Beer and Cheese for Special Occasions and Holidays

Some people just do not get the subtleties of wine. The reason might be that they have never tried good wine served at the right temperature. For whatever reason, many people eschew wine in favor of beer for holidays and other special occasions. Beer makes an excellent choice because it usually has less alcohol, helping guests to avoid inebriation. When hosts pair good beer with superior cheeses, they create an elegant party spread. Quality microbrews and other classic beers provide a gourmet touch for New Year’s Eve or any other occasion.

Great pairings will impress even the most demanding guests. Choosing the right pairing is a matter of personal choice, but some suggestions may help generate ideas for entertaining. Choose the best quality cheeses that fit the budget and include several varieties. Thoughtful hosts provide a mild cheese for timid palates, and add other nibbles such as vegetables and dips, gourmet crackers, flatbread, or bruschetta. Bruschetta is toasted Italian bread rubbed with garlic and topped with diced tomatoes, olive oil, basil and a little balsamic vinegar. Mild cheeses include Swiss, mozzarella, provolone, Munster, and American. These cheeses pair well with white beers or pale ales

The choices are plentiful for successful pairings. Roquefort or bleu cheese is a great choice and, and hosts might choose a yeasty Trappist ale such as Chimay Bleue. Sharp cheddar is always a good decision, and any full-bodied beer will complement this cheese. Gruyère goes very well with wheat beers because both have a nutty flavor. Brie or goat cheese matches the flavor of a pilsner beer. Emmental tastes divine when served with bock beer.

Camembert is made from unprocessed milk, which adds a yeasty taste, that pairs with dark, yeasty beers. Some cheese makers today have switched to pasteurized milk, but try to find the unpasteurized variety for the best match. Brie is the best-known French cheese, but tastes very differently when sampled in France. Genuine French Brie is unstabilized, and it has more complex flavors when the cheese has matured. Brie that is pure white is not mature. Once a wheel of brie is cut, it will never mature. Hosts should try to find as many cheeses as possible made with unpasteurized milk because these cheeses have a yeasty tang that enhances the flavor of good beer.

Any beer that people enjoy can be included, and hosts should include several choices of beer and varieties of cheese. Great special occasion beers include Rochefort 10, Duvel, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Blue Moon, Liefmans Fruitesse, Maredsous Brown, and Vedett Extra White. Rochefort 10 is expensive at $11 a bottle, but the flavor is perfect for very special occasions—it will simply blow guests away with the flavor complexity. Duvel, Blue Moon, Liefmans Fruitesse, Maredsous Brown, and Vedett Extra White are Belgian beers with rich flavors and complex characteristics that complement cheese.

Cream Havarti is Denmark’s most famous cheese, and is a mild, creamy, semi-soft cheese that comes in a log, and often in enhanced with jalapenos, dill, garlic and other herbs. Chevre is a white cheese from the Burgundy region of France that has a creamy texture and mild tangy flavor that pairs well with lighter beers and pale ales. A good spread for a special occasion should include some antipasti selections such as cured meats, olives, peperoncini, anchovies, marinated mushrooms, and artichoke hearts.

Fondue is a warm, cheese dish that originated in Switzerland and is great for entertaining. The dish is traditionally made from wine and a mixture of two or more cheeses. Flour or cornstarch is added to help hold the emulsion. A hint of garlic is usually included and the cheese is stirred constantly until melted in a communal fondue pot called a caquelon. Kirsch is often added to give a tangy zing to the melted dish, and guests dip toasted bread cubes into the melted cheese. Traditionally Emmental and Gruyére are mixed with white wine, but there is no reason that a quality beer and cheese of choice cannot be substituted. Just try the combination first to ensure the flavor is suitable.