By Jay Brooks
Wednesday, April 20th, 2011 at 11:36 am in On Beer.
Below is a modified version of my regular column that ran in today’s newspaper. I’m posting it here too as home base to participate in what I’m calling the The Great Beer & Cheese-Off. Read the instruction on how to play along and then post your own results here for a chance to win a prize.
Everyone knows about wine and cheese pairings, but the affinity between beer and fromage always has been something of a secret — until now. A growing number of culinary experts are starting to recognize what we beer geeks always have known all along. Beer and cheese — especially artisanal cheese — is a match made in heaven. Both beer and cheese balance “sweetness and acidity with fruitiness and fermentation flavors,” says brewer Garrett Oliver in his book “The Brewmaster’s Table” (Ecco, 2005). They’re both traditional, fermented, farmhouse products, whose roots lie in the grasses that ultimately flavor the final product. So it’s hardly surprising to discover that some monastery breweries, such as Chimay, make both beer and cheese.
But finding just the right combination is key and that’s a project I’ve been working on. I’ve chosen three artisanal cheeses for a panel of colleagues to pair with the perfect beers. Why not taste right along with us? I have some prizes for the best beer pairing for each of the three cheeses listed below, and I’ve offered a few tips to get you started.
The Artisanal Cheeses
1. Maytag Blue
This is one my favorite blues, and not just because it’s owned by the Maytag family, who until recently owned Anchor Brewery. The Maytag Dairy Farm was founded in Iowa by Fritz Maytag’s father in 1941, making it one of the first artisanal cheese companies in America. One of my favorite ways to use Maytag Blue is to crumble some on top of a bowl of chili, something I tried at an Anchor event where both were being served. It’s a terrific combination.
To get you started, Stephen Beaumont and Brian Morin, in their “beerbistro cookbook,” suggest barley wine or even imperial stout for blue cheese. In the “Brewmaster’s Table,” author Garret Oliver doesn’t mention blue cheese, but does suggest Barley Wines with Stilton, which is a specific type of blue cheese.
2. Widmer 1-Year Aged Cheddar
I wanted to make sure I included at least one Wisconsin cheese and Widmer’s Cheese Cellars makes some great golden orange cheddars. Even the one-year old aged cheddar is very full-flavored. Widmer’s website described it as having “rich, nutty flavor [that] becomes increasingly sharp with age. Smooth, firm texture becomes more granular and crumbly with age.”
For milder cheddars, Beaumont and Morin suggest brown ales or pale ales, and for older, sharper cheddars, IPAs or strong abbey ales. Likewise, in the “Brewmaster’s Table,” Oliver suggests India Pale Ales with cheddar cheese.
NOTE: Since writing this, I’ve learned that Whole Foods no longer carries Widmer Cellars cheeses, so this one may be harder to find than I originally thought.
3. Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog
Humboldt Fog is a goat cheese from Cypress Grove Chevre in California. It’s described on their website as a “soft, surface ripened cheese. The texture is creamy and luscious with a subtle tangy flavor. Each handcrafted wheel features a ribbon of edible vegetable ash along its center and a coating of ash under its exterior to give it a distinctive, cake-like appearance.”
In the Brewmaster’s Table, Oliver suggests “a spicy Belgian beer with residual sweetness,” and specifically Ommegang’s Hennepin. Beaumont and Morin recommend Belgian-style wheat beer or doppelbocks for goat cheese generally.
Pick a cheese or try all three, then think about your favorite beers and which might taste good with them. Invite a few friends over and taste each cheese with a few beers. Then pick the one that works best. (Be sure to choose beers that are readily available; no homebrew or draft-only beers, please.)
Post a comment here any time before
May 1 (deadline updated: end of the day, Tuesday May 3), and tell us which beer you think pairs best with each cheese — and most important, why you think it works so well. What flavors does the beer bring out in the cheese, or vice versa? What makes the pairing more than the sum of its parts? What did you learn about the pairing, or about beer and cheese together more generally?
Based on your descriptions of which beer worked best, I’ll choose a winner for each of the three cheeses. Each winner will receive a copy of my friend Maureen Ogle’s book “Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer” (Harvest Books, 2007). It’s a great read about the history of American beer from the industrial revolution to present-day craft brewers.
The following week, I’ll be hosting another tasting with a number of local brewers and beer writers and I’ll include your winning beers in our tasting, too. Look for the results of the Great Beer & Cheese-Off Challenge — and recommendations for perfect beer and cheese pairings — right here in mid-May.
So pick up these three cheeses, or three similar ones, along with some craft or good imported beer and get tasting.