there are a few things that i more than crave, instead i obsess. cheese is one. beer is another. (i will save the long story of the evolution of my beer palate for another day.) combining beer and cheese, should be a gastro holy commandment. instead, for some reason it has remained quite the classified information and everyone thinks only of wine being paired with cheese. my goal here today is to share with everyone the magic of this marriage, instead of reserving it just for the beer gourmands.
i had been dabbling with this harmonious union a bit but one week ago i had an experience that has forever been cemented into my tastebud memory. my husband and i went to brugge (bruges), belgium for the sole purpose of attending the fifth annual brugge bierfestival (one of the fantastic advantages to living in norway is everything is so close now). on the first day there we went to staminee de garre. this bar is close to heaven for beer junkies. we ordered the house tripel as recommended and it was served to us with a ramekin of cheese. the combination was blissful.
our second day in brugge was the first day of the bierfestival and within the first hour we started noticing many locals enjoying their beer with a variety of cheeses that they were bringing in from the market. i of course immediately requested that my husband fetch us some cheese. after he returned, a few flemish men that joined us at our table confirmed our theory that this accompaniment was a belgian cuisine tradition, as they also brought out their containers of cheese.
after returning home i still couldnʻt stop thinking about beer and cheese. and so i read what I could about it. (see http://www.slashfood.com/2010/03/23/cheese-and-beer-pairings-101-cheese-course/ and http://beeradvocate.com/articles/282 for further information.) apparently, the marriage of beer and cheese goes back to the middle ages in belgium when monks began brewing beers (weʻll discuss my undying love for trappist beer another day) and making cheese both to supplement their diet and income. this practice continues today at many monasteries (chimay abbey is one example).
so why is this some big kept secret? the conspiracy theorist in me, automatically thinks it is the wine industry, mainstream food and wine media, and stingy gourmets that want to keep the alcohol and cheese pairing exclusive. but that must just sound like crazy talk. cheese can compliment a wine. but for me, more often than not, the result is not so pleasant. wine is too acidic and harsh to match the many subtleties and flavors of cheese, and often after a wine and cheese tasting, your palate feels very used. additionally, it feels like one either has to have studied a complicated wine pairing science, or itʻs a pure gamble. in other words, you have to pay a lot of money to make sure the combination is just right. so why not try a pairing without the pretentiousness of wine? please donʻt get me wrong, we do enjoy a few bottles of red a month in our household. i am in no way a wine hater, but this post is about beer, so iʻll get back to the point.
beer and cheese are both farmhouse fare. historically, farmers made cheese when the milk was flowing strong and during the more relaxed months of winter, they brewed to keep busy. (our family lives on a dairy farm, so iʻm thinking why not take the next logical step and start brewing as well?) moreover, both beer and cheese find their origin in grass (beer is made of barley (a cereal grass) and milk is a by-product of livestock eating grass) and fermentation is also involved in both products. considering these factors, you can understand that the the result is a natural complementary flavor interplay.
so next time you are craving either a beer or cheese, indulge in them together. be nice to your wallet, enjoy a pairing for the common people. start your addiction off with a belgian tripel paired with a gouda or havarti.