Beer & Cheese Make for a Great Match

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By Courtney Cochran

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Spend enough time in a wine country brew pub and you'll sooner or later hear the favorite mantra of wine country bartenders, "It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine."  And while beer's popularity with the winemaking cognoscenti may not come as a huge surprise, its affinity for cheese probably does. That's right, like wine beer can pair beautifully with an array of fromages from Muenster to Morbier, and often does so even more gracefully than vino itself.

Fromage Friendly

We can thank the bubbles in beer for much of the beverage's fromage affinity, since carbonation helps cleanse the palate between bites of gooey, sticky cheese and prime your mouth for its next bite.  Besides this palate scrubbing ability, beer also comes in a wide variety of styles whose signature flavors (think nuts, caramel and cream, to name just a few) mimic those found in cheese far more often than do the flavors in wine. 

And so in the spirit of this site - and given the wealth of microbreweries and artisan cheese makers who reside in and around wine country - I've compiled the following suggestions to help you test-drive these low-profile partners' affinity for each other against the backdrop of the land of the vine.  So you can feel less guilty about abandoning your precious vino for a cold one, and get on with your degustation.

Partner Perfect

Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog & Napa Valley Brewing Company Calistoga Wheat Ale - The tangy, earthy flavors and round body typical of wheat beer are echoed in much-lauded Humboldt Fog's tangy-sweet goat milk center and creamy outer layer.  Fittingly, both producers are pioneers:  Humboldt-based Cypress Grove put domestic goat cheese on the map, and Calistoga's Napa Valley Brewing Company was one of the first wine country-based breweries.  

Bravo Farms Western Sage Cheddar & Bear Republic Brewing Company Racer 5 India Pale Ale - This full-bodied, raw milk cheese from the Central Valley's first artisanal cheese maker is flavored with sage, making it a great fit for Bear Republic's award-winning IPA.  The Healdsburg-based brewer crafts its hearty ale with special Pacific Northwest hops known for their floral qualities, which echo the sage in the cheese.  

Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk & Anderson Valley Brewing Boont Amber Ale - Situated an hour north of San Francisco, Cowgirl Creamery has drawn international acclaim for its unique cheeses such as this full-flavored, washed-rind triple cream whose red rind seems tailor-made for pairing with AVB's similarly full-flavored ale, the 2003 Silver Medal Winner at the Great American Beer Festival in the American-Style Amber/Red Ale category. 

Rinconada Dairy La Panza Gold & Third Street Alesworks Blarney Sisters' Dry Irish Stout - This Santa Rosa-based brewer's classic Dublin stout boasts rich flavors of coffee, malt and caramel that echo notes found in this aged, washed-rind sheep's milk cheese from San Luis Obispo's Riconada Dairy.  Over time the award-winning cheese -recognized by the American Cheese Society as a leader in the Farmstead

Sheep Milk Cheese category - develops its signature golden color and fruity, caramelized flavors that seem tailor made for stout. 

Point Reyes Farmstead Original Blue & Russian River Brewing Co. Salvation Ale - This award-winning Marin County cheese maker's Original Blue is a winning partner for a dark ale such as Salvation, whose hops and sweet, concentrated flavors masterfully offset the salty notes so abundant in blue cheese.   The bottle-conditioned Belgian-style ale (it undergoes a second fermentation inside the bottle just like Champagne) is a favorite at Santa Rosa's popular Russian River Brewing Co.


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