I love cheese and I love beer and sometimes, when I taste the right cheese and the right beer together, the pairing can be magical. Someone who knows this well is Sheana Davis, a chef and proprietor of The Epicurean Connection in Sonoma.
She’s been bringing great cheese and beer together since Lagunitas asked her to do a beer and cheese pairing at their Petaluma brewery a decade ago. I attended her first cheese and pairing at Rogue Public House, 673 Union St., in San Francisco three years ago. Since then, I’ve been a big fan.
So when she invited me to sit on a “Locavore” Cheese and Beer pairing class at The Cheese School of San Francisco last week, I jumped at the chance. Like craft beer, cheese made by adventuresome, craft cheesemakers has become a big deal. Consider The Cheese School. It’s unique and its classes are popular. Forty people paid $65 each for the two hour evening session.
It was a delightful evening. The best thing was that every beer and every cheese was local; it’s possible to duplicate most of the pairings with a visit to a good cheese shop and a decent beer store.
(The cheese plate: Clockwise from top. Delice de la Vallee (in tub), Andante Pianoforte, Bellwether Farms San Andreas, La Clarine Farm Sierra Mountain Tommee, Matos St. George, Redwood Hill Farm Gravenstein Gold, Vella Cheese Mezzo Secco, Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk.)
The beers: 21st Amendment Watermelon Wheat, Lagunitas Lucky 13, Magnolia DeepElum Dubbel, Marin San Quentin Breakout Stout.
Watermelon Wheat’s widely available at BevMo stores; Lucky 13 was a late summer beer, but can still be found. Breakout Stout’s bottled and also can be found with a hunt in and around Marin, San Francisco and the East Bay. And while Magnolia’s beer is sold only at the pub and may be gone by the time you read this, almost any dark, chewy, Belgian or Belgian-style dubbel can be substituted. Same for Lagunitas Lucky 13. Their Censored will do, so will other great ambers like Mendocino Red Tail Ale.
We started out with cans of 21st Amendment Watermelon Wheat. an increasingly famous wheat beer brewed with real watermelon for a refreshing fruity taste. Sheana paired it with Delice de la Vallee, a creamy blend of pasteurized goat and cow’s milk cheese. This is her first cheese and she’s still waiting approval from the USDA. It will be made in Chico with milk from Sonoma County. Can’t buy it yet,
Second course was Pianoforte, a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Andante Dairy, Petaluma. It was paired with Lagunitas Lucky 13, the Petaluma brewery’s late summer beer, which marked their 13th anniversary. It’s a big, 7.8 percent, amber ale, malty in the Lagunitas tradition. It paired beautifully. The cheese was very delicate and creamy and Sheana compared it to a French camembert. The cheese emphasized Lucky 13’s hop bitterness and the spice in the beer’s yeast, two aspects of the beer that drinking it alone aren’t apparent.
I also tried Lucky 13 with the next cheese, San Andreas, a raw sheep’s milk cheese from Bellwether Farms on the Sonoma Coast. The cheese was dry and tart and so good, I’ve put the cheese on my list to try the pairing again. They simply melded in the mouth: the cheese is slightly dry and it brought out the malt in the beer and the bitter, hoppy finish. Because the cheese isn’t pasteurized, it retains the fresh character of the milk.
Sheana’s next cheese was Tomato Basil Torte, a pasteurized goat’s milk cheese from Harley Farms, Pescadero. The cheese, which comes in tiny, three-ounce rounds, is topped by sun-dried tomatoes and basil. It also worked well with Lucky 13 and really brought out the sweetness of the beer.
The next cheese, Sierra Mountain Tomme, a raw goat’s milk cheese from La Clarine Farm, Somerset, in the Sierra, also worked well with Lucky 13 and with the next beer, Deep Elem Dubbel from Magnolia Pub, 1398 Haight St., San Francisco. Confession time: I’m somewhat allergic to goat cheese. So my taste perceptions are off. However, I found the cheese somewhat dry with a faint sweetness that nicely offset the beer. Deep Elem’s a dark copper with a wild nose and tasted of yeast and fermentation esters, tart, hoppy finish. Sheana brought growlers of the beer obtained hours earlier from Magnolia head brewer Ben Spencer.
The final group of four cheeses were paired with Deep Elum and Marin’s San Quentin Breakout Stout: The cheeses:
- Matos St. George, a raw, Portugese-style raw cow’s milk cheese from Matos Cheese Factory, 3669 Llano Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95407 (707) 584-5283 (No Web site), , a raw goat’s milk cheese from Redwood Hill Farm, Sebastopol; Mezzo Secco, a raw cow’s milk cheese from Vella Cheese Co., Sonoma, and Red Hawk, a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, Point Reyes
Breakout Stout’s a great, very creamy stout with a dry finish that I particularly like. It was fascinating to taste the beer with the sweeter cow’s milk cheeses, which brought out the roast malt and hop bitterness in the beer. The goat’s milk cheese emphasized the sweetness of the malt.
I’ve learned something: Sweet milk cheeses bring out beer bitterness and roasted grains in darker beers. Fairly tart cheeses do the opposite. They bring out sweetness, even in a fairly dry beer.
Sheana Davis, meanwhile, has three more beer and cheese tastings planned at The Cheese School. In January, there’ll be a pairing of bloomy rind cheeses and Belgian ales; next comes aged beers and washed rind cheese, followed by beer and cheeses of the Pacific Northwest. For info, sign up for the Cheese School e-mail list here.
AND FURTHERMORE: Sheana had a few recommendations for people interested in cheese:
- American Cheese Society is a reservoir of info abut American cheese.
- Cheese Shops: San Francisco Peninsula: Cheese Please, 211 12th Avenue, San Mateo. San Francisco: Cheese Plus, 201 Polk St, at Pacific. Rainbow Grocery, 1745 Folsom St., Say Cheese, 856 Cole St. Also, Farmer’s Market, Ferry Plaza Building, Saturday mornings. East Bay: Pasta Shop, 5655 College Ave. in Market Hall, Rockridge District, Oakland. Also at 1786 4th St., Berkeley. The Cheese Board, 1504 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley.
- Marin Organic: An association of Marin County organic producers. Farm tours, information about organic producers in Marin.
- Sonoma County Farm Trails will mail a map of farms, cheese makers, wineries and other farm-related places to visit. Just one brewery is listed: Russian River in Santa Rosa.
- Notes on milk production from Sheana: A sheep gives one quart of milk a day; a goat, gives one gallon and a cow from seven – 24 gallons depending on the cow. It takes one gallon of milk to produce one pound of cheese.
Photos: Middle: Serving Deep Elum. Below: Deep Elum.