photo credit: Jasper Hill Farm/Queen City Brewery
Cheese and beer are a match made in Vermont. Just one look at the agricultural landscape of the state, and the synergy of beer and cheese together makes perfect sense: both are products sprung from the fields, beginning with grasses like barley and wheat that are transformed by fermentation. The natural breakdown of grasses by our state's iconic dairy cows is not unlike the malting process in beer production. The end products - Vermont's artisanal cheese and craft beers - have a natural affinity for each other, and when thoughtfully paired together, magic ensues.
DigInVT asked cheese monger Mary Tuthill of Mad River Taste Place, and craft brewer and industry expert Steve Parkes of Drop-In Brewing Company to help decode the secret to skilled cheese and beer pairing. Where to start? With just a few guidelines to keep in mind, you're on your way to picking winning combinations from the Vermont's vast array of locally produced cheese and beer options.
Pairing Ground Rules
Match Intensity. Pair a light bodied beer with a delicate cheese; a more complex and hoppy beer with an aged cheese that can match the sharpness; a hearty stout with a full-on ripened cheese that can stand up to the roasted undertones of dark brew. Think of it like a flavor prize fight - would you put a lightweight in the same ring as a heavyweight? Cheese and beer that equal each other in intensity and heft work nicely in a match up. When their powers align, you've got a winning combo.
Find the Common Ground. Bitter, sour, and sweet are the touchstones of taste to consider when pairing beer and cheese. Seek the commonality in flavor: couple a hoppy brew with a sharp hard cheese that has a lingering kick; a sour with a ripened and ashed soft cheese; a malty ale with the caramel or butterscotch undertones of gouda. In a good match, one hints of the other and picks up where its partner left off.
Start light and build from there. When planning a tasting of several beers and cheese selections, begin with the light bodied beers and increase intensity and flavor. Pick your pleasure from the list below that begins with the lofty, light Helles and ends with the moody Porter with hints of our other obsessions: chocolate and coffee.
Beer Style: Helles
Golden Helles - von Trapp Brewing, Stowe
This bright, pale and crisp golden larger with a floral hop aroma and a bread malt balance.
Orb Weaver Creamery Farmhouse - semi firm texture with fresh milk flavors and a horseradish tang on the back end (cow milk)
Neighborly Farms Colby Jack - Traditional Jack cheddar - soft, creamy and slightly tangy (cow milk)
Beer Style: Heifweizen
Hazy Hefe, Hired Hand Brewery, Vergennes
Heifweizen is a golden ale made from wheat that can feature iconic banana, clove, bubblegum, and even black pepper aromas. This local pick is made with wet hops.
Maplebook Buratta - a mozzarella shell filled with cream and stracciatella, delicate, creamy & fresh (cow milk)
Sweet Rowen Farm Cheese Curds - the squeakiest, most fun way to eat cheese! Mild and super snackable! (cow milk)
photo credit: Sweet Rowen Farm Cheese
Beer Style: English IPA
Landlady ESB, Queen City Brewery, Burlington
This amber beauty available for pick up in growlers has an aromatic fruitiness and a flowery, hoppy elegance in the finish.
Shelburne Farms 3 year cheddar - Complex flavors with bright acidity and tropical fruit tones, especially pineapple. There are these herbaceous flavors in the cheese itself that have a piney, rosemary thing going on! (cow milk)
Jasper Hill Farm Cabot Clothbound - English style cheddar with hints of butterscotch and toffee in a very special Japer Hill/Cabot Creamery collaboration (cow milk)
photo credit: Shelburne Farms
Beer Style: Sour
Gin Barrel Saison, Hermit Thrush Brewery, Brattleboro
Look no further than Hermet Thrush for this sour golden saison aged in Barr Hill Tom Cat Gin barrels. The fruitiness of yeast compliments the floral honey nuances and vanilla character from toasted new oak to create an utterly complex and unique beer. Made with Brattleboro wild mixed culture. 6.5% ABV.
von Trapp Farmstead Mt. Alice - Flavor notes are creme fraiche, lightly grassy, nicely salted (cow milk)
Vermont Farmstead Lille - Rich & creamy with hints of a lemony tang - cow milk
photo credit: Little Pond Digital
Beer Style: Brown Ale
Heart of Lothian, Drop-in Brewing Company, Middlebury
This traditional Scottish 90-shilling brown ale has caramel and chocolate malt flavors, finishing dry.
Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise - Based off Gruyere with French onion soup and roasted nut flavors. It has a natural washed rind, is semi-firm in texture, and aged for a minimum of nine months. Depending on the season, the flavor profile on Tarentaise can range from bright red berries and floral undertones to deeply brown butter and nutty to wonderfully savory and brothy (fresh Jersey cow milk)
Cobb Hill Dairy Ascutney Mountain - Green onion and garlicky nuts with hints of roasted nuts (cow milk)
photo credit: Drop-In Brewing Company/Spring Brook Farm Cheese
Beer Style: Double IPA
Tribute, 14th Star Brewing Company, St. Albans
This celebrations a celebration of hops! With a smooth malt backbone allows 5 different hop varieties to steal the show with bright flavors and aromas of pine, fresh citrus, and pineapple.
Jasper Hill Farm Bayley Hazen Blue - Fudgy, well salted but an approchable blue. Well balanced w/blue flavor and butter (cow milk)
Parish Hill Creamery West West Blue - Hints of buttermilk and blue cheese dressing with the creamiest texture (cow milk)
photo credit: 14th Start Brewing Co.
Beer Style: Belgian Triple
Hazard, Drop-In Brewing Company, Middlebury
Triples are strong, golden ales that prominently feature the fruity and spicy characteristics of Belgian yeast. This somewhat sweet beer with a dry finish is eminently drinkable, especially in combination with these rich cheese pairings. The carbonation of the beer will lift the fattiness of the cheese right off you palate for a remarkable experience.
Champlain Valley Triple Cream - ooey, gooey, rich and buttery (cow milk)
Champlain Valley Truffle Triple Cream - ooey, gooey, rich and buttery with truffle oil & shavings- absolute heaven! (cow milk)
Beer Style: Porter
Owl at Night, Four Quarters Brewing, Winooski
End your Vermont Cheese and Beer Pairings with this simply divine deep, dark brown porter with garnet highlights, dark chocolate and coffee aromas mixed with toffee and toast, and a medium body with a semi-dry roasty finish.
Karim Creamery Hispanico - deep, well balanced flavors that are lightly tangy rounded out with roasted nuts (cow milk)
Vermont Shepherd, 2 Year Invierno - complex, crystalized and basically an Umami bomb (cow and sheep milk blend)
Shout out to the experts!
Special thanks to Steve Parkes of Drop-In Brewery Company in Middlebury for the truly expert advice on all things beer and cheese! We recommend dropping into the Taproom & Brewery (see what we did there?) to meet Steve and try some of the best Vermont's best craft beer.
We can't say enough about Mary Tuthill of Madriver Taste Place! She is Vermont's resident cheese
afficianodo and any trip to the Mad River Valley must include a visit to her specialty market stocked with all the best Vermont products!
photo credit: Drop-In Brewery Company/Mad River Taste Place