In the culinary world, it's becoming quite evident that with the ever-widening range of flavors ushered in by the craft beer movement, a re-evaluation of beer's place at the table of fine dining is underway.
Beer is challenging the long-held belief that wine should be the only beverage considered when pairing with fine food, dessert and cheese. Yes, I said cheese. In fact, in recent years many top wine editors and sommeliers have been forced to acknowledge beer's capability to pair with cheese is on par with or even better than that of venerable wine.
Beer has a few extra tricks up its sleeve that wine simply doesn't - carbonation being one of the most important. Beer's fizz factor helps to cut through the fat that will inevitably coat your tongue when eating any cheese worth its salt.
The scrubbing bubbles in beer will cleanse your palate, allowing you to taste the subtle flavors of the cheese that were hiding behind that creamy coating. Unlike the one bubbly note sounded by champagne, beer's carbonation exists in nearly every style: light, dark, hoppy or sweet.
Other flavor aspects of beer, such as malty sweetness, serves to contrast with salty or acidic flavors, while bitterness can complement and harmonize with those same flavors in the cheese.
Last May, I attended a tutored beer and cheese tasting conducted by author and brewmaster Garrett Oliver. Oliver's expertise in the area of pairing food and beer is widely recognized. He has appeared on the Food Network and his 2003 book "The Brewmaster's Table" is a beer-pairing bible of sorts.
Oliver's passion for good food and beer is more evident in his enthusiasm than with his waistline, which is more than I can say. He opens up every beer and cheese discussion by pointing out the obvious fact that beer and cheese are both fermented farmhouse products and both are derived from grass - cow feed in the case of cheese, and barley in the case of beer. He insists that "beer and cheese belong together."
Here are a few suggested pairings based on locally available beers:
For more on the craft of beer, see Rich Ireland's "Beers to You" blog at thegazz.com.