Beer and cheese are easy lovers: They’re both farmhouse products, they start from grasses, they’re fermented and aged. Cheese balances sweet and acidic, while beer walks the tightrope between sweet and bitter. They both share funky fermentation flavours—they can be fruity, nutty, grassy, toasty, bitter, earthy or honey sweet. So it makes sense that European monks began washing, soaking and infusing their cheeses with beer centuries ago (try Chimay à la Bière for an old-school example).
Now, with more artisan cheesemakers importing to, and starting up here in Canada, we’re finally getting to taste what it’s like when local beer and small-batch cheeses come together. Here are four beery-good cheeses to check out. Just remember to crack open a beer with that cheese board, eh?
Cahill’s Irish Porter Cheddar
Marion Cahill began crafting this marbled Irish cheddar from the milk of her family’s Holstein Friesian cows in the early 1980s. Now in her 70s, her daughter, Helen heads up the operation and the cheese is still made in small batches. "Cheddaring" involves cutting the curds into tiny bits and then pressing them back together. The Cahill’s add an extra-strong Guinness stout into those cut curds before pressing, which lends the cheese its marbled brown hue.
Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese, Beau’s
To develop the beery flavours in this Swiss-style cow’s milk cheese, 32-year-old cheese maker, Shep Ysselstei, brushes it every other day with Tom Green milk stout from Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company. "We do this for at least six weeks," he says, "until you get a subtle depth of flavour and a deeper colour from the stout." Tip: A word on washed-rind cheeses: The rind carries deeper beer and funky flavours, make sure to eat it!
Beer-soaked bacon grilled cheese
Beer-washed cheeses ain’t cheap—and their delicate flavours could get lost in a grilled sandwich. So I found a way to infuse beer into the bread: just mix one egg, a tablespoon of flour, a sprinkle of salt and 1/2 cup of your favourite beer together and pour into a shallow pan. Soak each slice of bread in the beer batter, leave for a few seconds to absorb, and then fill with cheese and your other favourite fixings, then grill both sides until brown and crisp, and cheese is melted. I tried Steam Whistle pilsner with an easy-melting Alpine-style gouda — the beer’s lightly grassy and the naturally bready flavours found a friend in the creamy, mildly fruity cheese. Amp things up by drinking the crisp pilsner alongside the rich cheesy sandwich—it’ll cut right through the fat to refresh your tastebuds for the next bite.
The Cheesiry's Ribstone Creek Cheese
“I love doing flavour-infused cheeses, and I’d been planning a beer cheese ever since I tasted the Guinness Cheddar,” says 37-year-old, Rhonda Zuk Headon, whose husband runs the sprawling cattle farm which she operates her boutique dairy, The Cheesiry, in rural Alberta. She approached “neighbouring” brewery, Ribstone Creek, last year—a 45-minutes drive from her farm. “People don’t think that a cheesemaker or a brewery would be thriving way out here—so I thought washing the cheese in their rich, winter porter would be a neat way to tie two cottage industries together.” Zuk Headon made a few batches in December, and still washes it every week with the beer.