Whitney McChane
Cheesemonger Steve Jones thinks Alemar Cheese Company's Bent River is the best American Camembert.
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The Cheese Course: Pucker Up

Janet Fletcher - July 21st, 2014

Janet Fletcher, author of Cheese & Beer, Cheese & Wine, and The Cheese Course, and cheese columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle for more than a decade, brings her cheese expertise to FoodArts.com.

Some sour ales taste like the love child of lemonade and raspberry vinegar, and not every cheese is happy with that. I don’t think I’ve ever met a cheese I couldn’t find a compatible beer for, but selecting cheeses for sour ales stretches my skill set.

“One hard-and-fast rule is that Camembert is a really good match,” says Steve Jones, owner of Cheese Bar in Portland, Oregon. “If the cheese has a little of that nice farmyard funk, it plays well off the Brett.”

Jones is referring to Brettanomyces, the yeast that gives sour beers those earthy, sweaty-leather, and horse-blanket aromas. Lactic acid-producing bacteria make them tart.

“Russian River Supplication and Camembert is one of my all-time favorite combinations,” says Jones, whose shop offers a small but expertly curated cheese selection and about 50 bottled beers. To go domestic, replace the French cheese with Bent River from Alemar Cheese Company in Minnesota. “I think that’s the best American Camembert,” says the cheesmonger.

Jones also recommends strong aged mountain cheeses, like Switzerland’s Hoch Ybrig and Challerhocker, with sour beers. In my experience, high-fat triple-crème cheeses, like Brillat-Savarin and Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam, help soften these brews’ gripping acidity. Another strategy: echo the tartness with high-acid cheeses such as fresh goat’s milk cheese or tangy cheddar.

Jones and I agree on one “don’t” on this theoretical cheese board: Sour ale with blue cheese? Don’t go there.