Pair cheeses with beer, whiskey or wine for your holiday party

When alcohol and cheese meet, feel a chemistry and fall in love, it is a marriage made in heaven. And that’s what you want at your holiday party when you pair cheese with beer, whiskey or wine.

“The main thing is that you want a cohesive flavor from the cheese and the beer,” says Alix Wiggins of Wheel & Wedge, a premier source of American-made cheeses in Pittsburgh. “You don’t want one to overpower the other.”

Wes Shank of Wigle Whiskey in the Strip District echoes a similar thought and says whiskey and cheese should be complementary and not screaming at each other. “Think of whiskey as a rye or corn bread. If cheese goes well with a rye bread, it means that the cheese would be perfect with a rye whiskey,” he says.

Deb Mortillaro of Dreadnought Wines in Lawrenceville doesn’t favor following rules when pairing cheese and wine, but does advise to match the intensity. “The more intense the cheese is, the more intense the wine should be,” she says. “Also, start with a light and finish with a fortified wine.”

When it comes to tasting the cheese and the booze, do what the pros do. Smell the beer, whiskey or wine and get a nose for it. Then take a sip of the drink and get a sense of it. Take a bite of the cheese and then take a sip of the drink again. If the flavors linger and meld wonderfully, it’s a winning pair.

Neither the drink nor cheese should be served ice cold. Cheese should be taken out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. Whiskey needs to be served at room temperature, and beer needs to be poured and allowed to sit for some time to bring out its flavors. Often white wines are served too cold and reds too warm, says Rob McCaughey of Palate Partners in Lawrenceville. So whites need to be taken out of the refrigerator 20 minutes before serving, while reds need to be put into the refrigerator 20 minutes before serving.

It could be daunting to choose from a wide variety of cheeses. Jen Lawton, a cheese coordinator at East End Food Co-op and a certified cheese professional by the American Cheese Society, says de-stress by first setting a theme. It could be done by picking cheeses from a certain region or going with a particular style such as those with interesting rinds. “From there you can play with mixing milks [goat, sheep, cow] or textures [hard, soft, spreadable] or appearances,” Ms. Lawton says.

Also, don’t overcrowd the cheese plate.  Stick to three or five varieties.

Goat cheeses rolled in edible ash, which acts as a preservative and adds a mineral note, and blue cheeses covered with leaves such as grape, oak and chestnut will add oomph to a cheese plate. A saison or light rye whiskey will pair well with the ash-ripened cheese, while there’s nothing like a white port for the blue.

You could add a cheese that looks pretty like a young goat Gouda with a colorful yellow or red wax rind. Pair it with a beer with that has a little maltiness such as a bock, Ms. Wiggins says, to complement the tang of the goat’s milk. A mature Gouda with a black-wax covering will go well with a full-bodied, lightly oaked white like a California chardonnay, Mr. McCaughey says.

With harmonious pairings like them, you can be assured of merriment at your holiday party.

Arthi Subramaniam:, 412-263-1494 or on Twitter @asub.


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