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A Foray into Beer and Cheese Pairing

Cheese Beer Foray

Recently, beer blogger Winton White, a.k.a. Beerichi Tuba, and I decided to get a little experimental with beer and cheese pairing. Cypress Grove Chèvre, whose famed Humboldt Fog is celebrating 20 years, kindly supplied us with some amazing cheeses, and City Beer Store in San Francisco offered to host the tasting. We were joined by my longtime photography buddy, Gavin Farrington, and got to work. Beer and cheese at noon, that’s not so bad, is it? Here’s what we found:

 

Lambchopper

The Cheese: This ultra-mellow sheep milk gouda is made in Holland especially for Cypress Grove. It is slightly buttery, with some light pear or apple notes, with a smooth, long finish.

The Beer: Kodiak Nut Brown Ale (5%) by Midnight Sun Brewing Co. The Kodiak’s flavor was bolder than I prefer: very strong roast, almost smoky flavor with a malty full-mouth feel. Ironically, the nuttiness was tame.

The Pairing: (Winton) Since this cheese is very mild, I went with Cypress Grove’s suggestion of a brown ale. The beer definitely overpowered the cheese in the beginning, yet brought out a slight creaminess and sweetness toward the middle and end. Since the nuttiness of both the cheese and beer was subtle they matched each other in that way. I’d recommend Anchor Brewing’s Brekles Brown as a better option. (Vero): The Kodiak Brown Ale really accentuated the sweetness in the cheese, and complemented it nicely. The Dogfish Chicory Style we also tried had some really strong, toasty characteristics. The cheese was a great complement because it softened the toasty elements, and you only could sense it toward the end.

 

Midnight Moon

The Cheese: Aged at least six months, this is a goat milk gouda made in Holland exclusively for Cypress Grove. If you didn’t know better, you might not be able to tell it is a goat’s milk cheese. It has sweet, butterscotch notes along with some grass, but presents strong umami, too.

The Beer: Maredsous Brune (8%) by Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat NV. Another brown ale! This time, it was a Belgian brown by Duvel Moortag!

The Pairing: (Winton) This pairing worked nicely because the beer and cheese have enough similarities (caramel/butterscotch) to complement each other. The beer’s sweet caramel, fruity notes of figs and dark fruit rounded out the mildly tang of the cheese. The beer was smoother than the Kodiak brown ale, so it made for better pairing than the Kodiak. (Vero): This was a nice, mellow match–the beer rounded out the umami in the cheese to create some delicious harmony! The beer almost seemed to bring out an extra sweetness in the Midnight Moon. 

 

Humboldt Fog

The Cheese: Humboldt Fog is complex, containing three distinct elements. There is: (1) the rind, that fluffy, almost gummy outer part of the cheese; (2) the paste, which is the cakey, creamy inside; (3) the ridge between the rind and the paste, which is like a condensed, gooey paste with its unique, concentrated flavor. The rind tends to have mushroomy, earthy, sometimes dirt notes, where the paste is subtly tangy with notes of citrus and cream. The ridge is like a condensed melding of both elements.

The Beer: Pitch Black IPA (6.5%) by Widmer Brothers Brewing Co.

The Pairing: (Winton): The Cypress Grove suggestions include both a dark beer and a bitter beer, so I gave Widmer’s black IPA a try. It didn’t work too well, but it was not bad. I think the malt character of this beer has some weird, old, dark fruit flavor that detracted from the cheese. I would say a better pairing would have been Deschutes Brewery’s Black Butte Porter or Harviestoun’s Old Engine Oil Porter. 

 

Truffle Tremor

The Cheese: This cheese also consists of the paste, rind, and ridge, but for some reason, it wasn’t so difficult to pair as the Humboldt Fog. The cheese is dotted with bits of Italian truffle, which gives it a rich, earthy flavor, along with that slight tang consistent with goat milk. It has a full, velvety mouthfeel which coats the tongue and reinforces the decadence.

The Beer: Baltic Porter (7%) by Berryessa Brewing Co. Cypress Grove suggested doppelbock/barleywine (depending on the age of the cheese). However, there were no doppelbocks available that day, and I felt the American barleywine would be way too hoppy. Beth of City Beer Store suggested we give the Baltic Porter by this brand new brewery a try. This beer was like coffee jell-o–super malty for a lager, with VERY strong coffee notes.

The Pairing: (Winton) The pairing was a big O-M-G. It was the most unusual tasting combination, yet it worked 100%. I cannot explain how it worked other than somehow both elements were able to dance with each other without stepping on each other’s toes. It’s as if the cheese and the beer were able to finish each other’s sentences, going from super musky mushroom, to coffee jell-o, to creamy goodness, to malty sweet chocolate. (Vero): When we tasted these two together, our eyes practically started shooting fireworks. This was a match made in heaven! We cannot emphasize this enough—This pairing was AMAZING. Do it now.

 

Fresh chèvres

The next three cheeses are all fresh chèvres, so they are not aged. This allows the goat cheese to shine in the purest way. All of these cheeses have citrus notes and grassiness. The only difference is that they are rubbed with a different combination of ingredients. In the end, we found two beers to pair with these three cheeses. They needed to stand up to that citrus tang!

Purple Haze

Rubbed with lavender and dill pollen.

The Beer: Damnation Belgian-style Pale Ale (7.75%) by Russian River Brewing Co.

The Pairing (Winton): We tried the Le Merle saison from North Coast Brewing Company, since we thought the citrus in Le Merle would pair well with the chèvre. Unfortunately, the beer wound up being too lemon-y for the cheese. We then gave Russian River’s Damnation a try, and it worked fine! Because it’s a Belgian-style ale, it naturally has some floral esters from the yeast, which go well with the lavender in the cheese.

 

Sergent Pepper

Rubbed with a secret spice blend and chili threads

The Beer: Vicaris Tripel Gueuze (7%) by Brouwerij Dilewyns

The Pairing (Winton): Vero and I disagreed on this pairing, although I would say overall her choice would be better. The Vicaris Tripel Gueuze is a sweeter, light sour beer. When we paired it with the Sgt. Pepper, the Gueuze brought out an interesting mix of flavors. It wasn’t great, but it worked somehow. I preferred a Gose by Marin Brewing (the Duck Goose), which is a salty, slightly tart, light beer. I felt the salty character of the beer matched nicely with the tang of the chèvre.

 

Psychedillic

Rubbed with dill pollen.

The Beer: Damnation Belgian-style Pale Ale (7.75%) by Russian River Brewing Co.

The Pairing (Winton): Not much to say for me here other than it worked just like the first chèvre. The dry, peppery character of the Damnation with a hefty amount of carbonation gave a nice back-and-forth action between the cheese and beer. Dare I say the Damnation may be the default beer for chèvre/beer pairing?

 

The Odd Beer Out

We tasted one excellent beer, a saison called Le Merle by North Coast Brewing Company in Fort Bragg, CA, that had some great citrus notes. However, none of the cheeses seemed to pair well with it. It was usually too mild. Don’t feel bad, Le Merle, you were still yummy.

There you have it! Thanks, Winton, for bringing your excellent beer palate to the tasting! Thank you, Beth and Craig at City Beer Store for the warm welcome into your store. A big thank you goes to Cypress Grove Chèvre, especially Janne Rasmussen, for setting us up with the cheese. And thank you, Gavin, as always, for your steady hand and artistic eye.

If you want to keep up with Miss Cheesemonger, check her Facebook page.

And if you want to keep up with Winton, who’s also a composer/conductor/musician extraordinaire, you can see his website!

Photo Credit: Images courtesy of Widmer Brothers Brewing and Cypress Grove Chèvre.

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