When Slow Food Minnesota asked us to pair Fulton Beer with local cheese, we had only one question: How many dozens of pairings do you need? When informed that we’d need just one for each of the brewery’s five mainstay brews, we grudgingly agreed to rein it in and went to Seward Co-op’s excellent cheese counter to find some likely matches. We tried roughly a dozen different cheeses with Fulton’s beers and found some minor disasters (sour or bitter notes dominating the interaction), some ships passing in the night (no real conversation between the cheese and beer), and some really interesting mingling and dancing, from a flavor perspective. The five pairings below are our suggested matches, but there are many, many others out there waiting to be discovered.
Pasture Pride Juustoleipa and Lonely Blonde Ale
If you’ve never had it, juusto (Finnish-style “bread cheese”) is a must. It’s a baked cheese that can be heated up in an oven or microwave without melting, and then sliced into warm creamy-salty cubes of snackable goodness. (Traditional juusto was sweet and was often dropped into a cup of coffee as a flavoring agent / special bottom-of-the-cup treat; Americans like this cheese salty rather than sweet, something Pasture Pride does well.
Juusto’s mellow, creamy flavor is a perfect match for the softly spoken Lonely Blonde Ale — the squeakiness and salt of the cheese add personality and depth to the sessionable and effervescent beer without overwhelming it.
Caves of Faribault / Maple Leaf Jeffs’ Select Gouda and The Ringer Pale Ale
We love the sandstone cave-aged Jeffs’ Select Gouda (a collaboration between Jeff Jirik of the Caves of Faribault and Jeff Wideman of Maple Leaf Cheese in Wisconsin) because it almost transcends its category — it has a rich caramel sweetness that shocks and delights.
Paired up with the Ringer Pale Ale, the cheese offers a nuttiness that brings out a similar quality in the beer, and both share a mild, sweet earthiness that makes this a big, pleasant mouthful of a duo.
Shepherd’s Way Big Woods Blue and Libertine Red Ale
Big Woods Blue is a blue cheese for people who love blue in all its rich complexity — it’s earthy (almost meaty) and convincingly sharp, but with a full, buttery richness that balances out its more aggressive tendencies.
Libertine Red is a disarmingly rich and sweet beer, evocative of port wine, and this sweetness plays beautifully with the tang of the cheese. Both the beer and cheese also share a quality we can only describe as “graininess” or grit, a textural complexity that helps one blend into the other.
Hook’s Aged Cheddar and Sweet Child of Vine
Hook’s Cheese Company of Mineral Point, Wisconsin, makes some of the best aged cheddar in Wisconsin (and, therefore, the world). It’s dense and profoundly flavorful without being overly sharp — there’s a crunchy, sweet nuttiness that offsets the cheese’s aggressive side. It truly does mellow with age.
Pair it with the hoppy-yet-also-malty Sweet Child of Vine and you come up with a flavor profile that evokes Annie’s Mac and Cheese, with the malt and sweetness of the beer echoing the nutty sugars of the aged cheddar and the bite of the hops evoking its sharpness.
Sartori Raspberry BellaVitano and Worthy Adversary Stout
Sartori’s Raspberry BellaVitano is a revelation of a flavored cheese. It’s easy to think that flavored cheese equals garbage cheese, and for years in the Upper Midwest, that’s largely been true. But Raspberry BellaVitano isn’t adulterated with hideous raspberry / sugar chemicals — it’s soaked with the excellent New Glarus Raspberry Tart ale, which brings out the cheese’s fruity notes without killing the palate with sweetness or artificial flavors.
The rich, earthy, slightly smokey, chocolate-evocative Worthy Adversary Stout pairs nicely with this cheese. Taken together, the beer and cheese are a dessert course, all things rich and decadent consumed in one bite and a sip.