Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

A stunning pairing: Point Reyes Farmstead Bleu, Iron Springs barleywine

By William Brand
Tuesday, January 27th, 2009 at 3:17 pm in what's on tap.

The cheeses used in the Iron Springs pairings: Bottom right, Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam, bottom left, Cowgirl Red Hawk, upper left, Cowgirl Pierce Point. Upper right, Point Reyes Farmstead Reserve Bleu.

The cheeses used in the Iron Springs pairings: Bottom right, Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam, bottom left, Cowgirl Red Hawk, upper left, Cowgirl Pierce Point. Upper right, Point Reyes Farmstead Reserve Bleu.

Christian Kazakoff's Iron Springs beers include, left, Dark Path Lager, Casey Jones Imperial IPA and 2007 Barstow-Lundy Barleywine.

Christian Kazakoff's Iron Springs beers included, left, Dark Path Lager, Casey Jones Imperial IPA and 2007 Barstow-Lundy Barleywine.

When it comes to pairing cheese and beer, I’m no genius. What I do is write down memorable pairings at beer dinners or elsewhere  and duplicate them at home.  This past week I stumbled onto one of those at Iron Springs Pub & Brewery, (765 Center Blvd., Fairfax,  CA.)

It’s Reserve Bleu, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co., Point Reyes, CA. and Iron Springs 2007 Barstow-Lundy Barleywine.  They’re a simply wild pairing.

It was the high point of a week of beer and cheese for me that began with a series of pairings of beer, wine and cheese at Rogue Public House, 673 Union St., San Francisco, for food industry types attending the Fancy Food Show at Moscone Center.

The San Francisco Bay Area has become a center for craft beer and for craft cheese and the best was on display. More on the Rogue pairings in a later post.

The Iron Springs beer and cheese event was late last week. Called “Brewed and Cultured in Marin,” the evening featured four Marin cheeses and four Iron Springs beers; both beer and cheese were selected by Iron Springs head brewer Christian Kazakoff.

Three cheeses came from Cowgirl Creamery, a world famous craft cheese maker, at Point Reyes Station. All three were excellent and the first, Mt. Tam, an earthy, almost runny triple cream, paired with  Christian’s Chazz Cat Rye Ale, was spectacular. The rye is spicy, with both the yeast and the rye in the mash adding spice: the crisp, drying taste of the beer was a fine complement to the rich, sweet cheese.

But the aged Farmstead Bleu and the aged barleywine won the day. Obviously, unless you’re lucky enough to live in Marv Marin, it’s going to be hard to get a sample of Iron Springs barleywine, although I highly recommend it. A good substitute is your best aged barleywine.

The cheese is widely available at good cheese stores and places like Whole Foods and Trader Joes. I found some at Trader Joe’s in Concord (CA) yesterday.  My plan is to pair it with a five-year-old barleywine from Schooner’s (Schooner’s Grille & Brewery, 4250 Lone Tree Way, Antioch, CA). The beer’s been languishing in my beer refrigerator for a long time.  We have company coming this weekend and  the pairing’s going to be dessert.  Can’t wait.

Lynn Giacomini Stray, a third generation member of the Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co.,  said their regular blue cheese is  a whole milk, unpasteurized cheese, aged five months; the reserve is aged 18 months, and, she said, not widely released to the public.

She said the 700 acre family dairy farm near the shores of Tomales Bay was started by her grandfather, her father carried on

Iron Springs head brewer Christian Kazakoff

Iron Springs head brewer Christian Kazakoff

. But dairy farming is tough; you milk your cows, send the milk to a co-op or wholesaler and hope for the best from the market. It’s always been a bare living and most dariy farm kids wind up leaving home for college and urban jobs.

A family decision in 2000 changed everything, Lynn said. They decided to become a farmstead cheese company, using the milk from their herd of Holstein cows — those are the big black and white bovines, the work-cows of the American dairy industry. A farmstead cheese company is a cheesemaker using the milk produced on the premises. Cowgirl, for instance, used milk from the nearby organic Straus dairy.

Lynn’s family members did their research, hired a chessemaker and went into business. It’s changed their lives, Lynn said. Lynn and her siblings are back on the farm and their cheese has won a deserved reputation.

It remains a farmstead operation, she said. “Everything is done by hand; no cheese is released until it’s ready.”

Our blue cheese sample was ready. Farmstead Reserve Bleu is creamy, but not really sweet; the Iron Springs barleywine was somewhat sweet with a lot of hops in the finish. The two just melded. The beer brought out the creaminess in the cheese; the cheese mellowed the hops in the beer’s finish. Together they sinply explode in the mouth. Like I said, “wild.”:

The other two pairings were also excellent:

  • Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk, an aged, washed-rind, triple cream was paired with Christian’s Casey Jones Imperial India Pale Ale. Taste the cheese, then the beer and you got a mouth-filling cheese creaminess, followed by a whoosh of hop bitterness and warming alcohol.
  • Cowgirl Creamery’s Pierce Point,  a cow’s milk cheese washed in muscat wine and rolled in dried herbs was paired with Christian’s Dark Path Lager, a 4.7 percent Schwarz beer: lots of roast malt. The smooth taste of cheese, then the roast malt marches in. Great.

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  • Mike

    I am really digging the Dark Path Lager. It’s as good as Port’s Midnight Sessions and 21A’s The Darkness.

  • http:/// Mario (Brewed For Thought)

    I’m picking up the Iron Springs 4-pack in a couple days and I’m anxious to try their Barleywine. I’ll have to grab that cheese.

    As for dark lagers, it begins and ends with Death and Taxes. 21A’s Darkness is nice, but I keep coming back to Moonlight.

  • Sheana Davis

    Thanks for the future post of the Winter Brew tasting! Sheana D

  • William Brand

    Can’t argue with Moonlight. One of my faves. But Christian’s was excellent.

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