Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Beer and Cheese Column #1

Recently I have been writing a column for “The Pursuit of Hoppyness” which is the S.O.B.A. newsletter and magazine. With the second issue to feature my column having just been released I thought I would publish the first column here on the blog. If you are interested the current issue is available for download here.

Ale and Cheese – The Perfect Partners
While the words ‘wine and cheese’ may confidently slip
off the most sophisticated of tongues the combination
itself often pales in comparison to the pairing of beer and
cheese. The sharp, fruity, tannic notes that wine offers
often provide contrast to cheese but there is seldom the
element of harmony that can create a match that is greater
than the sum of its parts. Beer on the other hand contains
a complex array of aromas, flavours and sensations that
can both contrast and accentuate the character of the
It is no coincidence that beer and cheese make good
partners as they share both a history and a purpose. Both
beer and cheese are fermented foods where a raw product,
in the first instance grain, the second milk, are transformed
in order to prolong their ‘shelf life’. In the days prior to
refrigeration this was extremely important. Both also can
trace their history to the chores of the farmhouse wife
whose responsibility was both to ferment the grain into
ale and the milk into cheese. Techniques for the production
of both experienced significant improvement at the hands
of Monks who had to provide sustenance for both
themselves and travelling pilgrims, and more recently
both have experienced significant industrialisation resulting
in standardised characterless products. Thankfully both
have experienced a craft revival with increasing interest
in characterful living artisan products.
In each issue I will present a different match of beer
styles and cheeses, drawing on my experience as both
homebrewer, cheesemonger, beer drinker and cheese buff.

The Traditional Ploughman’s

It has been suggested that the ‘Ploughman’s Lunch’ is nothing
more than a cynical fiction created by advertising executives
in the 1960s as a way of growing the food sales in pubs. On his fantastically informative blog the English beer historian Martyn Cornell has explored the history of the ‘Ploughman’s Lunch’ concluding that while the name
may be recent - 1957 seems the oldest reference yet found - the tradition of bread, beer and cheese is certainly well established.
But enough with the controversy of history and let us get on to the glorious match that can be made between traditional cheddar and ale. The combination of sharp crumbly aged cheddar and traditional English ale is both the one which jumps to people’s minds when you mention
beer and cheese and the one which I count as closest to my heart.

The Cheese

Much as the New Zealand beer market is awash with mass produced lagers the cheese market is
inundated with young mass produced cheddar. However, characterful products are out there if you hunt. My favourite example comes from Barry’s Bay just out of Akaroa on Banks Peninsula. Barry’s Bay Cheddar is produced in traditional rounds rather than the square blocks that other cheddars are produced in. The rounds are wrapped in cloth before being aged for 2½ to 3 years.
The cheese that emerges is rich, meaty and creamy at the core while closer to the rind it develops earthy notes reminiscent of horseradish and bonfires. The overall impression is of a complex cheese which is sharp with out being overly salty.

There are other examples of Cheddar that are produced in less artisan ways that nonetheless through aging achieve a high quality character. Kaimai Mature Cheddar from the Waikato, Totara Tasty from Whitestone Cheeses in Oamaru and Linkwater Cheddar from my employer Moore Wilson’s in Wellington all sit in this category. All are produced in large cheese factories but gain significant character from several years of aging. With Linkwater, the cheese is aged from 3 to 4 years and emerges with a creamy yet crumbly texture, a rich savoury palate and a sharp finish developing salty protein crystals with time.

The Beer

There are several criteria a beer must tick to stand up to the more characterful of cheddars. Firstly, there needs to be a distinct malt profile, typified by the rich body of the likes of Maris Otter, with its nutty and caramel notes. Secondly, there must be an evident earthy hop character whether it reveals itself just as bitterness or as flavour and aroma also. Finally the fruity character of an English ale yeast helps to bind the whole experience together.

Stylistically the beers best suited to this task range from Best Bitter through Extra Special Bitter and English style IPA’s, with some of the best matches coming from the family of Old Burton winter warmers, an old style now represented by the Old Ale and Strong Ale categories.
English imports such as Fuller’s 1845, Marston’s Owd Roger, Adnam’s Broadside, Theakston’s Old Peculier and Black Sheep Riggwelter do the trick. For a local match try Tuatara IPA or Emerson’s Old 95.

The Match
As with any beer and cheese match, the balance between the flavours involved needs to be considered. Accordingly, the stronger the cheddar, the stronger the beer should be.
With the ‘milder’ aged cheddars such as Kaimai Mature cheddar, where the emphasis is on rich creaminess, a good match can be found in Fuller’s E.S.B. The rich creamy character of the cheese can find a harmony in the nutty English malt profile of the beer, while the marmalade fruit
provides a contrast. Finally, the earthy bitterness cleanses the palate, while the carbonation lifts the milk fats from the palate preparing you for the next sip.

With stronger, sharper, funkier cheddars like Barry’s Bay, a bottle conditioned strong ale such as Old 95, with its rich malt and orangey New Zealand hop character, or Fuller’s 1845, with its biscuit like amber malt character and its assertive bitterness, both provide harmonious
moments where cream and malt blend together. A true union of earthy notes where hops and funky rind character combine and ultimately contrast as the bitterness lingers.

It is a testament to fermented food that such a complex range of flavours are to be had from one of the world’s simplest pub snacks. In the next issue I will look at the combination of goat cheese and wheat beer.

1 comment:

Thom said...

The Ploughman's might an advertising fabrication but that doesn't make it taste bad. Yum

It's just a pity it doesn't exist in Ireland. I have to go to England to get one in a pub with a decent ale.