Cheese and beer, a mighty pair

How to enjoy these two specialty treats in the best way possible.

Prufrock, Riprap, Eidolon and Bluebird. Photo by Marnely Murray

The craft beer movement has become a popular one, not only on the mainland, but on this little New England Island as well. The two predominant breweries, Offshore Ale Co. in Oak Bluffs and Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery in Edgartown, offer the beer-loving consumer a variety of carefully crafted brews to choose from.

Another culinary movement we’ve experienced on-Island is cheesemaking, and the premiere dairy farm handcrafting cheese at the moment is Grey Barn and Farm in Chilmark, and they’re producing seriously good stuff. Grey Barn creates five types of cheeses, all available at their adorable, honor system–based farm stand. Prufrock, Eidolon, Riprap, Bluebird, and Fromage Frais (not available at the time of this tasting, but surely a great addition) are the tasty yields of our local dairy farmers. And when talking about their cheese, we must remember we’re talking about their milk. Their herd is composed of 25 heritage-breed, grass-fed cows, and as the seasons change, you can taste it in both the milk and cheeses; the change of pastures affects both the cows and the end consumers.

Here we are on an Island with handcrafted beer and artisanal cheeses; it only makes sense to marry these two glorious offerings. When you bring together local brews and native cheeses, it’s easy to be tempted into eating every cheese with every beer. But similar to wine and food pairings, there’s a careful strategy for enjoying beer and cheese too. The simplest way of putting it: There has to be a balance. You want to pair intensities, not flavors. You’re hoping to either complement or contradict a cheese with a beer, and either way can work. For example, with a fresh soft cheese like mozzarella or burrata, you’ll think that pairing it with a pale ale might be a good idea, but interestingly enough, you should be looking for a beer with fruity undertones, maybe a lambic or even a grapefruit-flavored IPA. The acid in the fruity notes cuts through the creamy richness of the soft cheeses. Another example would be a nutty, aged Gouda. Aged cheeses tend to be on the sweeter side, with undertones of caramel and malt. Try an extra-pale ale, or even go as far as a porter or brown ale — the flavor notes of both pair extremely well with the aged cheese.

We’ve enlisted the expertise of the Grey Barn to help us develop these excellent pairings with some local brews. Now remember these pairings are just suggestions; you might prefer a completely different pairing for these cheeses, and that’s fine. If you love it, go forth and pair!

Grey Barn Cheese: Eidolon

“Young, bloomy rind cheese made in a classic French style with delicate mold growth on the surface and a center that is rich and milky.”

Offshore Ale Co. pairing: Menemsha Creek Pale Ale — the bright hoppiness and balanced malt of this pale ale makes the milky richness of this cheese shine.

Bad Martha pairing: Belgian Blonde — one of my favorite beers this summer, a light and refreshing option made with lemongrass and local rose hips. The citrus and floral notes of the beer are what pair so well with this cheese.

Grey Barn Cheese: Riprap

“Aged 10 months and washed in a quadruple (a Belgian-style ale). Sweet caramel notes balanced by fancy acidity and crystalline texture.”

Offshore Ale Co. pairing: The Lazy Frog India Pale Ale — the bold, intense hops in this beer smooth out the sweet flavor notes of this aged cheese.

Bad Martha pairing: OBsession Ale — a tribute to Oak Bluffs, this dry-hopped extra pale ale loves the fruitiness of the cheese.

Grey Barn Cheese: Prufrock

“A petite eight-ounce cheese, washed rind bathed in Bantam Cider (a local Massachusetts cider company) as it ages. Mild paste is supple and rich.”

Offshore Ale Co. pairing: East Chop Lighthouse Ale — slight maltiness and easy-to-drink ale is one way to go with this stinky cheese. The cheese becomes bigger with this beer, if you can imagine that.

Bad Martha pairing: Blasphemous Black Lager— the other way to go in this pairing is with this black lager, or better yet a black India pale ale. The caramel notes of this lager are what make the pairing brilliantly delicious.

Grey Barn Cheese: Bluebird

“Blue-green mold marbles the velvety cream paste and contributes to its lasting earthy flavors. Slightly salty and vegetable, this blue is pleasantly mild.”

Offshore Ale Co. pairing: Beach Road Nut Brown Ale — pair a blue cheese with a beer that will stand its ground, like this nut-brown ale. Aromas and flavors of bittersweet chocolate work with the earthiness of this cheese.

Bad Martha pairing: Smokehouse Dunkel — this cheese smells of pasture and barnyard, in the best way possible; the Dunkel and its smokiness is what we love about it. It tastes like a campfire-infused summer night on the Vineyard.

To create your own beer and cheese tasting, purchase cheese from the Grey Barn farmstand located on 22 South Road, Chilmark. Beers can be purchased directly at Offshore Ale Co., located on 30 Kennebec Avenue, Oak Bluffs, or at Bad Martha Farmer’s Brewery on 270 Upper Main Street, Edgartown. Bad Martha’s also offers a local cheese plate at the Brewery.