We may consider Pilsners to be on the light side of the beer spectrum but this does not mean they should be taken lightly. When it comes to pairing them with cheeses the Pilsners can hold their own with some of the big guns, stinky cheeses included.
The water used to produce the best Pilsners is softened; this helps give them clarity and it allows the hop aromas and flavors to come forth. These distinct aromas and flavors is what give Pilsners their heft, while the alcohol contents of most of them remain moderate. This hop-forwardness of Pilsners can present pairing challenges to some of the milder goat cheeses, whereas other less flavorful lagers can meld pretty well with that family of cheese types.
Not to over-analyze it but we want to mindful of the potential for mismatches, particularly when they occur with goat cheeses. The goat cheeses can clash with some beverage partners, while on the other hand, the good goat cheese matches can be sublime. When the clashes do occur we just want to make sure that we don’t blame the goat! Goat cheeses have been much-maligned long enough. As I have noted over the years, the first no-no I get from people contemplating a selection of cheeses is the avoidance of goat.
The second no-no we hear when people select their cheeses is to skip the blues; almost as many people shy away from the blue cheeses as those that skip the goats. On the blue (strong) end of the cheese spectrum is where the Pilsners may also falter. For most cheese categories in between these two bookend cheese types, the milder goats and the big bad blues, Pilsners perform admirably. To savor the finer qualities in a Pilsner you may want to skip over the blues.
If we skip the mild young goat cheeses and the blues (but do not entirely write either of them off) we can find a broad grouping of cheeses that are Pilsner friendly: most cows, some sheep cheeses (which tend to be versatile with more beverages anyway) and some mixed milk cheeses. The pressed sheep milk cheeses such as the Bianco Sardo, Ossau Iraty, or Stella Royale have their own full aromas that can balance the aromas in the Pilsners.
The wash-rind cow cheeses pair especially well with the Pilsners, younger to older. The meaty aromas in the cheeses provide the balance to the beers. This should be no surprise since these cheese types have long been produced in the regions where the Pilsners first flourished:Czechoslovakia and Germany. When you are enjoying some of these stalwart cheese types, you may look for something refreshing in your beverage as a counterpoint, like a Pilsner. Of the more aged ones, try the Andeerer Schmuggler, the Appenzeller, the Hittisau, thePrattigauer, and the Uplands Pleasant Ridge. For the younger, stinkier cow cheeses, try the Abbaye de Tamié or the Edwin’s Munster.
There are a couple of other cow cheese categories that fit the bill: the cheddar types and the cooked curd or Gouda types. The success with the Pilsners can be attributed to the “sharpness” in those cheeses: the acid, the salt, as well as the texture. When you have all these pronounced qualities in cheeses a chilled Pilsner can be just the ticket. The Gouda, 4 y.o.; the Roomano; the Terraluna or the Quicke’s Cheddar; any of these leave a happy ending in the mouth and tummy.
Max McCalman of Artisanal Premium Cheese