It’s widely assumed that wine and cheese are compatible friends. They’re paired together so routinely that phrases like “the white wine and Brie crowd” can be used to define a social set. But all is not well in this friendship. At least one wine writer has recognized this, according to brew master and gourmand Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewing: Willy Gluckstern, a somewhat cranky New York wine critic, called wine and cheese a “train wreck in the mouth.”
Not many folks realize that beer and cheese have far more in common than wine and cheese. Both are simple and nutritious, each born of Graminae and carefully nurtured in an ancient fermentation process. Of course, the beer aficionado must be forgiving of the fact that cheese residue remaining on the lips will crash the finest head formations of any beer. If you can put up with that inconvenience, you’ll find that most beer styles are quite compatible with most cheese types.
The same cannot be said of wine and cheese. Naturally, some wines do go well with some cheeses, but the pairing is much trickier.
The wedding of Lactobacillus and Saccharomyces is fraught with perils of another nature. The marriage of milk and grain is a melding of fat and carbohydrates–calories compounded by more calories. This is not a diet for the weak hearted nor for weight-loss champions. Deal with it. Remember, losing weight is fun only if you have some to lose.
It is fascinating to consider that both beer and cheese are the result of ferments. That of beer produces alcohol, while that of cheese produces acid. Not to worry; both processes have matured over the centuries. Early beer was dark, overbearing and sometimes wild, whereas cheese evolved from a sour, semi-solid mess. Your beer, in those times, was limited to what your local brewer could produce, and the same was true of cheese. You took what you could get or could make yourself.
Over the centuries, beer has become the sophisticated and wide-ranging delight that we know and love. In recent years, large companies may have reduced the brewing process to the lowest levels conceivable in their attempts to satisfy the most people possible. Despite that, modern beer is undergoing a revolution in which the old styles are being brought back and new styles are evolving. Beer is alive and moving right along.
Cheese, too, has undergone a similar revolution. Cheeze Whiz and Velveeta are no longer the epitome of mass-marketed cheese, any more than “lite” beer is that of the beer industry. Small American cheese makers are undertaking the manufacture of ever more obscure cheese types from across the world, just as craft brewers have revived ancient artisanal brewing processes.
Moreover, like beer, cheese comes in many forms. Cheese ranges in density from very soft and gooey to relatively hard, and can be made from the milk of dairy cows, sheep and goats. Although rare, cheeses have also been produced from a wide-ranging bestiary, including such oddities as yaks, reindeer, camels, water buffalo, and even zebras. These are creatures on which one can barely imagine locating udders, let alone milking them. Indeed, there is a story of cheese made from the milk of manatees, although it strains the imagination to envision a method of milk extraction from that water-bound species.
What these milk-producers have in common is that they are all vegetarians–grass and grain eaters. Grass is indeed the common element for the relationship between beer and cheese.
Milk Types for Cheese
Most cheese is made from dairy cows’ milk. Cows are milked twice a day; cheeses are usually a blend of morning and evening milkings. Milk is higher in fat early in the calving cycle and at the end of the lactation cycle. High-fat milks are preferred for cheese making, but cheese can also be made from skim or partially skimmed milk, which may be pasteurized or unpasteurized.
Goats’ milk is popular. It is very high in fat content and freer of pathogens, so for that reason it is usually not pasteurized. Nanny goats have high yields and short lactation periods. Chevre (goats’ milk cheese) is usually strong and full flavored.
Some cheeses are made from ewes’ milk. Sheep thrive in harsh conditions, and ewes’ milk allows cheese making in geographic areas where cattle would not survive. The sheep lactation period is shorter than that of cattle and far more seasonal. These cheeses are usually sharper than cow cheese.