When it comes to farmhouse beer and cheese pairings, the idea might seem like a challenge. However get a cheese expert and an Advanced Cicerone together and it’s easier than you think.
Studying beer is about more than understanding how it exists in a quiet tasting room in a clean glass. Even more than how it functions in a brewery. Part of it is appreciating how it’s experienced in the real world. Often that real world experience of beer happens with friends gathering around a table sharing food and sipping pints. And those pints that are probably receiving far less attention than the conversation at the table.
My friend and cheese extraordinaire Claire Matern and I decided to put one of these real life situations to the test….by catching up over some cheese from her family cheese shop Hiller & Moon and some beer from my trip to France.
Get a beer geek and a cheese monger together and of course the conversation turns to pairings, but we both agree: a pairing doesn’t have to be transformational, it doesn’t even need to be noticeable. What it does need to do is ensure that the diner can still enjoy both the cheese and the drink, and there’s not aggressive clashing (like those times when a roasty stout and an acidic cheese butt heads in your mouth and create metallic flavors).
The Farmhouse Beer Selections
The three beers I had to taste with were
- Goose Island Sofie, a pretty standard Belgian Saison with medium body and notes of white pepper, orange zest, and a touch of hay. This is similar to Hennepin if you can find that.
- Jenlain Ambree, their signature Biere de Garde that has a toasty character and some herbal Strisselspalt hops with a faint fruity yeast flavor that comes across like raisins or dates.
- Saison de Lis from Perennial Artisan Ales a super light straw colored Saison with floral and herbal chamomile flowers and high carbonation.
The Sofie and the Jenlain are definitly classic examples of a Belgian Saison and a Biere de Garde. On the otherhand, the Saison de Lis is a bit of a wildcard. It displays some unique flavors that aren’t common across all farmhouse ales.
Four Cheeses to Pair with Farmhouse Beers
These three rather different beers met with Claire’s cheeses: a goat cheddar, a 2-year aged Dutch Gouda, a soft ripened goat cheese, and the “King” of Stiltons. Now let’s get to some farmhouse beer and cheese pairings.
LaClare Dairy Goat Cheddar
I know I’ve mentioned how there is no definitive cheese that works with every farmhouse beer because there is so much variety in these beers, but Claire might have found one that comes close!
LaClare Dairy Goat Cheddar has more of a mellow acidity than a soft goat cheese and it’s buttery texture and flavor highlighted hidden sweetness in all three of the beers we tasted with it. It is light enough in overall intensity that it doesn\’t overpower any beer, even the very subtle floral chamomile notes in the Saison de Lis.
With the right beer, like the Sofie, this American made cheese emphasizes fruity notes because of the delicate fresh citrus character of the goat milk. This one is definitely worth seeking out and shouldn’t be too tough to find.
Burnet from Caseificio dell’ Alta Langa
My favorite cheese of the bunch on the other hand will be more difficult to find. It may be especially difficult to locate a well taken care of wheel that’s hasn’t been sealed in plastic. Burnet is a soft ripened goat cheese from Italy, specifically Caseificio dell’ Alta Langa. Some soft ripened cheeses get too funky for me but this one hit exactly the right level of complexity without delving into overwhelming territory.
At first I thought to pair funk with funk, but it turns out the Jenlain was the best with this one. It’s malt forward toast flavor acted like a cracker to mellow out the intensity of the cheese and make it a little more nuanced.
Colston Bassett Stilton
Finally we tasted the quintessential Stilton: Colston Bassett Stilton from England. It is a bit too intense for Saison de Lis, but the fudgey rich texture and sharp buttery funk was a lovely partner for both the Biere de Garde and the Saison.
These pairings reminded me of what I mentioned earlier: a well made beer loves a well made cheese. As long as the pairing isn’t distracting, it’s always a good one.