Tuesday night the Bistro in Hayward, California, held one of the most unique and fun cheese pairing events I’ve ever attended. It was called The Bistro’s North County Cheese-Off. What owner Vic Krajl did was pick five cheeses and then asked five breweries from north of San Francisco — Bear Republic, Lagunitas, Marin, North Coast and Russian River — to pick the beer they made that they felt was the best pairing with each cheese.
So it was essentially five flights. At our table we’d get a generous portion of a cheese and then five beer samples, one from each brewery. They were unmarked so we did not know which beers we were being served, only the cheese. So, in turn, you’d take a bit of cheese and then try a beer. Then another nibble and the next beer, and so on. So our job was not to find the best beer, but which one complemented or contrasted the cheese best. It’s good they gave us a lot of each cheese, because you’d keep going back and forth, eliminating here and there, but then often struggling with your two favorites trying to determine which one you liked the most. It was a very illuminating and educational way to approach pairing cheese and beer. Someone from each brewery was also there, and it was interesting to get their thoughts after the event. I’d definitely try this again, as it made the experience much richer and you left feeling not only satiated, but like you learned something, too.
Bistro proprietor Vic Krajl cutting the cheese.
The North County Cheese-Off was a sold-out event and even filled up the bar, too.
Our third cheese, Tomme De Brebis, a sheep cheese.
Rich Norgrove, from bear Republic.
The final cheese, Humboldt Fog, a goat cheese.
After choosing our favorite from each round, we handed in our scorecards and they tallied up the results to determine which pairings were the most popular. A prize was awarded to whoever correctly predicted the most popular choices. Only one person, this gentlemen, chose all five most popular. While I’d argue that most popular doesn’t necessarily mean best, especially since people’s tastes and palates vary widely, it was still a fund way to wrap up the evening and determine at least what a majority of people thought about the choices. Below is a list of each of the cheeses along with the beer pairings chosen by each brewery and then what was determined to be the most popular. The beer in bold was chosen as most popular and italics indicates my personal choice, in case you’re interested.
Cheese No. 1: Manchego (sheep)
- Bear Republic: Peter Brown Tribute Ale
- Lagunitas: Pale Ale
- Marin: Albion Amber
- North Coast: Brother Thelonius
- Russian River: Salvation
Cheese No. 2: Fromager D’Affinois (cow)
- Bear Republic: Heritage Ale
- Lagunitas: Pilsner
- Marin: Hefeweiss
- North Coast: Old Rasputin
- Russian River: Blind Pig
Cheese No. 3: Tomme De Brebis (sheep)
- Bear Republic: Raver 5
- Lagunitas: Brown Shugga
- Marin: Left End Unfiltered Pale Ale
- North Coast: Acme Pale Ale
- Russian River: Damnation (4 yr. old)
Cheese No. 4: Cahill Porter (cow) [Tie]
- Bear Republic: Red Rocket
- Lagunitas: The Hairy Eyeball
- Marin: Pt. Reyes Porter
- North Coast: Old Plowshare Stout
- Russian River: Supplication
Cheese No. 5: Humboldt Fog (goat)
- Bear Republic: Bubba
- Lagunitas: Ruben & the Jets
- Marin: Witty Monk
- North Coast: Le Merle Saison
- Russian River: Beatification
Hat’s off to Vic for coming up with such a simple yet effective new way to approach cheese and beer pairings. What fun. I hope to see more of this type of event in the future.