Put away the port, retire the red wine, and bring out the beer with the Christmas cheeseboard this year. Why beer, instead of the traditional fortified wines? For a few very good reasons.
- All beer has fizz, carbonation, sparkle: little bubbles of CO2 which act like a scrubbing brush on your tongue after you’ve had a mouthful of cheese. Beer is a great palate cleanser, scouring away at the fat residue left by cheese
- Beer making and cheese making are very similar processes: take good quality ingredients, plenty of patience and cleanliness, and you get a myriad of styles, flavours and colours from a few simple tweaks to the process
- Cheese is salty. Beer is hydrating. Need I go on?
So here are my recommendations for the best beers to try with your cheeseboard this Christmas.
Brie and Camembert
Creamy, sweet, and pungent, these cheeses need a strong bodied beer, but one which doesn’t overpower the flavour. Belgian blonde ales such as Duvel or Leffe Blond have the right level of sweetness to match Brie and Camembert, lots of sparkle to cut through the fat, and a potent alcoholic kick. Combined, this beer and cheese match is like a Swiss fondue!
Gruyere and Emmenthal
Beautifully nutty, these Alpine-style cheeses have got a natural affinity with malty, sweet beers. Step forward dark lagers and bocks which bring out the toffee caramel flavours in the cheese. Samuel Adams Boston Lager is widely available and is an excellent companion to this style of cheese, or try and track down a bottle of Thornbridge Kill Your Darlings, a Vienna style lager
Extra Mature Cheddar
I am SO spoilt for choice here because strong cheddar goes with virtually every beer I’ve ever tasted. But if I had to choose a ‘Desert Island Beer’ with cheddar it would be big and bold: St Austell Big Job, a powerful 7.2% IPA, or Crafty Dan 13 Guns. All the juicy tropical flavours in these beers – mango, passionfruit, satsuma – bring out the fruitiness of the cheese. The intense bitterness also cuts through the fat
Crumbly, salty and a little bit acidic, goats cheese loves a ‘contrasting’ beer like a sour tart fruit beer. A cherry beer such as Boon Kriek acts like a fruity vinaigrette. Wild Beer Co Modus Operandi is a sour red oak aged beer which is amazing with a Chevre log.
Ah, Stilton. That unique crumbly-yet-creamy texture; that intense saltiness combined with a metallic twang. This cheese is made for the dark chocolate, espresso coffee, smoked flavours of porters and stouts. Meantime Chocolate Porter is a winner in this category, closely followed by Magic Rock Common Grounds, a triple coffee porter. The sweet smokiness in both these beers blends beautifully with the salty cheese. This match is my definite favourite!
A cracking cheese, as Wallace might say. Still crafted by hand in Hawes in North Yorkshire, this should be a staple on any Christmas cheese board. There is a tradition in Yorkshire to have a slab of alcohol laced fruit cake with a sliver of Wensleydale on the side. Sounds weird, but it works. So I want my beer to taste fruit-cakey and this is the time of year to treat yourself to a bottle of Fuller’s Vintage Ale. Full of stewed fruit flavours, dried fruit, marmalade and a powerful alcoholic punch, it’s perfect with this special cheese.