Steve Jones’ love affair with cheese goes back to the mid-90s, when he worked at a wine shop in St. Louis, Missouri. There, he created and curated a cheese counter for pairing with the shop’s wines and, once the shop closed for the night, he’d pair various cheeses with craft beer as the microbrew movement took root across the country.
So, when he connected with Portland-based food writer Adam Lindsley in 2014, he saw the chance to share two decades of accumulated knowledge with the wider world. Over the next five years, Jones and Lindsley would team up to research and write “Cheese Beer Wine Cider: A Field Guide to 75 Perfect Pairings,” a full-color guide to 75 cheese pairings — 25 with wine, 25 with beer and 25 with cider. The book was released in March 2019.
“Cheese Beer Wine Cider” is built around those pairings, but it also provides an overview for “beginners” who enjoy some combination of cheese and craft beverages… whom might not know much about how they go together.
If you’re looking to get started or want to learn more, Jones and Lindsley sat down with Sip Northwest to discuss the finer points of finding the perfect pairing.
1) Know the basics.
No one expects you to know the ins and outs of a Spanish goat cheese or the subtleties of an aged cheddar, but Jones and Lindsley suggest studying up on cheese pairing basics before diving in.
In fact, the first chapter of “Cheese Beer Wine Cider” is a beginner’s guide to pairing, with ideal serving temperature, glassware recommendations, how to store and prepare cheese and more. “If you read that first chapter, you’ve taken ‘Beverage Pairing 101,’” Jones says.
2) Start with what you like.
With a seemingly infinite number of pairing possibilities, it can be dizzying to figure out where to start. Jones recommends starting with what sounds good. “If you’re afraid of jumping in, take something you really like, and start there,” he advises.
He suggests taking your favorite drink, a cheese you enjoy and seeing how they taste together. (Worst-case scenario: You can still enjoy each item separately.) The way Jones sees it, a successful pairing can build confidence and set the stage for new cheeses and beverages. “If it works, you’re going to feel a little more confident to go to your second favorite beer or wine and repeat the process,” he says. “Starting in your comfort zone is the best move.”
3) Mix it up by pairing cheese with cider or beer.
When you think about cheese pairings, you probably imagine a few cheeses alongside bottles of rosé, Champagne or Riesling.
You’re not alone — which is why Jones and Lindsley suggest broadening your palate by pairing cheeses with beer and cider. “Everyone always thinks of cheese and wine, but no one thinks of cheese and beer or cheese and cider,” Lindsley says. “But they all have amazing pairings with cheeses. You just have to look for them.”
Cider pairings, in particular, surprised Lindsley. “The inherent sweetness of the cider and the apple flavor… people are already eating apples and cheese already, so it makes sense,” he says. “Most of the time, we found that a cider would always work with one of the cheeses.”
4) Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Not every pairing will be a winner, and Jones says that’s OK. “You learn way more from mistakes than you do success,” he says.
If you find a pairing that doesn’t quitework, Lindsley suggests figuring out what wrong, which can help get it right going forward. “Think about the pairings you’ve already done, what did and didn’t work,” he suggests. “Try to find some cheese or a beverage that has similar qualities. Find one similarity, and then take off in that direction.”
5) Befriend your local cheesemonger.
If you feel like a humble Padawan, unsure in the ways of cheese pairing, don’t be shy about learning from your local Jedi master: Jones suggests engaging the cheesemonger at a local grocery store or specialty shop. A trained cheesemonger can answer your questions, make recommendations and use your likes and dislikes to suggest new pairings.
“One of the best questions you can ask a cheesemonger is, ‘What do you love right now?’” Jones says. “Any good monger is going to have three good cheeses, and they might not all be your jam, but they might be your future jam. That’s a great way to push your own boundary.”