The process of moving house is mostly terrible, but there’s one plus: While most of your kitchenware is still secreted within piles of cardboard boxes, there’s no better excuse to have cheese for dinner.
I’ve been a fan of the cheese-plate-as-meal since I first worked as a cheesemonger in New York over a decade ago; it was to my delight that I later discovered, after relocating to the UK and attending several beer-and-cheese pairing events (hosted by friend, author and “freelance cheesemonger” Ned Palmer), just how well cheese and beer go together. Whenever the time calls, then – when I need a treat or a pick-me-up, a no-cooking dinner or a shared celebration – I cobble together a few beers with some cheeses (and maybe some bread or crackers or charcuterie on the side).
With the perfect excuse of my house move, plus visions of festive cheese boards, Jen at Hop Burns & Black set me the challenge of pairing two exceptional, seasonal beers with cheeses. Though I originally planned to serve each beer with just one cheese, I got a little overexcited when visiting our new local cheese shop and left with six cheeses instead.
I was also inspired by the way Ned presents beer-and-cheese pairings at his tastings. Rather than simple one-to-one matches, he serves a plate of cheeses of different styles and intensities, and encourages attendees to try small nibbles of each with every beer – to discover how they all respond to one another, to find the pairings that work best for people’s palates. I recommend following suit – pairing is highly individual and best approached from an open, exploratory perspective. Plus, you get to eat more cheese that way.
With that in mind, my pairings are a guide, but I’d encourage you to try all the cheeses with both beers to see how they interact and to see which you prefer. (Don’t to worry if you can’t find these exact cheeses – I’ve included descriptions so you can look for comparable options at your local grocery or cheese shop.)
Burning Sky Saison Automne
Saison is one of the most versatile beers for cheese pairings (and for food pairings, full stop). Rarely excessively bitter or sour, typically comprising a neat harmony between crackery malt, grassy hops, and yeast character that ranges from slightly estery up to full-on farmyard, saison’s balance and moderation make it an ideal all-rounder.
Burning Sky’s Saison Automne is a gorgeous creature, made with just enough elderberries to dye it a coral hue. Lightly crisp with a drying finish, a yeast character that just approaches the musky and farmy, and some bright fruit notes, it feels destined to go with cheese.
St Mars of the Desert Dammerlicht Schwarzbock
“Dammerlicht” means “twilight” in German – a fitting name for this broodingly sable Schwarzbock, made by Sheffield’s family-run St Mars of the Desert.
While I’ve enjoyed plenty of Schwarzbiers – roasty, dark German lagers – in my time, Dammerlicht was my first Schwarzbock, which dials up the malt level to produce a beer that's chewy, chocolatey and slightly (but not overly) sweet. It is both the beer equivalent of a cashmere sweater and also a joy to pair with cheeses that bring some of their own richness and intensity to the table.
Buchette de Provence A soft and unpasteurised goat cheese from Provence-Alpes Côte d’Azur in southern France, hand-shaped into a log, adorned with a sprig of rosemary, and served on a small piece of wood. Creamy, moussey, savoury, with an animal and herbaceous edge.
Kirkham’s Lancashire Kirkham’s is the last survivor - the only farmhouse producer of traditional Lancashire left, after hundreds of its peers closed down during the 20th century. This treasure is made from raw milk, squidgy, crumbly and redolent of butter, bright and fresh.
Langres Hailing from northeastern France, this is less pungent than some other washed-rind cheese (such as the infamously pongy Époisses). Washed in local grape eau de vie, with a bit of ageing, it softens into an incredible gooeyness, with an orange rind with nooks and crannies that resemble a brain.
L'Etivaz This firm, unpasteurised cow’s milk cheese is a close cousin of Gruyère, hailing from Switzerland. It offers a carnival of flavours – from sweet cream and fruitiness, it heads into umami territory, complemented by the light crunch of crystals.
Old Groendal Matured for a minimum of 18 months, this burnished cheese offers all the reliable pleasures of gouda: the deep butterscotch notes, the ample crunch of cheese crystals, the full-bodied flavour. It’s just stupidly delicious.
Beauvale Made by the Stilton-producing Cropwell Bishop Creamery in Nottingham, Beauvale is a creamy, buttery blue with a rye-bread aroma. Mostly mellow, until you hit a blue vein and get a zap of intensity.
Saison Automne and Buchette de Provence: This cheese’s animal, wool-sweater note picks up the saison’s subtle farmyard note perfectly, and the two feel matched in intensity. As Ned Palmer has noted, many of the best cheese-and-beer pairings unlock new, third flavours that aren’t found in either beer or cheese alone. I found this drew a pink peppercorn note out of the saison.
Saison Automne and Kirkham’s Lancashire: As a clothbound cheese, Kirkham’s Lancashire gets distinctly earthy as you approach the rind. I liked this with the saison, and it lends the cheese a grassy, biscuity edge.
Saison Automne and Langres: Inspired by the idea that this beer has “light and crisp Burgundy flavours” per the brewery, Ned recommends pairing it with a milder washed-rind cheese. Langres is just the right candidate, with its restrained funk and unabashed creaminess (which the saison’s elevated carbonation helped temper between bites).
Dammerlicht and L’Etivaz: Dammerlicht is a beer of such warm and enveloping richness that it needs cheeses that can match its intensity. The sweet cream of L’Etivaz takes on an almost salted caramel note alongside the beer, while the two together produce a crunchy passionfruit flavour – this surprised and delighted me!
Dammerlicht and Old Groendal: With its classical butterscotch profile, Old Groendal is a natural among beers that have their own innate sweetness. It feels perfectly complementary with Dammerlicht, and the two strike me as an ideal dessert pairing.
Dammerlicht and Beauvale: Anyone who’s enjoyed the magic of a stout and Stilton pairing won’t be surprised that Dammerlicht and Beauvale work just as well together: that savoury/sweet contrast is irresistible. The cheese here seems to dial back the Dammerlicht’s sweetness and highlight its roastiness, all while matching its intensity.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound and all-around lover of tasty things. You can follow her at @clairembullen. For more recipes like this, sign up to our HB&B All Killer No Filler beer subscription - you'll receive Claire's recipe and food pairings, plus beer reviews and expert tasting notes with up to 12 world-class beers like these ones every month.