The Perfect Pairing

By: Monica Nino & Bryan Gonzales
Photos: JoMando Cruz

Most traditionally trained musicians will tell you theory is for knowing then forgetting about so that you can enjoy the music. Food pairing is much like that. Knowing a handful of theories is great, and some science behind it is even cooler. For example, alcohol enhances heat, so maybe a beverage with less alcohol would be more enjoyable when you’re having a four-alarm fire dish. Red meats and tannins fight for room on the palate in the best way possible. Also, anything sparkling usually works alongside seafood. The point is that there are certain guiding principles. However, we are big advocates of finding your own way.

We are The Board Couple—a local charcuterie delivery and grazing table experience company, and we’re teaming up with SA Beer Magazine to collaborate on finding the perfect board and beer pairings. We specialize in pairing sweet and savory together on a board for parties and events. Thus, our charcuterie and cheese boards intentionally come with everything to cover the spectrum from sweet to savory by liberally combining textures and flavors across the board (pun absolutely intended). And with the ongoing winter beer season, the heartier bites are what we’re setting out to find against a marzen beer, pumpkin cider, stout, old ale, and sour IPA.

This charcuterie board had our favorites (along with some new items) and included: prosciutto, Genoa salami, peppered salami, traditional hard salami, chorizo, rosemary ham, goat cheese, blue cheese, brie, honeycomb, dark chocolate, white chocolate, cocoa-dusted almonds, grapes, raspberries, blueberries, pear, pickles, olives, champagne honey mustard, brat house beer mustard, cherry balsamic preserves, peach preserves, peach butter, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, dried cherries, dried cranberries and crackers. Our rules were simple—pick at least three items on the board to create a bite and then try it with the beer. You must choose a meat, a cheese and the third item is your choice.

Round One: 

Marzen 

This German lager is brewed with smoked malts. Rauchbier is a specialty from the German town of Bamberg. This medium-bodied beer is a dark brown color and its smokey aroma lends itself to being a strong contender in the pairing ring. Hints of leather, tobacco leaves, and wood immediately hit you along with some maltiness on the palate. We loved pairing it with a peppered salami, blue cheese and brat house beer mustard. These items along with the beer’s bold flavors are a thin slice of heaven. You have your savory, spicy, bold and salty flavors all in one bite. We also loved the sweet pairing with raspberries and dark chocolate. The sweet cuts the heavy lager and evens the playing field. 

In short, anything with a smoky undertone, spicy flavor, or bold bite is just what this marzen begs for. Its deep, smoky flavor commands the blue cheese and gives its uncontested pungent taste a run for its money.

Round Two: 

Pumpkin Cider

On the nose, you are hit with so many aromas out of the gate. Wet stones and fall pumpkin carving, like when the pumpkin’s flesh is being taken out and the seeds are entangled. That very moment is what hits you up front. The earthy taste dances with the light sweetness of apple. The pumpkin isn’t overpowering and adds an unassuming layer. Notes of caramel and spicy cinnamon also shine through. 

We paired brie, pretzel crackers, and chorizo sausage with this cider. Usually, chorizo is a wildcard and a challenging item to pair, but it worked wonderfully with the cider. While the brie compliments the finish, the salty and spicy chorizo bring out the smooth, sweet flavors of the cider. Another group that worked with the cider included peppered salami, goat cheese, and dried cherries. The texture of goat cheese helps bring out the peppery flavor of the salami and the sweetness of the cider. It almost enhances the cider flavor, if that’s possible.

We also identified one more adventurous pairing: cider with honeycomb, prosciutto, champagne honey mustard, and white chocolate. This mixed bag of flavors provided sweet, savory, salty, and decadent all in one bite that beautifully complemented the cider. In the end, we determined that the cider was very lenient with the items on the board. However, we do not recommend pairing it with ham.

Round Three: 

Mexican Stout

Our stout poured pitch black with a frothy head. It’s as though it was brewed in a pit deep in the earth itself. When you smell it for the first time, you’re automatically hit with cinnamon, chocolate, and chile flavors. It has the reminiscent aroma of when a Mexican chocolate cake is baking and it’s almost ready to be pulled from the oven. The initial taste was smooth with spices all around and chili pepper on the finish.

With so much flavor, we recommend a conservative pairing such as Genoa salami, blackberry, and dark chocolate. The saltiness of the salami with the tartness of the blackberry and hints of sweet from the dark chocolate compliment the stout perfectly. The cinnamon and chocolate flavors play well with this combo and the spicy finish is just an added bonus.

We also loved pairing the stout with cherry balsamic preserves, traditional dry salami, and brie.  The stout’s tiering of flavors blankets this combo in the best way possible. And although it wasn’t our friend, we feel obligated to still recommend peach butter, prosciutto, and brie with this stout. The stouts cinnamon and pepper flavors bring out the peach and leave a chocolatey and buttery finish. Contrasting sweet and salty flavors are the true complement to these stout beers. 

Round Four: 

Old Ale

If port and sherry are the dessert wine powerhouses, then old ales are that for beer. Possessing a deep, mahogany color that looks almost like burnt caramel, this beer recalls peach, citrus spice, and a floral undertone that almost immediately hits the nose. The decadence of honey with raisin bread is almost immediate on first taste. It takes on the properties of a fortified wine. It’s an ale with a lot of layers to it. We even taste hints of spice on the palate.

We liked black olive, blackberry, chorizo, and blue cheese with this beer. The ale can stand alone, but then you heighten its flavor with the umame of the black olive and hit your taste buds with the blackberry and chorizo. Finally, the blue cheese makes itself known on the back end. We could’ve stopped with these flavors alone, but we also really enjoyed pairing peach preserve, salami, blueberry, and brie with the sweetness of the old ale. Everything you love about food and beer collides in this one bite.

Finally, we tried both mustards, Genoa salami, brie, and cashews with the old ale. The sinful richness of the ale tames the mustard and just enhances the creaminess of the cashews.

We really enjoyed highlighting the richness without being obnoxious. That’s the kind of beer you savor like a fine wine.

Round Five: 

Sour IPA

This beer was a kettle-soured hazy IPA that’s brewed with citrus. That alone is worth the price of admission. It has a golden hue to it with highlights of citrus tones in it. The aromatics hit you before you even get close to the glass. Peach, guava, mandarin orange rind, mango, lemon zest, and papaya are all present. It takes on so many flavors and profiles before you even taste it. Once you do, you realize how juicy it is. It almost tastes like the pure concentrate of a juice.

For this pairing, we selected the rosemary ham, brie, and cocoa-dusted almonds. The saltiness of the ham compliments the citrus flavor and the brie was the rich, creamy glue that kept it all together. We also really loved the sour IPA with honeycomb, pistachio, and goat cheese. The lack of meat in this pairing worked surprisingly well. 

We also really loved pickle, blue cheese, and prosciutto with the sour IPA. This beer had no enemies on our board. Everything that pairs with it is like an old friend that was meant to be there. It works with everything and anything.

Our pairing adventure has come to an end. We’ve enjoyed taking you down a road of charcuterie and beer. The biggest takeaway we can give you from our pairing journey is to not be afraid of trying new flavors and to be bold enough to break rules. Go ahead and mix it up. You never know when you’ll be tasting your next new favorite pairing for the first time.

The Board Couple
TheBoardCouple.com
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(210) 573-2100

About The Contributors:
Monica is a former writer for GoodTaste.tv 
Bryan has over a decade of experience in the food and wine world and is WSET certified