Order of the Day: beer & cheese pairings from your local pub
Your favorite restaurant may once have offered a selection of cheeses that read like a color wheel—orange, white, and, if you were lucky, blue. And the yellow, fizzy beer options certainly didn’t afford many pairing opportunities. But luckily for us all, the times they are a-changin’.
If a corner bar or restaurant has given some attention to craft beer, it’s likely that it’s also added artisan cheese to the menu—and vice versa. Some spots even take it further and build cheese and beer programs that are aimed at highlighting the amazing combinations between the two. We turned to five establishments from across the country—some tried and true and some newcomers to the cheese-and-beer scene—to highlight the growing combinations of favorite fermentables. These pairings signal a revival of taste as much as a renaissance of craft, according to co-owner Beth Wathen of City Beer Store in San Francisco. “Monks have been making cheese in their breweries for years, but people in the States are conditioned to believe wine is the natural beverage to pair with cheese. Along with a variety of other like-minded businesses, we are hoping to change the myth.”
Marion Street Cheese Market
100 South Marion St.
Oak Park, IL
J. T. Robertson, beverage director
You’ll find six permanent beers on tap, with a focus on local breweries, and two rotating taps reserved for extremely limited releases—recent examples include Three Floyds Krunk Monk (a weizenbock from Munster, Ind.) and Goose Island Dominique (a barrel-aged beer from Chicago, Ill.). The bottle menu encompasses 25 American craft beers and ten large-format bottles. “All of our beer is exclusively American craft, as our mission statement across the business is to support local, artisanal, organic, and sustainable products whenever possible,” Robertson says.
Eight themed cheese plates on the menu include artisanal favorites from Capriole and Hidden Springs Creamery. Those looking to make up their own cheese flight can choose from a wide selection of American artisan offerings from the adjacent retail department’s renowned cheese case. The selections change often to reflect seasonality.
Northern Spy Food Co.
511 East 12th St.
New York, NY
Chris Ronis, co-owner
The rotating menu highlights ten beers (four on tap and six in bottle) that tend to hail from either New York or bordering states. “Our cuisine is rustic seasonal American, with a focus on using local ingredients. It’s a no-brainer for us to use local craft beers, since they match incredibly well with both the heartier and more delicate dishes,” Ronis says.
Along with a rotating farmstead cheese plate, the locally sourced menu features meatballs with shaved Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative’s Dante; risotto with two-year-aged Shelburne Farm’s Cheddar; and a lamb burger topped with cave-aged Landaff Cheese and served with a side of duck-fat French fries. Don’t miss Northern Spy’s signature grilled cheese sandwich made with Big Ed’s cheese from Saxon Creamery in Cleveland, Wisconsin, served with a pilsner from Kelso Brewery in Brooklyn. “The grilled cheese with sweetness from an apple jam and a touch of mint is really complemented by the crisp, refreshing pilsner,” Ronis claims.
18th and Sansom St.
12th and Spruce St.
Michael McCaulley, wine director and partner; Jon Myerow, founder and beer director; and Jenny Harris, culinary director and fromager
Choose from two dozen beers that are broken down into quirky categories; for example, Invigorating—refreshing beers such as an IPA from Smuttynose Brewing (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) and Victory Prima Pils (Downington, Pennsylvania); and Profound—rare and complex beers, such as the Pinot Noir–barrel-aged Red & White from Dogfish Head (Milton, Delaware).
Much like the beer list, the rotating menu of 16 artisan cheeses is separated into such illustrative categories as Luscious—triple creams—and Stoic—aged cheddars and Goudas. At the Tria Fermentation School (1601 Walnut St.), Myerow, Harris, and McCaulley also host the ever-popular beer-and-cheese-pairing classes, which often sell out within minutes. “While everyone knows wine and cheese as a classic culinary marriage,” says Myerow, “beer and cheese is more of a steamy love affair.”
6031 SE Belmont St.
Steve Jones, owner
Grab a seat at the bar and enjoy one of the six rotating beers on tap. All the domestic draft offerings tend to lean toward lower-alcohol, food-friendly beers, but since the Pacific Northwest is ripe with boozy imperial IPAs, you may find one of those, too. The 50-bottle collection is a perfect mix of domestic and import options that represent a virtual education in beer styles. “We work with the smaller producers whenever we can—nano breweries and start-ups,” Jones says. “That’s always been our approach with the cheese side of things, so we’ve tried to do the same thing with the beer as well.”
Visitors can choose from the daily cheese plate—typically goat, cow, and sheep’s milk cheeses—or be adventurous and ask the staff to create a flight from the staggering 250 selections in the cheese case. If you’re stopping in to pick up some items from the cheese counter, snag a beer from the bar and let the shopping begin. “We call that ‘living the dream’—shopping for cheese with a beer in your hand,” Jones says.
City Beer Store
1168 Folsom St., Suite 101
San Francisco, CA
Craig and Beth Wathen, owners
The wraparound bookshelves at this cozy spot feature more than 350 bottles of beer—the back corner looks more library than bottle shop. And though you can snag a bottle for the road, the tasting bar with six rotating taps beckons you to stay and indulge in rare kegs of everything from American craft to small-batch Belgian beer.
The Wathens keep an always-changing nosh menu of five different cheese and charcuterie options. As is the case for the tap list, the artisans behind those five snacks are a who’s who of their field—from Montgomery’s Cheddar to the local farmstead Pedrozo Dairy. “Our hope is to create a harmonious balance between cheese and beer,” Beth says. “We never want one flavor to fight for control. All of the following elements, and more, go into our selections: texture, mouth-feel, washed or unwashed rind, effervescence, maltiness, and the particular milk used in the cheese.”