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Tips on How to Make Perfect Pairings
There’s wine at Steve Jones’ eponymous cheese bars, but if you ask for a recommendation on what to pair with his vast array of curated bites, chances are he’ll reach for a beer.
Jones has been in the cheese biz for more than 20 years, and he’s been teaching beer and cheese pairing classes for almost as long.
“When you think about cheese with a beverage, you think of wine,” Jones says. “[Wine] tannins deaden your palette, but beer has effervescence and enlightens it.”
He features a strong tap and bottle list at his Cheese Bar near Mount Tabor and at Chizu downtown—and the only food available at the Commons Brewery is Jones’ Cheese Annex. Jones also runs the annual Beer and Cheese Fest, bringing heaps of sheep, goat, raw cow, and other cheeses to pair with local beer makers.
It can be daunting to just grab a few beers and some cheese without any background, but Jones says there are a few ways to go: Pick a beer and a cheese that you think will complement each other; choose two that may contrast in a good way; or choose a beer and a cheese that come from the same place.
And don’t stress: A tasting adventure with friends can run as little as $25. Grab three beers and five small wedges of cheese, and nibble away. “Beer and cheese are very non-pretentious,” he says, noting both were the food of the peasant class in Europe. “It’s not pompous food, it’s peasant food.”
Jones arranged a tray of seven cheeses to try with several beers at Cheese Bar on a recent weeknight—here were a few of our favorite pairings.
Kölsch and Cheddar
The Saxon cow’s milk cheddar from Wisconsin has those magical cheese flavor crystals in them (you know ’em when you get ’em), with a slightly sweet finish. A kölsch-style beer, in this case 54°40’ Brewing’s Kascadia, is grainy with cereal-like notes, Jones says. “It’s almost like Grape-Nuts,” he says. “You put sugar and milk on it, like this sweeter cheddar. It’s a harmonious, breakfast-like experience.”
Gose and Goat Cheese
“I want to make a T-shirt that says ‘Gose Loves Goat,’” Jones jokes. The salty style of gose (we had a can of Seattle’s Rueben’s Brews) does seem to go with almost any cheese, but in particular it takes the funk of goat’s cheese—like the carena alpine-style cheese from Dundee’s Briar Rose Creamery—and makes it magical.
IPA and Blue Cheese
IPA tends to overwhelm most cheeses, but in a hop-obsessed town, a pairing must be found. We liked what Twin Sisters’ Whatcom Blue did to a Baerlic IPA on draft. “There’s lots happening on the tongue and the blue stands up,” Jones says. (Also try a very sharp cheddar.)
Cider and Brie
“Apples and cheese? Who doesn’t want that?” Jones says. He says in almost 90 percent of cases, cider is going to be an even better pairing than wine or beer. We had Cider Riot’s A Strong and Passionate Fruit cider and an excellent French farmhouse brie redolent of the cabbages those cows must have feasted upon.
Stout and Chèvre
One of the most weirdly compelling combos we tried was Santiam Brewing Company’s Pirate Rum-Barrel Aged Coconut Stout and Portland Creamery’s chèvre, which together tasted like German chocolate cake. Your mileage may vary.
Lager and Alpine Cheese
A semi-hard comté cheese from Alpine France was right at home next to the German stylings of a strong Maibock. Crisp, non-competitive, and entirely delightful to nosh.
Wild Ale and Sheep’s Cheese
We couldn’t get out of there without tapping into a bottle of the Commons’ Flemish Kiss, brewed with wild Brettanomyces yeast for a tart smack of a drink. Of all the beers we tried to make work with a zamorano raw sheep’s milk cheese from Spain, this was the one that lightened up the strong flavors. (Sheep milk cheese, Jones concedes, may be the one cheese that is best suited for wine.)