Cheese and Beer Pairing: 6 Tips to Get You Started

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk
Once upon a time, people thought that only wine can be paired with cheese; but as new food experiences become popular and accessible, our palates evolve and our sense of adventure broadens. Gone are the days when you can only eat that smoked gouda with your pinot noir—with the rise of craft beer around the world (this happened about 6 years ago in the Philippines), people are discovering new ways to enjoy their food with their favorite drinks.

Several weeks ago, I was invited to attend a cheese-and-beer pairing workshop by Real California Milk Philippines. They took us to Boracay Island to meet Mark Todd, fondly called as The Cheese Dude, who taught us everything there is to know about cheese—and how to enjoy them with Filipino craft beers. Let’s just say that after this workshop, I had a renewed appreciation for cheese and beer and I wanted to run to the nearest grocery store to stock up!

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk
cheese and beer pairing with real california milk
And you know what, cheese and beer make perfect sense, actually. It’s an incredible pair—like that odd couple you never thought would look good together, but who are actually perfect for each other. If you can pair craft beer with food (which I do, all the time), then surely you can do it with a specific type of food with a whole gamut of flavors—like cheese! In fact, I learned from Mark Todd that this pairing is more historically accurate: people have been making their own cheeses and their own beers since time immemorial, and consuming, enjoying them together.

Come to think of it—we eat cheese with bread and crackers all the time. Beer is pretty much made of the same thing as breads!

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk
As a beer lover, this workshop opened my eyes to a whole new world of enjoying my favorite craft beers and cheeses. Why not “regular” beer, like my favorite Pale Pilsen, you ask. Well, the term “craft beer” in general refers to small-batch brews made with a bigger variety of ingredients, thus an exciting spectrum of flavors. Honestly, the flavors of craft beers that can be produced are limited only by the brewer’s imagination.

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk
It was only a few years back when craft beer started becoming popular in the Philippines, and now there’s a lot of breweries creating their own signatures. This means that it’s now very accessible to everyone—you can simply go out and look for bars that serve craft beers, or go to microbreweries or specialty shops to grab a few bottles to take home.

And when it comes to cheese, make sure you look for the Real California Milk seal! That seal means that the product has been approved by the California Milk Advisory Board, and therefore it is made from all-natural dairy by California farmers and cheesemakers. In case you don’t know, California is the number 1 producer of cheese in the US, making around 41 billion pounds of milk per year. It’s a $65 billion industry that creates 189,000 jobs, and as one of the biggest exporters of dairy, Real California Milk ensures that each product is of the highest quality. I shall tell you more about their cheeses in a separate blog post!

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk
cheese and beer pairing with real california milk
So, if you ever find yourself craving for a good drink at home along with some of your favorite cheeses, here are some tips for you to start your cheese-and-beer pairing adventure. Remember: there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to pairing. At the end of the day, your personal tastes and preferences will still dictate the absolute best pairing—but if you’re a complete newbie and you would like some kind of guide, here are 6 things that might be helpful. Enjoy!

1 | Taste the cheese and the beer individually, before tasting them together. 

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk
You would want to have an idea as to the flavor profiles of each before putting them together in your mouth. Start with the cheese—break if apart to release the odors and take a whiff before tasting it. For beer, you can actually “nose” it like you do with wines and whiskies—you can either put the glass a few inches away from your nose and take a hard sniff, or you can stick your nose directly into the glass. Then take a small swig and feel the flavors in your mouth. Citrusy? Sweet? Bitter? Chocolatey? Malty? This will give you an initial idea if it will work well with the cheese.

2 | Look for complementary flavors.

Complementing each other doesn’t only mean that two things will have exactly the same flavors. It also means that the similar qualities of one can bring out or enhance the flavor of the other. Such is the case of the first pairing that The Cheese Dude made us try: the Marin French Triple Crème Brie and the Engkanto Pale Ale. This particular pale ale is a very light, easy-to-drink session ale (yes, the type that you can drink under the summer sun the whole day) and it highlights the brie’s earthy, buttery, and sweetish flavors. I usually don’t like brie but paired with this beer, I can maybe eat a whole slab of it!

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk

3 | Contrast works.

It’s just like with food: sometimes weird, contrasting flavors work really well, like champorado and tuyo. One interesting pairing we tried in the workshop was the Rogue Creamery Rosemary Cheddar and the Fish Rider Pale Ale. I love both individually, and I also love them together! I never thought the sharp cheddar flavors with subtle hints of rosemary will blend amazingly with the fruity Fish Rider. I always order Fish Rider in bars when I want longer drinking sessions—can these bars please start serving Rosemary Cheddar as well?

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk

4 | Light cheeses go with light beers. Strong beers go with stronger cheeses.

This should be a standard guideline, probably 99.99% of the time, otherwise their intensities will clash and one will overpower the other. A light beer is sweetish, not too thick in the mouth, maybe fruity/citrusy, and not too bitter—it goes well with light cheeses like brie, camembert, or burrata. A strong beer is incredibly bitter (like an IPA) or thick (like a porter or stout) and is commonly paired with sharper, more pungent cheeses like aged cheddars and blue cheeses.

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk
In fact, my favorite pairing during the workshop was the Point Reyes Original Blue and the Exit Wounds IPA. I loooove IPA—I love the bitter taste! For me, when the beer is so light, I gulp it down in seconds and I never ever get satisfied because it’s as if I’m drinking water (#sorrynotsorry, hahaha). But this is just my preference, of course. Now, paired with blue cheese—ANOTHER FAVORITE OF MINE—the IPA just blows the mind. The bitterness cuts through the strong, salty, creamy flavors of the blue cheese—tames it down but doesn’t eradicate it completely. I love it.

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk

5 | Think of textures.

Too much of the same thing can be overwhelming—both in food and in cheese-and-beer pairings. For example, a creamy, soft cheese like brie would probably not work well with a creamy, thick, chocolatey beer. You would always want to find something that makes you want to consume more—either cheese, beer, or both!

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk
Another pairing I liked during the workshop was the Fiscalini Bandaged Wrapped Cheddar and the Dark Hat Porter. This cheese—DAMN! The matured, cave-aged, 18-month-old cheddar boasts of nutty, fruity, and intense flavors, and a dry, hard texture (I can’t get over how delicious it is, I can maybe eat a whole wheel of it or something). Its flavors and texture go well with the rich dark porter, which has a chocolatey taste and a thick mouthfeel. Fireworks!

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk

6 | You would never know until you taste it.

At the end of the day, no matter how much knowledge you have about beers and cheeses, your personal taste will still win. You taste buds will dictate who the winner is. So go out there, pick out a variety of cheeses, buy some beers, and start trying different combinations to see what your favorite is!

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk

Extra Tip: How to Assemble a Cheese Board

Hosting a little cheese-and-beer party or just planning to indulge by yourself? It might be a good idea to pick out a good variety of cheeses to get that tasting adventure started.

Variety is the key: choose varying textures, flavors, and intensities. Make sure you have soft, hard, dry, and fresh cheeses on your assemblage. In one of our activities, The Cheese Dude asked us to make us own cheese board—best cheese board wins a prize. I was paired with the fashion and lifestyle influencer Camille Co, and guess what, we won! LOL!

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk
What we chose: one soft gooey cheese (camembert), one semi-hard cheese (Rogue Creamery Chocolate Stout), one dry, hard cheese (the amazing Fiscalini Bandaged Wrapped Cheddar, of course), and one soft strong cheese (Point Reyes Original Blue Cheese). Different flavors, different styles, different softness, different textures, different intensities! (A quick cheat sheet can be found at the bottom of this blog post if you need some help purchasing cheeses.)

cheese and beer pairing with real california milk
What about the beers, you ask. Well, you can either stick to your favorites and pair different cheeses with them, or pick out a whole assortment for more, more fun! If you’re keen on doing the latter, make sure you have a session ale, a pale ale, a lager, a porter or a stout, and an IPA. That lineup should give you a wide range of flavors to play around with.

Quick Cheese Cheat Sheet

These cheeses ...
Asiago, dry jack
Baby Swiss, Edam
Bakers cheese, cotija, cream cheese, feta
Blue cheese
Cheddar (sharp)
Monterey Jack
Mozzarella, parmigiana
Queso blanco
Go well with ...
Brown ale, amber ale
Oktoberfest, ale
Wheat beer
Porter, stout, IPA 
Steam beer
Saison, kolsch
Pale ale
Stout, porter, black ale
Imperial stout, black lager
Porter-light, brown ale
Porter, stout, fruit beer
Medium pilsner
Wheat beer, pilsner
Pilsner, pale ale
Light pilsner
Pale ale
Lager, Oktoberfest

Real California Milk dairy products are available in the following stores:
  • S&R Membership Shopping
  • Royal Duty Free
  • Landers Superstore
  • SM Hypermarket
  • Merkado/Puregold Price Club
  • Cash & Carry
  • Rustans Supermarket
  • Robinsons Supermarket
  • Unimart Supermarket
  • SM Supermarket
  • Makati Supermarket
  • Landmark Supermarket

Follow Real California Milk Philippines' Facebook page for more information about California dairy.
#LookForTheSeal #RealCaliforniaMilk

Do you love cheese? What about craft beers? What do you think of cheese and beer pairing?

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