Beer and Cheese: A Chat with The Rhined’s Stephanie Webster
In a recent episode of Beer Talk we dove into the world of Beer and Cheese. Our Direction of Education, Chris Shields, sat down with Stephanie Webster, cheesemonger and owner of The Rhined and Oakley Wines. They waxed poetic on the joys of new flavor combinations, swapped tips for new samples, and tried Whiffle, our Witbier, alongside some delectable goat cheeses.
Chris: How do you approach pairings? How do you adjust between beer and wine pairings?
Stephanie: With wine and cheese, I sit down with a philosophy of “what grows together goes together.” Obviously you can expand and find new things by pushing past that, but if I’m pairing a Cava with cheese, I’m going to start with a Catalonian cheese. If I have a White Burgundy, I’m going to go with a cheese made in Burgundy, or at least that style. Wine and cheese have so much history, and it’s all connected to the terroir.
With beer I go straight for flavors. What’s so great about pairing beer and cheese, and why some might say beer and cheese pair even better than wine, is that there are so many overlapping flavors. The descriptors we use to describe beer are actually very similar to those of cheese. Flavors like yeasty, toasty, nutty, creamy exist in both the beer and cheese worlds.
The history of beer and cheese is fascinating. In monasteries during fasts, for example, monks would wash cheese in beer and it would pick up all these funky umami characteristics that helped substitute for meat.
C: Beer and Cheese both start with grass, too.
S: Exactly. Animals are eating in a pasture, and the more diverse the plant life in that pasture, the better the milk is, and––at the hands of a talented cheese maker––the better the cheese is.
C: Let’s get into some pairings. Whiffle is low-medium intensity. Flavor wise, there’s a spicy coriander flavor with some citrus, plus the obvious carbonation. There’s also a nice full-bodied mouthfeel. That said, what brought you to pair goat cheese with this Witbier?
S: Witbier and goat cheese is a classic pairing. The citrus complements the tanginess of the goat cheese, and the weighted mouthfeel goes great with the slight acidity of the cheese. So for Whiffle I went in two directions. We do a honey-whipped goat cheese, and I thought it’d be fun to see if we can bring out any sweetness in this beer. It’s dry and crisp but this cheese might bring out some of the sweet malt character.
I also went with one of my favorite producers, Capriole Goat Cheese. She makes a cheese called Piper’s Pyramide. It has a little bit of smoked paprika on the outside and in the middle. I thought this would be fun to play up the spice in Whiffle and get that coriander popping. Hopefully these two cheeses will highlight two contrasting flavors in the beer.
C: I love the idea of bringing in honey because malt can so often have a honey character. Whiffle doesn’t have a pronounced honey note, but this cheese could really bring out that subtle honey character. You’re using food or beer to pull a characteristic from the flavor profile.
S: What I love about Whiffle is the aggressive carbonation. These cheeses are fatty, creamy, tongue-coating treats, and that carbonation acts like scrubbing bubbles. (This is also why Champagne pairs so well with Triple Crème). It refreshes the palate between each bite.
C: When you’re doing this at home, I always say try the beer, try the food, then try the beer again. Let each sample coat your tongue. With this Piper’s Pyramide, going back to Whiffle after the cheese you get all that coriander flavor. It’s wild. The citrus steps back a bit, too.
S: It’s fun! With these pairings the most important thing is to try different things, try new combinations. Figure out what you like, because your palate is always different than what I like.
One last thing to note for sampling is to get the temperature right for your cheese. Make sure to get your cheese out of the fridge 30-45 minutes before you taste so you can pick up the more nuanced flavors. The closer to room temperature the better.
C: Similarly with beer, as it warms those aromatic compounds will lift up out of the beer and hit your olfactory systems. You’ll be able to pick up on all sorts of subtle components. You don’t need to be at room temperature, but trying beer warmer than fridge temp will open up some of the nuances, especially with higher intensity beers.
For the full interview, head to our IGTV page. If you’re in Cincinnati, please do yourself a favor and pop into the Rhined. Their team is friendly, helpful and insanely knowledgeable. Much like beer, cheese is a journey; you can’t beat a good guide!