- Photo by Theo Schwarz
- Penn Mac’s cheesemonger Richard Derzic Jr.
This is the time of year to unfasten that top button and eat really rich food with abandon. For the impending hibernation, consider a feast of beer and cheese. After all, beer is made with grains, and said grains also feed the milk-producing animals responsible for that heavenly substance, cheese.
With its famed cheese counter that would make any cook swoon, the Strip District’s Pennsylvania Macaroni Company seemed to hold answers. Meet Richard Derzic Jr., an experienced cheesemonger who mulled over fall pairings for saison, IPA, porter and stout. A bearded, soft-spoken guy, he quietly says what he means, so while 8 a.m. might seem early to eat a quarter-pound of cheese, I was up for the task.
For stouts, Derzic advises Irish cheddar. This drier cheese, with its lingering sweetness, accommodates beer’s often slightly bitter quality. Really good Parmesan works equally well and its low lactose content is a bonus for sensitive stomachs. The creaminess of porter benefits from the nutty finish of an aged or smoked Gouda. If you’re a slave to IPA, farmhouse cheddar will do nicely: Sharp, earthy and very unprocessed, these cheddars balance the floral and grassy notes IPAs so often lead with.
Finally, for saison, try a washed rind cheese. This stinky but creamy and a tiny bit funky cheese complements a chewy or spiced saison. Derzic gave me a cut of Taleggio, but says Morbier or something similar would also do.
When sampling cheese, there’s a perhaps-obvious trick to really tasting it: Stick a small amount to the roof of your mouth and rub it over your palate. Though firm about this technique, Derzic says that there are no strict rules for pairing beer and cheese. He believes in honoring personal preference, and often gravitates toward cheeses sharing a geographic origin similar to the beers. The cardinal rule is, don’t be afraid to ask for help. “I’m here five days a week,” he says. “Come down and ask.”