In all of my (brief) time as a cheese monger, it never once happened that a customer walked up to me and asked, "Could you recommend a cheese to pair with this beer?" And it breaks my heart. Hundreds of times: "I've got a cabernet ... could you help me?" I could try. "I think this is ... umm ... a chardonnay? What cheese goes with an oaked chardonnay?" For the life of me, I have no idea. I can't help you. But beer? That's easy. It's really more of a question of which beers don't work. And the Midwest has some of the finest of both beer and cheese. A few choice pairings:

Without exaggeration, Bent River Camembert from the Alemar Cheese Co. in Mankato is as good as anything available in the U.S. of A. To enjoy this soft, exquisite cheese, you don't need to break the bank on some white Bordeaux or get out your Riedel set. Just try a Saison-style beer such as Lift Bridge's Farm Girl. Its light fruitiness -- apples, apricots, general summery happy wheat-beer flavors -- goes well with the two-tone texture of this creamy cow's milk cheese.

The mouth-puckering hops of Surly's Furious IPA are normally a red flag for cheese pairing. Fortunately, it's a welcoming flavor for any real-deal aged cheddar such as Widmer's 8-year. The big, hoppy flavor and bold fruit of the Furious make it the perfect partner for Widmer's acidity and downright crunch. The salt, the zing, the crumbling perfection of this golden gem: It was all made for IPA.

Finally, and with the most ease, come Pleasant Ridge Extra Reserve and Summit's Great Northern Porter. The Extra Reserve is almost too easy to match. If you haven't had Pleasant Ridge, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. It's made in the style of Swiss mountain cheeses such as Gruyère, another cow's milk cheese that gets washed and aged. It has a clear-but-not-overbearing nutty, caramel flavor that works with a wide variety of beers. It could go just as easily with an amber or a coffee and chocolate-toned porter.

Basically, as long as it's not wheat or a hop-head beer, it'll play fair with the Pleasant Ridge Extra Reserve. And the Great Northern Porter plays well -- its dark sweetness spins with the cheese like a lithe dancer at some rural Midwestern, true-love, dairy-barn prom. They just spin around and around. The Great Northern is on the mellower side for a porter, with a bit of sweetness and just a hint of hops. The chocolate is there, but lurking in the background. This all means the Great Northern will balance with the Extra Reserve's medium-bodied complexity without overshadowing it.

Think of these suggestions as three doors you can enter. There are no tigers beyond them, just expansive worlds of beer and cheese and beer. And rest assured that other beers work with these cheeses, and other cheeses with these beers.

The Churn

On Monday, the Grand Cafe will host Le Grand Pikliz, a Haitian-themed evening to benefit the American Refugee Committee's Haiti relief efforts. Chefs Jon Radle and Ben Pichler will cook the simple and flavorful cuisine of the Caribbean, including pulled pork, Haitian chicken, pikliz (spicy pickled vegetables), rice and beans, and dessert. There will also be a special Haiti update from ARC president Daniel Wordsworth. $35 per person includes dinner, a glass of wine or beer, and music. Reservations required; call 612-822-8260.

The Heavy Table team writes about food and drink in the Upper Midwest five days a week, twice a day, at www.heavytable.com.