheese

Try: Gorgonzola Cremificato - When ripe, Gorgonzola Cremificato is a cheese you have to serve with a spoon—it's too creamy to cut. In some cheese shops, that's actually how they portion it out. The cheese is sweet and seductive. If you can't find it, Colston Bassett Stilton is a good alternative.
Pair it with: Sweet things like honey, candied walnuts and fresh or dried figs provide contrasting flavors and go well with blue and other salty cheeses (hard cheeses and washed-rind). Try Bee Raw Honey Company's Raw Maine Blueberry Honey with the Gorgonzola to elevate the "blue" theme.

Soft-Ripened Cheese

Try: Brillat Savarin - You simply can't go wrong with a French triple crème, particularly at the most festive time of the year. It's a splurge (triple crème signifies the addition of cream to the milk)—a little goes a long way.
Pair it with: Holiday-inspired Cranberry-Vanilla Preserves from Kelly's Jelly, an Oregon family business, enhance the cheese's vanilla ice cream-like characteristics and contrast the richness with the tart cranberries. Or try other sweet-tart jams like apricot preserves. Walnut bread completes the picture.

Semi-Hard Cheese

Try: Face Rock Creamery Clothbound Cheddar - Meet one of America's newest Cheddars on the cheese scene. It's wrapped in cheesecloth, which is standard in the making of English-style Cheddars. But Oregon cheesemaker Brad Sinko uses a secret cocktail of cultures and slathers the outside with his own handmade butter to protect the cheese and nurture its flavors during the two-year-plus aging period. The result is a buttery, grassy, and fruity cheese that makes you wonder: what was that stuff called "Cheddar" you ate as a kid?
Pair it with: Onion jam, hearty bread.

Fresh Cheese

Try: Cypress Grove Psychedillic - In addition to flecks of dill, the creamy magic ingredient sin this California goat cheese is dill pollen. This enhances its dilly flavor without being overpowering. The result is a mellow, earthy and balanced cheese.
Pair it with: Capers or caper berries, smoked salmon and pumpernickel bread are a slam dunk for this particular cheese. In general, for creamy cheeses like chèvre, fromage blanc and Brie, savory or sweet-tart accompaniments are the best. Olives and olive spreads are another savory option. Tart dried fruits like apricots and cherries as well as fruit pastes, such as quince, are very appealing.

Semi-Hard Cheese

Try: Roth Grand Cru Surchoix - This Wisconsin-made alpine-style cheese earned the title of "best cheese in the world" at the 2016 World Championship Cheese Contest. It is part of the Roth family of Grand Cru cheeses, along with the equally excellent Original and Reserve. This one is aged longer to fully develop its flavors. The result is a nutty, brown-butter, crystalline, downright suave cheese.
Pair it with: Italian salumi. Alpine-style cheeses, as well as aged Cheddars and Goudas, also call for sweet-savory pairings like caramelized onions or comfit, pepper jelly or tomato jam.

Hard Cheese

Try: Aged Spanish Manchengo - There are several versions of this iconic Spanish sheep's-milk cheese, but some can be bland. To get a nutty, rich, buttery and mellow cheese, look for one that's labeled 6-month or older and is made with raw milk.
Pair it with: Serrano ham and Spanish Marcona almonds—their richness compliments buttery cheeses. In fact, nuts are a must for any cheese board—they add textural contrast and great flavor—and Marcona almonds go nicely with most cheeses, as so pistachios and dry-roasted skinned almonds.
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Cheese Loves Beer

Cheese and wine seen to go hand-in-hand, but, surprisingly, beer is often a better pairing. Beer is essentially brewed by a "chef," who combines, malt, yeast, hops and sometimes other ingredients like spices and fruit, explains Garrett Oliver, brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery, author of The Brewmaster's Table and editor-in-chief of The Oxford Companion to Beer. So the resulting flavors are virtually limitless. Plus beer's carbonation cuts through fat and physically lifts it off the palate, allowing you to really taste the cheese. With the right pairings, beer and cheese taste far better than they would have alone. Here, Oliver suggests three brew styles to accompany a variety of cheeses.
 

Doppelbock

Often referred to by Bavarians as "liquid bread," the dobbelbock beer style is a strong dark lager that does indeed taste like a fresh loaf of bread. The flavors are slightly sweet and highly caramelized, giving the beer a unique ability to grab onto similar flavors in cheeses. The nuttiness of aged Manchego and the sweet, fudgy, salty flavor and texture of aged alpine-style cheeses will find perfect partners in doppelbock. Spaten of Munich is among the best producers, and their Optimator remains a classic.
 

Tripel

The Belgian tripel style originated in the country's monasteries and some of the best are still made inside monastic walls. Tripels are twice as strong as most beers and have beautiful dry, fruity, spicy flavors and aromatics that are great with goat cheeses and tripel crèmes. Tripel Karmeliet, once made by Carmelite monks, is an excellent choice.
 

Imperial Stout

Imperial stout, a beer style invented for Catherine the Great of Russia, is black, coffee-ish and chocolaty, having been brewed with highly roasted malts. It bring out the chocolaty depths of sweet blue cheeses, such as Stilton and Gorgonzola Cremificato. And once you're finished with your cheese, imperial stout moves smoothly on to pair with desserts. Oliver naturally favors his own Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, but Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout is also delicious.