Beer and Cheese Pairing Workshop

Photo Credit: Ray Williams,

I love to write about beer, but I also love to taste and talk about it — that’s part of the reason I’m studying to become a beer sommelier under the Prudhomme (Canuck) and Cicerone (US) courses.

Practice makes perfect and all that, so last week I led two beer and cheese pairing workshops at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.  I wanted to use products from the cheese producers at the Fair, so I tasted and those first, and then I headed to the Royal’s craft beer bar, run by Jed Corbeil, propertier of the Griffin Gastropub, to see what Ontario craft brews he was pouring that I could match up with the cheese. Many thanks to all of the cheese and beer producers who kindly donated the samples for the workshop.

Photo Credit: Ray Williams,

Both of the workshops were extremely popular, organizers said they thought about 30 people would turn up to the Journey to Good Health Stage for the show, but over 80 came on each day, so thanks to my husband, brother-in-law and sister for volunteering to pour beer and slice a whole lot of cheese.

Photo Credit: Ray Williams,

At the beginning of each session, I surveyed the audience — both times nearly everyone had been to a wine and cheese, and many had hosted one at home. But no one had ever been to a beer and cheese event before — there were many questions on specific pairings and also on how to host one at home — so I hope this will soon change.

If you want to host one at home, I’d suggest setting up different stations, or sections of your table, so that people clearly know which beer goes with which cheese. Also, use small glasses, nice juice glasses or even wine glasses will do. It’s too tempting to fill up a whole pint, and if your guests do so, they’ll barely be able to taste anything by the fifth pairing… I think five to eight pairings are plenty, even three would be quite fun and instructive for guests. It’s also nice to encourage guests to play around with trying different beers with cheeses that they are not matched to — letting them stretch their tastebuds and find out what works f0r them. And there are probably quite a few different combos that will work together, I  heard one cheesemonger on a podcast say, “Good beer, good food, no bad hits.”

Why is that? Beer and cheese are natural bedfellows. They’re both farmhouse products, each one starts from a grass, both are fermented and aged. As well, they each balance sweetness and acidity or bitterness with fruitiness and funky fermentation flavours.

Still some pairings work better than others, so I put together a shortlist and then ran it past my Cicerone study group mate, Jesse Valllins, a former executive chef at Trevor Kitchen and Wine Bar and the Beer Bistro, who is currently teaching some classes at the Fromager program at George Brown College, including a Complex Cheese Pairing class in the spring.

Here’s what I came up with as the final list:

Scottish Pale Ale, Highlander Brewing Co. South River Ontario
Lindsay Clothbound Goat’s Cheddar, Mariposa Dairy, Lindsay, Ontario

Aroma, caramel, toast, touch of raisin and plum
Flavour:  burnt caramel almost molasses, fruity and nutty, raisin, date, graham cracker

Aged 18 months –
Award winner, took the ribbon at the Fair last year and beat out 1600 other cheeses to tie for Best in Show at the American Cheese Society Conference in 2011.
More on bandaging here.
Notes: Earthy, hay, tangy, almost a caramel sweetness at the finish.

EQUAL WEIGHT: heft with heft – a big bold cheddar would overwhelm this beer, need something with subtle depth of flavour that brings out sweetness in the beer. The cheese compliments the fruity/nutty notes in cheese. Sweetness emphasizes the grassy goatiness fruitiness in the cheese and contrasts nicely with the salt – beer is less cloying.

Hogsback Vintage Lager, Hogsback Brewing Co., Ottawa, Ontario
Devils’ Rock Creamy Blue Cheese, Thornloe Cheese Co., Thornloe, Ontario 

NOTES: Extremely salty, hints of sharp blue cheese. Lots of creamy texture, almost milky when it dissolves in mouth. Buttery finish, like blue cheese cake – has elements of sweet and salty.

Why is it so mild? Read more here.

Hogsback Brewing Company Vintage Lager
FLAVOUR: Warm, grainy, sweet honey notes – lots of sweetness and a hint of bitterness from floral, grassy hops  

Sweet bready grains highlight the sweet buttery notes, like bread & butter; and contrast with salt, helping to tame that salty note. Beer has enough creamyness to stand up to the blue. I like that the sharpness is accentuated, not toned down by this pairing.

What happens to cheese creamy texture with beer?
Carbonation! Bubbles scrub the palette clean and get rid of that sticky cream – and that’s something wine doesn’t have…

Mill Street Cobblestone Stout, Mill Street Brewery, Toronto, Ontario
Torta Surface Ripened Semi-Soft Cow Milk Cheese, Montforte Dairy

Flavours & Aromas of: Chocolate, medium roast coffee, roasted burnt bitterness lingers on the finish
Mouthfeel: super creamy head, but body is quite light
Note: this beer is now available in Nitrogen-charged cans at the LCBO, and the texture and creaminess of the beer is unbelievable. See how it works here.

A triple cream Camembert-style soft bloomy rind cheese. White, butter like consistency, very buttery and rich, with sheep milk, mushroom funk in background.

According to Jesse Vallins, “Stouts with bloomy rind cheeses are some of my favourite pairings.  The dry roastiness and bitterness in the Cobblestone will be a great contrast with the sweet creaminess of the Bliss. It’s like pairing coffee and ice cream, very much opposites, but very pleasant together.”

I love how both the creamy stout and creamy cheeses compliment the feel of one another, but the bitter roasted notes wash the creamy cheese from the mouth.

Photo Credit: Ray Williams,

Maple Smoked Comfort Cream, Upper Canada Cheese Company, Jordan Station, Ontario
Pommies Dry Cider, Caledon, Ontario 

Deep yellow, very creamy slightly slick almost cheese-slice consistency, lots of Maplewood smokey bbq on rind and nice creamy butter in middle, mild to medium saltiness, smoke and earth dominate. Them cheese is made with milk of Niagara herd of Guernsey cows cared for on the nearby Comfort family farm.

Quite sweet, Granny Smith Apple; Some white sugary sweetness. Bubbly, clean and sweet certainly not dry as claimed on the label… sparkling white-wine, highly carbonated mouthfeel

The sweetness and sharp, sparkling bubbles are strong enough to cut through this bold cheese. It stands up to the smoke, but the smokey maplewood lingers in your mouth, for an applewood smoked cheddar effect. Like a good BBQ sauce, you want sweet characteristics to balance the smokiness. Great example of carbonation scrubbing out the palette.

Crazy Canuck Pale Ale, Great Lakes Brewery, Etobicoke, Ontario (Wednesday session)
Augusta Ale, Kensington Brewing Co., Toronto, Ontario (Saturday session)
Colby Cheese with Hot Pepper,  Thornloe Cheese Co., Thornloe, Ontario 

Mild firm cheese, with milky sweetness and a seriously hot bite from crushed red peppers,

Crazy Canuck Pale Ale:
Aroma: all hops, fresh grapefruit all the way, clean
Flavour: quite bitter, punchy grapefruit peel, citrus and mango, croissant like sweetness
Mouthfeel: light and bubbly, airy, creamy head
Finish: grapefruit peel, citrus

WHY IT WORKS: I like how the citrus in the hops temporarily cools down the heat from the cheese and then it comes back, but both flavours stay in mouth. Hoppy bitterness emphasizes the heat.

Augusta Ale:
Clear, deep gold, white frothy head some lacing
Aroma: Mango and hint of caramel, citrus
Flavour: mango, juicy citrus, light and lovely, some sweetness, almost like a sweet Chinese bun
Mouthfeel: light and bubbly, airy, creamy head
Finish: mango and grapefruit

WHY IT WORKS:  Holy Cow! Does this accentuate the hot peppers, but the citrus cools it down in the finish. Sweet bready backbone matches the sweetness in the cheese.


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