The classic combination is prosciutto and melon. I don’t know of any beers with melon flavours, but a nice fruity wheat beer should probably do the trick. I chose my own Almost Heaven Belgian Wheat Beer.
Another combination is prosciutto with plain bread or crackers to cleanse the palate without interfering with the flavours of the prosciutto. The obvious pairing would be a good, bready pale ale, but I decided to try something a little different: the classic Czech pilsner Budvar which is a little more bitter than pale ale, but not nearly as bitter as the original Pilsner Urquell, and has all the bread-malt flavours of English pale ale.
In addition to the the pairings derived at from common food combinations, I tried R&B’s Hopgoblin IPA, and two Belgian-style tripels Unibroue’s Maudite and Brooklyn Brewery’s Local 1 reasoning that the duck breast prosciutto could stand up very well to these strongly flavoured beers.
Finally, after reading Garrett Oliver’s prosciutto recommendations from (drumroll for Amazon affiliate link please) The Brewmaster’s Table, I got some roastier or more caramelly beers to try with the duck breast prosciutto. My choices were Guinness, Fat Cat Brewing’s Pompous Pompadour Porter, and Aventinus’s Weizen-Eisbock (my first ever eisbock).
Tasting the Beer and Prosciutto
Just about any beer with duck breast prosciutto works acceptably well. The duck is quite fatty, but beer really cuts through the fat and salt quickly asserting its own characteristics. Having said that, there were some winners and losers.
The Winning Combinations
I’m quite gratified that my first choice was correct. The Almost Heaven Belgian Witbier was excellent. The fruit flavours and aroma really offset the saltiness of the duck prosciutto while the farmhouse flavours of the Witbier complemented the hints of game or duck from the prosciutto.
Probably the best combinations, though, were Porter and the Eisbock. In both cases the dark malt and caramel flavours complemented the cured duck, but I think it was the sweetness of the two beers that was the key to making the combinations work. Rather than cutting through the salty flavours of the duck, the sweetness balanced them giving the rich malts a chance to shine. The nutty caramelly flavours of the Eisbock in particular paired really well with the prosciutto. I imagine that a supremely expensive acorn-fed Jamon Iberico http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamón_ibérico must taste similar.
Finally, the Budvar was good. It didn’t complement the prosciutto the same way the other beers did. But it clearly cut through the salty cured meat flavours refreshing your palate without conflict.
The Losing Combinations
The astringent rubbing alcohol-like phenol flavours and spices of the full-bodied Belgian tripels, Maudite and Local 1, played dangerous game competing with the salt from the prosciutto. The Local 1 hit a bit of a sweet-spot and actually came out a little fruit-like which was quite pleasant, but mostly these two beers seemed in conflict with the prosciutto flavours.
The IPA also didn’t fare so well. It wasn’t horrible. It cut through the flavours of the prosciutto, but, like the Belgian tripels, the hop bitterness seemed in conflict with the stronger prosciutto flavours.
Final Pairing Recommendations
When pairing duck prosciutto with beer try one of the following recommendations:
- A sweet, dark, malty beer to balance the saltiness while bringing out the malt flavours. Try sweet stout, porter, nut-brown ale, any kind of bock, British mild.
- A fruity beer to complement the salty-cured meat flavours while refreshing the palate. Try any kind of European wheat beer, except possibly Berliner Weisse.
- A light-coloured bread-like beer to refresh your palate while letting the duck prosciutto shine. Try a good pale ale, blonde, or one of the less bitter pilsners.