It’s official. Beer goes better with cheese than wine does. I never doubted it of course, but after two sessions of Grape vs Grain at the Cheese Festival, the people have spoken. And on both occasions they chose beer over wine.
Here’s a quick recap for those of you who are a bit out of the loop. I’m working with (or should that be against?) Cathy Marston, wine educator, writer and general wine guru, on Grape vs Grain. It’s aninteractive food pairing feature where I match three bites with a beer and Cathy pairs each with a wine. Cathy thinks her pairings are better, I know that mine are but it doesn’t matter what we think – it’s the audience that decides. At our inaugural shows at Taste of Cape Town, wine won two out of three battles at each of the two sessions. But this time around, it was beer that left victorious.
“CHEESE GOES WELL WITH BEER BECAUSE COWS DON’T EAT GRAPES”
Cathy was working with wines from Stellenbosch Vineyards and I enjoyed her choices, especially the Welmoed Cabernet Sauvignon. I just feel that my beers went better with the cheese. In fact, I know they did. There are two main reasons why I believe beer is best when it comes to the cheese course. First of all, the flavours in cheese are often mirrored in beer. Those nutty, earthy notes in your cheddar – they’re also in your ale. You won’t find those flavours echoed in wine and while opposites attract, when it comes to food matching, you need a little harmony as well. An even bigger factor for me is the carbonation issue. Cheese coats your tastebuds with its delicious creaminess and wine simply can’t cut through that creaminess. For that you need bubbles, something that beer has an abundance of. The bubbles in beer basically act as a scrubbing brush for the tongue, cleansing after each mouthful and making you want another bite of cheese. The cheese makes you want to sip the beer again, which in turn makes you want more cheese and that is the key to a great food and booze pairing.
In case you’d like to recreate the competition at home, here are the pairings we put together. Buy the wine, buy the beer, buy the cheese, invite your drinking buddies over and have your own competition at home. And don’t forget to let me know how it goes.
The cheese: Simonsberg Camembert
The wine: Welmoed Chenin Blanc
The beer: Devil’s Peak Silvertree Saison
My reasoning: Camembert is a flavorful cheese, but it’s still fairly delicate and the same can be said for the saison. Matching the intensity of the beer to the intensity of the food is an important part of pairing – imagine a heavy stout with a plate of sushi or a nice cool pilsner with a rich game stew. It just wouldn’t work. The two need to be able to stand up to each other without either one overpowering the other. The other reason I opted for the saison is that it’s a highly carbonated beer – ideal with the thick creaminess of the cheese as it serves to scrub that tongue clean after every sip. Finally, the dry, spicy finish of the beer played out really well wit the hint of sweetness displayed in the cheese. It was a huge hit at the festival, with even staunch wine drinkers admitting it was the better pairing.
The cheese: Simonsberg Mature Cheddar
The wine: Welmoed Cabernet Sauvignon
The beer: Jack Black Skeleton Coast IPA
My reasoning: Jack Black’s new IPA, while getting hoppier by the batch, is still a well-balanced beer and there are elements in the malt and hops which are echoed in the cheese. For me, this pairing was all about matching like with like. The cheese has a slightly nutty character, something mirrored in the malt flavours of the beer. The tanginess of the cheese was brought out by the American hops in the beer and the two stood up to each other perfectly, neither one overpowering the other.
The wine: Versus Sweet Rosé
The beer: Liefmans Fruitesse
My reasoning: Fruitesse is a fun, fresh, quite light-bodied beer, which works perfectly to cleanse the palate after something as creamy as this blue cheese. There’s definite sweetness in the beer, which offsets the umami-ness of the blue cheese perfectly. Think of those times you’ve put figs or other dried fruit with blue cheese – sweetness is the ideal partner. But Fruitesse also has lactic acid, created during the fermentation process and this acid pairs beautifully with the slight sourness of the cheese.
So sample our pairings and have a little battle of your own. And if you need any further convincing that beer is a better pairing for cheese, consider this: beer is basically liquid bread and you wouldn’t think twice about eating cheese and bread together now would you?