How to Host a Cheese & Beer Tasting Party

As seen in Zoomer Magazine

As seen in Zoomer Magazine

Although Liz Payne, the proprietor of The Milky Whey Fine Cheese Shop, located in downtown Stratford, Ontario, knew beer and cheese were a match made in heaven, when she first started offering beer and cheese tasting classes five years ago she felt uneasy about the venture. North America’s premier theatre destination is flush with vino enthusiasts, after all.

            “I was surprised when the classes started filling up. Although some of the participants were skeptical when they came in, afterward I often heard things like, ‘Beer and cheese? Wow. Who knew?’”

Although Payne offers both beer and cheese as well as wine and cheese classes, she finds that wine can be more intimidating. “Beer is just so down-to-earth the classes are more laid-back.”

Payne’s sentiments come as no surprise to Mirella Amato, Canada’s only certified Master Cicerone, which is a specialist in the selection, storage and tasting of beer.

“I’ve never met a cheese expert who doesn’t think cheese is easier to pair with beer than wine. Beyond the fact that they are both farmhouse products, beer has two strengths. One, its carbonation helps scrub oils from the tongue, prevents cheese from coating the mouth and helps to cleanse the palette. And two, because cheese is often salty and calls for frequent sips, beer’s low alcohol content allows you to wash down cheese without worrying about if you’re going to be able to stand up.”

The secret is out. Cheese, wine’s long-time, faithful companion, has been playing around with a new lover – beer. The pairing raises a few brows here in Canada. Why would one of our national treasures – Quebec’s Laliberté, a creamy soft cheese with a bloomy rind, or PEI’s Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar – be drawn to the likes of a Brewski, a.k.a. Suddy Buddy?         

“Beer and cheese are known to have a natural affinity,” says Philip Belanger who, as Jury Chairman of the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Awards, nibbled his way through a whopping 268 entries last year. “Both start with grass -- wheat and barley in the case of beer, and actual grass, which the cows consume, in the case of cheese.”

This may explain the popularity of the traditional Ploughman’s lunch and football’s favourite combo, pizza and beer, but considering that beer and cheese have both been made in Canada since the 1600s, why is it only now the duo has become a tasting trend?

Specialists in both fields, says Afrim Pristine, maître fromager and the owner of Toronto’s Cheese Boutique, are focusing on quality craftsmanship and ingredients. “Cheese and beer are part of the Canadian DNA – most of us grew up loving the stuff. But never before has there been such an awareness of the diversity and quality of Canadian cheese and beer. The quality continues to rise – it’s an evolution of both palette and product.”

Blame on it on decades of homogeneous beer, says Amato. The global director of beer knowledge for Anheuser-Busch InBev, and author of Beerology: Everything You Need to Know to Enjoy Beer … Even More, points out that post-the First World War, in terms of beer variety, our nation suffered a drought. “In the years following prohibition, the few surviving breweries in Canada struggled and, in order to grow, many mergers and acquisitions took place. Products were streamlined and as a result, for decades, our beer landscape was flat.”

            Indeed, boomers who came of legal drinking age in the 60s and 70s -- or occasionally pilfered a pint from their dad’s stash -- will remember the days when Canadian beers were all the same. “What you drank was undoubtedly a lager or ale, golden in colour with an alcohol content of about 4.5 per cent and a delicate flavour with no bitter finish.”

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s when microbreweries and brewpubs began popping up in Canada did we recover some of our lost beers. Today, there are hundreds of producers operating across the nation – British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec boast the biggest craft beer scenes – and so happily, we can raise a glass of everything from pilsner, porter, and pale ale to malt, bock and stout. Specialty beers – typically limited-time offerings brewed in small batches and featuring seasonal ingredients such raspberries or extra hops -- abound.

“Craft beer and imports have created a revival of styles, flavours and variety from golden to pitch black, under three  per cent to more than 14 per cent, crisp and refreshing to sweet and rich,” notes Amato.

To cheese experts, the rise of craft beer has been a welcome one. Pristine says that the state of beer in Canada today is finally catching up to that of cheese. Not surprisingly then, experts in both fields are collaborating, while a few are creating all-in-one experiences.

“I’m working with select cheese-makers to come up with specialty cheeses that are cured or washed with beer. So far, we have three such products.”

For a beer and cheese tasting, keep it simple. Food-wise, set out a few bowls of walnuts, almonds, dried fruit, and chutney so guests can explore additional pairings after the official tasting. Executive Chef Jason Bangerter of Cambridge, Ontario’s Langdon Hall has put together a hearty dip showcasing our star ingredients. Serve it along with poached wurst, steamed fingerling potatoes, warm pretzels and other mouth-watering accompaniments.

For the tasting itself, we’re going with four types of cheeses paired with four styles of beer. See Philip Belanger’s pairing suggestions (below) for general descriptions of each, along with tasting notes to explain the pairings. To set a mood of merriment, at the top of the evening, tell guests that you’ve gathered everyone together to fete a love story: the long-awaited union of Canada’s sweetheart to the boy next door … who has finally grown up.

What you’ll need:

·      For the tasting: 4 types of cheeses, 1 ounce per guest AND 4 types of beer, 4 ounces per guest (for styles of each see Philip Belanger’s suggested pairings)

·      More of the above so guests can mix and match after the tasting!

·      1 small plate per guest

·      4 tasting glasses (brandy snifter style, wine tasting glasses, anything balloon shaped) per guest

·      basket of mild, plain crackers on which to taste soft cheese, and to offer as a palette cleanser between pairings

·      4 cheese knifes for slicing

·      large cutting board for cheeses

·      serving bowls filled with nuts, fruit, chutney, etc.

·      fondue pot, small crockpot or earthenware bowl for hot dip + platter for accompaniments

Set Up and Ambience

·      Remove cheese from fridge about half an hour or so before actual tasting but keep the beer chilled

·      Set out cheese on board large enough to make cutting easy and so there is ample space between each so they don’t start to absorb each other’s flavours

·      Décor-wise, go super simple, think farmhouse-style! Avoid the fancy, pretentious tableware you might have used for that “other” pairing

·      Create a playlist of Canadian jam-bands such as Blue Rodeo and the Tragically Hip

·      Set out cheeseboard and line-up 4 tasting glasses per guest. Taste cheese first and then take a sip of the accompanying beer to wash it down. Share Philip Belanger’s notes, encouraging conversation as you move through each of his recommended pairings. Did Belanger get it right? How does the beer and cheese influence each other?

·      After the tasting, invite guests to pour a glass of their favourite brew and sample it with all of the cheeses; then set out the nibbles so guests can explore more flavours

·      Later in the evening, serve up the beer and cheese dip

Philip Belanger’s Pairing Recommendations:

o   Cheese: Soft cheese with a bloomy rind, ie. Brie

Grand Prix Winner: Laliberte, Fromagerie du Presbytere, QC

Beer: a sweet pale ale

Reason: Cheese’s creamy flavour with mushroom, earthy notes balance beautifully with sweet pale ale with a light body and added fruity flavours

o   Cheese: Old cheddar aged 1 to 3 years

Grand Prix Winner: Avonleas Clothbound Cheddar, Cows Creamery, PEI

Beer: a strong IPA or a stout

Reason: Concentrated flavours of older cheddars require bold beers. Nutty and fruity flavour of cheddar pairs well with hops and roasted malt

o   Cheese: Gouda Aged

Grand Prix Winner: Gouda Aged, Sylvan Star Cheese Ltd, AB

Beer: stout

Reason: Assertive cheese with caramel flavours goes well with a dark stout with a rich espresso taste, and deep colour from black to chocolate with barley and malts

o   Cheese: Swiss-type

Grand Prix Winner: Louis d’Or, Fromagerie du Presbytere, QC

Beer: a bock, dark lager, or traditional German Oktoberfest beer

Reason: Floral, sweet flavour of cheese is brought out by strong beer with robust malt character, dark amber to brown in hue

Oktoberfest Beer & Cheese Dip

By Executive Chef Jason Bangerter, Langdon Hall

1 tsp. butter

1 clove garlic, grated

4 oz. Belgian-style saison (farmhouse ale)

4 oz. Riesling

5 oz. Emmental cheese, grated

5 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated

Splash of kirsch (optional)

3 tbsp. cornstarch slurry (add just enough beer to make thin paste)

Pinch of baking power

Place butter in a pot over medium heat. Add the garlic to scent the pot. Add beer and wine and bring to a simmer. Add half of each cheese and stir until melted. Add remaining cheese and kirsch, if using. Add slurry and mix until smooth and silky. Finish with a pinch of baking powder. Serve warm with poached wurst, boiled fingerling potatoes, simmered cabbage, pieces of baguette, and warm pretzels.


This articles was published in ZOOMER OCT 2015 to read the full article please Click here for PDF version