Photo credit: David L. Reamer
Funny thing about loading up your table edge to edge with boards of cheese and an armful of random bottles in a crowded restaurant: it tends to draw some attention.
The authors with a svelte version of the kind of tasting sessions described below.
Many were the nights in the distant past (2014) when such a scene would greet diners as they crossed the threshold into Cheese Bar and found us dwarfed by an evening’s repast of what was surely far too much dairy and alcohol for two mortal humans to consume in a single sitting. Eyes lingered on the spread, curious, hungry, then longing. Inevitably, a brave soul would approach our two-top altar to excess and make reasonable inquiries as to our intentions, at which point we’d welcome the acolyte into the fold for a sample of whatever marvel we’d most recently pieced together from the jigsaw puzzle of Comté, Cheddar, Pecorino, Stilton, Cheshire, Mimolette, Brie, Pilsner, IPA, lambic, doppelbock, porter, rosé , Beaujolais Blanc, Sémillon, Amontillado, tawny port, dry cider, apple wine, Spanish sidra, perry, and god knows what else.
This, it turns out, is a very good way of making friends.
If you read one more sentence in this teetering stack of text, make it this one: When you’re pouring yourself a drink to go with your cheese, it doesn’t have to be wine.
Kunik with barrel-aged cider conjures flavors of vanilla cream and roasted cashews.
Still with us? Haven’t hurled your glass of Gewürztraminer at the computer screen in disgust? Here are a few more sentences worth a gander.
Yes, wine does go well with cheese (you can exhale now). More accurately, some wines go well with some cheeses. Other wines go well with other cheeses. Some wines and some cheeses go together about as well as gasoline and a lit match.
Sure, that’s maybe a touch dramatic, but when you’re dealing with centuries-old platitudes, a little hyperbole is hardly out of order. Point being, we’re conditioned to default to wine as cheese’s de facto soulmate, and nothing short of taking our collective consciousness by the neck and giving it a right good shake is going to open people’s eyes to the glory that is cheese paired with beverages other than wine.
Our new book, Cheese Beer Wine Cider: A Field Guide to 75 Perfect Pairings
, is a little more diplomatic about getting folks bought into the notion that beer and cider deserve a spot at the table next to wine when a mouthwatering platter of fine Goudas, Camemberts, and triple crèmes have joined the soirée. Which one deserves to sit at the head of this metaphorical-but-totally-real table is completely up to you. But we posit that, like King Arthur’s metaphorical-but-very-possibly-real round table, this table has no head, and all who sit at it do so equally.
We’re sure talking a lot about tables, so let’s switch tack and discuss what goes into writing such a book.
Ooey, gooey Harbison, a massive funk-bomb of a cheese, is dynamite with a méthode champenoise cider like Flame from Alpenfire or Orchard Hill Gold Label.
Honest to god, it boils down to eating enormous quantities of cheese and drinking staggering amounts of alcohol. The trick is to do it in bite-sized chunks, spaced across a period of, say, three or four years. Tackling a project like Cheese Beer Wine Cider
quickly teaches you that hours-long tasting sessions, where you hop between 20 different cheeses and a random assortment of as many bottles, is absolute murder on your palate. It’s hard enough describing how one cheese and one beverage tasted together seven pairings ago; by the twenty-seventh pairing you’ll be lucky to remember your own name. Those table-spanning attention-grabbing smorgasbords we described earlier didn’t last long; we swiftly learned to pare back each evening’s selections to a less extravagant assortment of just a few cheeses and drinks, allowing us to focus on the nuances of how each one interacted with the other.
Evoke the coffee-and-smoked-salmon essence of the Pacific Northwest with this pairing: Rogue Smokey Blue Cheese with a hearty porter (e.g. Deschutes Black Butte).
Multiply that by a few hundred, take copious notes the entire time, and voilà you have a book on your hands. It’s tremendous fun, especially when you stumble upon a match that transforms both the cheese and the beer, wine, or cider into something completely different and completely wonderful. Here are a few such pairings you should try immediately:
The cheese: Brillat-Savarin Triple Crème
The beer: Scotch ale (e.g. Founders Dirty Bastard)
Result: There's a stark dichotomy between Brillat-Savarin's creamy, indulgent insides and its chewy, earthy, funky rind. Take a bite that includes the rind, chase it with a swallow of malty Scotch ale, and you’ll get morels sauteed in wine. Without the rind, it flips over to a sweet, vanilla-forward root beer float. Dinner and dessert in one pairing!
The cheese: Roquefort
The wine: Jurançon Moelleux (e.g. Camin Larredya Jurançon au Capceu)
Result: The "king of cheeses" according to Diderot, Roquefort is an approachable, easily obtainable blue that happens to pair well with dessert wines, especially Jurançon. Throw 'em together and the nuttiness in the Roquefort explodes while the wine's sweetness diminishes — think of a hearty walnut and pear salad and you're right on track.
The cheese: Garrotxa
The cider: American semi-dry (e.g. Cider Riot! Everyday)
Result: This Spanish cheese is a great showcase for goat's milk with a clean, mild flavor that is undeniably, well, goaty. Semi-dry cider pulls out a huge coconut note from Garrotxa, while the cheese amplifies the cider's fruitiness, dropping you smack dab in the middle of a bowl of Froot Loops in coconut milk.
If nothing else, these pairings prove that while cheese can couple beautifully with wine, it need not sign a marriage certificate. If wine’s what you turn to first when you get home from the cheesemonger’s, by all means, keep pouring it! But no reason to be so chaste. Play the field. Let your eyes wander to the earthly delights beckoning seductively to you from that beer bar down the street, or that apple orchard over yonder. Give in to temptation and spend an evening getting cozy with some cheese and a beer or cider that’s never before touched your lips. Don’t worry about your wine finding out; we won’t say a word.
Because when it comes to drinking with cheese, monogamy is overrated.
÷ ÷ ÷
and Adam Lindsley
are the authors of Cheese Beer Wine Cider: A Field Guide to 75 Perfect Pairings
. Steve Jones is an internationally renowned and awarded cheesemonger, and the owner of Cheese Bar and Chizu in Portland, Oregon. Adam Lindsley is a children’s book author and food writer for such publications as The Oregonian
and Serious Eats
. Both call the Pacific Northwest home.