Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Session: Zymurgy meets Fromagerie

Forgive my French, I get quite carried away on the topic of beer and cheese. I spend my days working as a cheesemonger and duty manager at a busy fresh market and deli. I spend the days ordering, aging, cutting, talking and finally selling cheese. As I’m a beer fanatic naturally it’s the bounty of the grain not the grape which accompanies my cheeseboards in the evenings.

Matching beer with cheese rather than wine actually makes a lot of sense; there is almost always a beer which will suit a cheese better than a wine will. Much of this is due to the complexity that comes from both beer and cheese being fermented foods made of multiple ingredients. Beer and cheese matches can exhibit both comparisons and contrasts while wine often relies on contrast alone, imbalance resulting more often than harmony.

The similarities between beer and cheese go further than just what is experienced in the mouth. Both can trace their origins back to the daily chores of the farmhouse wife, both were produced by Monasteries when they were the only taverns in town, both went through a period of industrialisation and consolidation resulting in consistent, stabilised, bland product, both have experienced a craft revival with increasing interest in characterful living artisan products.

The point about both beer and cheese potentially being living foods is an important one. At my place of work I have what’s called a Fromagerie which is a climate controlled space where white mould cheeses are kept at cellar temperatures with set humidity in order that the cheeses ripen to the correct condition. This is the cheese world’s equivalent to the cellar in the pub. The milk that is used to make cheese from can be pasteurised or used with its natural enzymes intact, after the cheese has been made it can be allowed to ripen or can be stabilised. Just as with beer there is constantly the conflict between the living product and the industrial one.

In February I ran a beer cheese tasting at Regional Wines and Spirits in Wellington with New Zealand’s leading beer journalist Geoff Griggs. It was a roaring success with over 90 people experiencing 7 matches across 3 sessions. Below are some brief descriptions of the matches we presented.

White Mould Cows Cheese matched with Gueuze

Here I presented a specially aged wheel of Ngawi Brie. I aged the wheel in the Fromagerie for about 4 weeks allowing the cheese to develop a radish like sharpness in the rind, a hint of mushroom and a ripe creamy texture. Here the wild funky flavours of the ripe brie were matched with the tangy zesty tart flavours of Boon gueuze. A fruit lambic would work well here aswell.

Soft Goats Cheese matched with German style Weissebier

Te Mata Paki Paki goats brie was matched with Emersons Weissebier. The goats’ cheese exhibits a soft barnyard character with hints of spicy marzipan. The creamy fruity spicyness of the weissebier complemented the spicy marzipan of the cheese while the carbonation lifted the milk fats from the palate. Any pale German style wheat beer and fresh young goats cheese should work.

Traditional cheddar matched with English Best Bitter or Strong Ale

This was the pairing closest to my heart, the classic ploughman’s lunch combination of English ale and cheddar. Here I chose the traditionally aged Barry’s Bay Cheddar which is aged in rounds wrapped in cloth. The cheese develops earthy almost smoky flavours at the rind while a richer creamery character forms at its core. As a result people experienced this cheese differently around the room depending on whether they got cheese from the rind or the core. I paired this cheese with Spitfire from Shepherd Neame, although had it been in stock I would have matched it with Adnams Broadside. The earthy character of the English hops complemented earthy character of the cheddars rind while the nutty richness of the crystal malts complemented the richness of the sweet milk fats

Hard Sheep’s Cheese matched with Strong Mild or Brown Ale

At the tasting I matched Curio Bay sheep’s cheese from Blue River Dairy with Pink Elephants imperial stout Rushin Imperious Stowt. Here we decided to throw a wild card matching in just to see what would happen. In the end the combination did not work but did serve to demonstrate how pairing can go wrong. The Imperial Stout utterly overpowered the subtly nutty moorish cheese. Instead I would suggest matching the cheese with strong mild like Theakston Old Peculier, Black Sheep Riggwelter, or Nethergate Old Growler. The lanolin roast lamb character and nutty notes in the sheep’s cheese would match well with the nutty dark crystal malt notes in the strong mild.

Aged Gouda matched with Maibock

This was the winner of the popular vote for the matches and was one of those serendipitous matches that was thrown together to flesh out the tasting. The cheese was Meyer Old Gouda, one of my all time favourite cheeses. Set up and run by Dutch migrants Meyer produces some very authentic Dutch cheeses in the Waikato south of Auckland. After BrewNZ this year I took a group of the international judges for a tasting of New Zealand cheeses, Derick Walsh the beer style expert who lives in Amsterdam told me there was absolutely no difference between the Meyer Old he was tasting and the cheeses at home. I felt the tasting needed another continental style to match with this continental cheese. Hofbrau Maibock provided everything we could have wanted with this match. The rich sweet tropically fruity notes and sharp aged character of the gouda blended seamlessly with the rich complex German malt profile of the Maibock. It was generally agreed that this was a stunning match.

Washed Rind Trappist Style Cheese matched with Trappist Beer

Here the best offering from New Zealand’s biggest industrial dairy producer Fonterra was matched with one of the most renowned monastic beers in the world. Kapiti Ramara is a soft white mould washed rind cheese which when ripe exudes yeasty funky aromas and flavours balanced with a rich creamy body and salty finish. We matched this with Orvel the Belgian Trappist beer that’s packed with dry brettanomyces horse blanket character. This was a clash of funk with funk each partner standing up tall to the other. I’m a big fan of the cheese and not the beer, together the two were fantastic

Strong Blue Cheese matched with Vintage Barley Wine

Here we reached the apex, the ultimate post meal indulgence, or bedtime treat, the combination of strong sharp blue cheese and rich complex barley wine. For this one we matched Te Mata Port Ahuriri and Thomas Hardy’s Ale. Port Ahuriri is a sharp blue that has a crumbly texture, it is inoculated with a stilton culture and results in a sharp spicy cheese with a rich savoury note. Thomas Hardy’s Ale is one of my all time favourite vintage beers that is exceedingly rich and bitter with layers of malt and fortified fruit flavours. The sweet richness of the ale contrasted beautifully with the sharpness of the cheese while the spicy blue character complemented the tangy fruity notes in the ale.

Lastly I will give you a recipe for an incredibly indulgent recipe. It stems from the English tradition of consuming wheels of Stilton by scraping cheese out rather than cutting it into wedges and reviving the stale cheese by pouring port into it.


1 wheel of blue cheese, sharp or creamy depending on your taste.

1 bottle of Thomas Hardy’s Ale

A handful of walnuts and raisins

Water biscuits.

Take your wheel of cheese and scrap out the core taking care to leave the rind in a bowl shape. In a real bowl take the scraped out cheese and pour in enough beer to moisten the cheese, use a potato masher and mash to a consistent thick paste, add the cheese back into the rind ‘bowl’ serve with water biscuits, walnuts and raisins.


Greig McGill said...

Aww Kieran... that's hardly fair. I have to get through the whole day now, and all I can think about is a nice bit of Stilton and some Thomas Hardy's. I might have to swing by the Gouda Shop at lunch time too, it's the Meyer "factory shop", and they have plenty of their aged Goudas in various states of antiquity. Next time you're up this way, we should go. I'll make sure I have some LBs for Gareth too - I'm sure it will match well. ;)

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

Meyer are awsome. Gareth disturbingly was drinking DB Draught last night, going to the darkside.

What a mare, for some reason blogger seemed to delete the images on that last post, and then when i put them back I screwed up my txt formating all alittle much considering I was brewing for 19 hours yesterday, knackered and due at work.

Anonymous said...

great post kieran! the gouda/maibock combo is a great example of your point about beer and cheese being able to complement as opposed to the contrasts you get with wine/cheese. i haven't actually tried these two together but the smoothness of the gouda is easy to imagine with the creaminess of a heavily malt accented munich beer.

i for one will be happy if this blog more than occasionally veers into cheese as well as beer - as a 'don't know much about cheese, but i know what i like' cheese lover, i'd be happy to pick up a bit more actual knowledge!

Anonymous said...

Spoken like a true devotee there Kieran, you evidently take your cheese tasting duties as seriously as your beer tasting duties. I'm not sure what "a soft barnyard character" tastes like but your description of the cheddar and bitter had me sloping off to the fridge for a crafty slice!

A personal favourite combination of mine is smoked cheese and home-made beetroot chutney, throw in a couple of pints and I'm in hog heaven.

Anonymous said...

Liked this article. Cheese and beer a marriage made in heaven!

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

John , Have you ever visited a goat farm, there is a smell of live goats that is familiar in certain goat cheeses. Just like Sheep cheeses often have a certain Sharing shed or roast lamb character to them.

Anonymous said...

I've been to a place that bred goats many moons ago unfortunately I can't remember what they smelled like!

I see what you mean about sheep cheese tasting quite, erm, well "sheepy" though.

Jason said...

Wow, just a fantastic post! I will definitely be taking a few of your pairing suggestions in the future, great job!