For those of you who know me, it is common knowledge that I am an instructor at Oregon Culinary Institute. For those of you not familiar with me or OCI, well, I’ll just say that I’m lucky to work with a group of chefs and students as talented as the ones at OCI and leave it at that. If you live in Portland, or ever travel through, don’t miss out on our dining room, its really one of the best kept secrets on the west coast.
One of the common questions I get asked as an instructor is about how to pair food and either wines or beers. Next month, Oregon Culinary Institute is having some dinners featuring some of our own farm-raised heritage pork, paired with beers from Upright Brewing one night and Chehalem Vineyards the next. Since we are working on developing the pairings right now, I thought this would be a perfect time to write about some basic beer and wine pairing tips. Without further ado, lets get down to some basics.
Food and Beer Pairing Tips
- Regional beer styles generally pair well with the style of food from the original location. That means that German beers tend to go well with German food. Thai beers, being light, crisp lagers, complement spicy Thai cuisine nicely. And a good British ale, say in the vein of Newcastle Brown Ale, pairs really well with British pub food. My advice is to offer beers from the same region as the type of food you are cooking.
- Dark beers pair very well with braised dishes. Think porters and stouts with wintertime dishes. Also, most stouts and porters will pair well with chocolate or coffee based desserts (think chocolate mousse or tiramisu).
- Beers with a heavy wheat content (think hefeweizen style beers) do well with dessert dishes like apple pie or peach cobbler but also pair nicely with salad dishes like tabbouleh or perhaps a green salad with a light vinagrette.
- Amber ales may be the easiest to pair with foods. Look to barbecue dishes or cheese based items for great results.
- India Pale Ales and Pale ales have a solid backbone of bitter hoppiness. Avoid lightly flavored foods and instead pair them boldly against spicy or rich, fatty foods. Roasted pork belly, 4 alarm chili or a fatty barbecued beef brisket are personal favorites.
Food and Wine Pairing Tips
- Always remember that most wine and food pairings will be enjoyable no matter what. Avoid very bold flavors in a wine paired with light flavors in food (i.e. never pair Cabernet Sauvignon with seared scallops). The real key to pairing wines is to know the flavor profile of the wine prior to making the pairing. Assuming a certain flavor profile in a new wine is always dangerous and its better to go with what you know than guess about a wine that you haven’t tried.
- The old white with white meats, red with red meats may be slightly passe these days, but when it doubt, it will definitely help to steer you in the right direction.
- Cheese will make a $10 botttle of wine taste like a$50 bottle. It may be the most forgiving ingredient for wine pairing. When in doubt, serve wine and cheeses before anything else.
- Just as beers pair best with foods from their same region, wines also pair exceptionally well with the native cuisines of their homelands.
- Always make sure that a dessert wine is sweeter than the dessert that will accompany it.
- Drink what you like and like what you drink. At the end of the day, if a pairing works for you, that should be good enough.
- Have fun. Wine doesn’t need to be such serious business. Chances are, if you make a mistake, it will be very minor. You have to either work hard or be exceptionally unlucky to mess up most wine and food pairings.