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(photo by Jill Greenberg)

You're sure to please with a gift of beer and cheese

Buffalo is known for a few things besides snow, mainly great food and drinks. If you are looking for a last minute gift for a Buffalonian, chances are they will be thrilled to receive an edible gift, especially if beer is involved. A beer, cheese, and crackers basket can be put together at a supermarket, a gourmet shop like the Village Beer Merchant, even a convenience store if you have put off buying gifts until the last second.

Beer and cheese were traditionally farmhouse products. When cheese is paired with wine, the flavors are usually contrasting; when cheese is paired with beer, there are contrasts and harmonies between the flavors. In terms of texture, the creamy quality of cheese is matched well with the brisk, palate-cleansing carbonation of beer. Phil Internicola, the brewmaster at Pearl Street Grill and Brewery, knows a little something about pairing beer and cheese. “Beer seems to match with cheese universally,” he says. “In general, sweeter, malty beers pair well with sharp cheeses and more acidic hoppy beers pair with mild cheeses.”

While none of these pairings are set in stone, they can give you an idea of some flavors to try. Soft, tart cheeses such as mozzarella or goat cheese are well matched with a light, fresh wheat beer such as UFO Hefeweizen. Cheddar and Colby will balance with the rich flavors of brown ales like Samuel Smith Nut Brown or will contrast with the medium body of pale ales such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Mascarpone, a spreadable triple-cream cheese used in desserts shares a sweet flavor with fruit beers such as Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat and the slightly less sweet Ithaca Apricot Wheat. A less predictable pairing would be a sweet stout such as the Left Hand Milk Stout. Milk stouts are made with milk sugar, which isn’t fermented out, giving the beer a lower alcohol content along with a sweeter taste.

Strong, earthy cheeses such as aged Gruyère or Comtè have assertive tastes and are slightly sweet. Sweet, mellow porters or full-bodied stouts balance and enhance the sweet flavors of aged cheeses. Try Anchor Porter or Flying Bison Oatmeal Stout. Aged gouda complements both brown ales and amber ales due to the caramel sweetness that matches the chocolate and caramel flavors in brown and amber ales. Try Newcastle Brown Ale or Saint Arnold Amber Ale.

Vinny Somogyi, manager of the Village Beer Merchant, explains that while traditionally wine and cheese are served together, wine is acidic and tends to match well with a selection of specific foods and cheeses. The wide range of beer flavors matches the characteristics of cheese more broadly than wine. “Customers tend to make their own beer and cheese matches,” Somogyi says. To help make these pairings, the Village Beer Merchant has beer and cheese matching guides posted above the cheese section. Somogyi points out a Harpersfield Farmstead Tilsit Cheese that is washed in Ommegang Ale, which is available at the Village Beer Merchant. Tilsit, a semi-hard cheese, is rich, slightly salty, and best paired with dark beers such as Ommegang’s Hennepin or Rare Vos. In general, creamy cheeses tend to have less bold and more subtle milky flavors and are more versatile when it comes to flavor matching, so a safe bet is to match mozzarella, mascarpone, pr pecorino with any favorite beer.

Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, New York, has created a “Beer Loves Cheese” brochure that advises some simple tricks for pairing beer and cheese. Light beers tend to go better with lighter, milder cheeses, while strong, darker beers tend to match with bolder cheeses. Whether you’re aiming to complement or contrast flavors, experimentation can make pairings more interesting. With beer and cheese, there is no wrong answer.

jill greenberg

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