June 11, 2014

Beer vs Wine - Which goes better with cheese?

This is a big question.

Ask any die hard wine lover and they will tell you that the pairing of wine and cheese is classic, that nothing is better.  They will tell you that the tannins in wine balance out with the high fat, high protein of cheese.

Ask a die hard beer fan and they will tell you that beer and cheese are the perfect pair because the carbonation helps break down and coat your mouth with the cheese, allowing you to taste it more fully.  They will say a good beer will balance out the flavour of a good cheese.

Personally I think the key to this lies in the balance and complimenting tastes.  Both wine and beer have their place when it comes to cheese but is there an ultimate pairing? Is one really better than the other?

With this question at the forefront of our minds we headed to Prince Edward County to The Great Canadian Cheese Festival.

 Lots of cheese

Yes, a festival for all things cheese and cheese related. We arrived at the Crystal Palace on the fairgrounds and were greeted by booths and booths of cheese, wine, artisan chocolates, soda and meat.

 More cheese

Ottawa's own Harvey and Vern's

What better place to decide the best pairing for cheese than at a cheese festival where the products are at your fingertips?

So much cheese to try!

We also attended a tutored talk about Wine vs Beer. Savvy Debbie put together a great tasting where we tried seven cheeses with four wines and four craft beers.

We tried the following wines:
Casa-Dea Sparkling Rose (PEC)
Sandbanks Rose (PEC)
Huff South Bay Chardonnay  (PEC)
Palatine Hills Cab-Merlot (Niagara on the Lake)

We tried the following beers:
Highlander - Lion Grass (South River, ON)
Mackinnon Brothers (new brewery, not yet open to the public out of Bath, ON)
Publican House - House Ale (Peterborough)
County Cider (PEC)

Our wines and beers

Each cheese was tasted on its own and then again with each of the wines and beers/cider.  Debbie encouraged us to find flavours that balance. We then voted on which paired better. Unsurprising the group overall was split with no big winner between wine or beer. It seemed to come down to every one's individual taste and how they found the pairings met to their taste buds.

Not shocking as most foodies, beer lovers or wine lovers will tell you that you have to find what you like, what works for you.

How did we rate them? Well... in a not shocking twist we found overall that the beer paired better than the wines (we are wine drinkers too though so it wasn't a bias)

Ready to compare

Here is how it broke down:

 #1 at the top by the red dot and then move clockwise

#1 - Laliberte Triple Cream Cheese

Paired best with the County Cider. Also went well with Publican House or Highlander Lion Grass. For wine it seemed to go best with Huff Chardonnay or Sandbanks Rose. The cider however lent the best combination of flavours and balance.

#2 - Cross Wind Farm Chevre

This soft goat cheese paired best with the Mackinnon Brothers beer. It really help mellow out the cheese and was best for complimentary flavours.  The Sandbanks Rose also went well for the wines.

A favourite for pairing with cheese

#3 - 14 Aprent Washed Rind

This cheese needed a saison beer. None of the beers offered really did enough for this cheese in terms of balance. The Huff Chardonnay was a good match however.  This was the only one where wine won over beer for us.

#4 - Gunns Hill Five Brothers Washed Rind

This cows milk cheese had similar qualities to a gouda. It was fantastic on its own but the Publican House House Ale cut through the cheese wonderfully.

Publican House

#5 - Chemin Hatley Road

This cheese was slightly fruity on its own.  It went well enough with the Huff Chardonnay and the Palatine Cab-Merlot but the winner for us was the Mackinnon Brothers. The beer really enhanced the flavours of the cheese and vice versa.

#6 - Zacharie Cloutier Washed Rind

Again this cheese on its own was very tasty and it was hard not to eat it all at once. It did pair well with the Palatine Cab-Merlot but once again the better balance came from Mackinnon Brothers.

#7 - Lindsay Goat Bandaged Cheddar

This goat milk cheddar was firm and crumbly.  The Palantine Cab-Merlot was a great match but the moment we tried it with the Mackinnon Brothers and then the County Cider we knew we had a winner. The firm cheese was broken down so wonderfully and the beer helped to enhance the cheese.

So the final verdict for us was 6 for beer and 1 for wine. The carbonation really does help cut through the fat of the cheese and just like any good pairing the right flavours work together.

Did we answer the question definitively? No.  Do we think there is a right and wrong in beer vs wine? No.

Yes, beer does break down the cheese better but in the end it comes to individual tastes. The key to a good pairing? Balance of flavours. For some that might be wine and cheese, for some beer and cheese. Others it might just be the cheese.

For us, we will continue to look for great cheese and beer pairings.

Thank you to The Great Canadian Cheese Festival for allowing us the chance to do such important and tasty research.

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