What does it mean to pair drinks and food? Is it always right to drink beer or wine with food?
An interesting perspective to understand the deep meaning of the art of matching drinks and food comes from the Portuguese word for this practice: harmonizaçao, a term that hints at a harmonious “whole” which goes beyond the sum of its parts. A successful pairing, therefore, is a sum where 1+1 does not equal 2, but 3 or 4. In contrast, if the matching is wrong the result can be zero or even a negative number.
This does not contradict the opinion of many chefs (led by Gualtiero Marchesi) and sommeliers who maintain that, in order to really understand the identity of a dish, a beer or a wine, they need to be tasted individually. This is certainly true: pairing drinks and food is very different from a technical tasting. It is a playful exercise aimed at creating new tasting experiences and discovering hidden synergies and secret affinities.
In the kaleidoscope of scents and tastes of beers, Belgian styles often offer the right solution in the game of pairings thanks to their aromatic richness and multifaceted nature, which can include yellow fruit, citrus fruits and their zest, nuts and spices, both refreshing (coriander, white pepper, lemongrass, ginger) and warm (cinnamon, black pepper, cumin).
If we focus on Belgium, Blanche beers (or Witbier) are often praised for their elegance and finesse, which make them particularly versatile in the combination with food. Of course, versatility does not mean they go well with anything: no beer and no wine can be the right fit for an entire menu!
As it happens in all games, there are some rules to follow. The most important one is that food and beer must have the same intensity of tastes, so that none overwhelms the other.
Beers can be matched with food by similarity or by contrast. Often, a good pairing works when some elements of the dish are similar to the aromas and tastes of the beer, while other characteristics of the beer - such as the fizziness, body and alcohol content - successfully contrast the structure, fattiness or succulence of the food.
Blanche are delicate beers, yet with a strong character. They are not very bitter and are distinctly refreshing, so they cannot be paired with ingredients and dishes that are too intense or persistent: chocolate desserts, ragout or fat and structured pasta dishes, as well as meat stews, would mercilessly overwhelm all the aromas of a Witbier, leaving a painful feeling of emptiness.
Gentleness and freshness, instead, immediately evoke the colorful world of salads: Blanche beers are probably the best style for these summer dishes.
A condiment with that is both sweet and sour - such as a vinaigrette - matches the sweetness of wheat and the delicate acidic note of the beer. Add a drop of lemon, lime or pink grapefruit, and here’s a perfect connection with the Curaçao orange zest and the coriander seeds of our Witbier.
Other ingredients that may be added to the vegetables do not spoil this marriage of tastes: gentle goat cheese, mozzarella, chicken or turkey breast, tuna, olives, ham... these can all be easily supported by the fizziness and slightly sour and spicy touch of Blanche beers.
In an American-style brunch, a citrusy Witbier can replace the classic orange juice and accompany quiches, omelets, tacos and pies, especially if they include basil, parsley, mint and, more than anything, fresh coriander. The moderate alcohol content will cheer up any Sunday morning!
Blanche beers love the sea and its fruits: squid salads, octopus and cuttlefish, steamed or stewed mussels (moules-frites and Witbier are a classic Belgian combination), spaghetti with clams, delicate fish like steamed or oven baked sea bass, sea bream or snapper are perfect for this beer style.
Finally, we can even dare the combination with a more challenging fish like salmon: the distinct fizziness of Blanche beer cleans the mouth from the fat of the fish. Adding a sauce made with citrus fruits, lemongrass or fresh coriander creates another connection and rounds off the pairing.