Our 51st Session is the third of our run at nostalgia, albeit a mere four years worth of it. Stan Hieronymus first proposed the Session four years ago, and was the first host, too, followed by Alan (from A Good Beer Blog) and then I hosted the third outing.
So here I am venturing into Area 51, and while I tried to keep things simple, I just couldn’t help myself and have made the topic one that will require a little work, but I think the challenge will be worth it and great fun in the end. It involves two of my favorite things: beer and cheese. Before I spring the particulars on you, first a little background about where the idea came from.
I’ve been to many cheese and beer tastings, whether part of a structured dinner or a separate dedicated cheese event. In almost every case, whoever put on the tasting chose the beer and the cheese. If you’ve done likewise, I’m assuming you’ve had the same experience. Some pairings work, others don’t. Whichever way it goes, you usually only get one shot at it, that is just one cheese paired with one beer.
But finding that divine pairing always made the effort worthwhile because when it works, boy does it ever. A perfect pairing of cheese and beer is practically spiritual. At least to me, but as I say; I love cheese.
So I was thrilled when someone figured out another way to sample cheese and beer. During the first SF Beer Week three years ago, Vic Kralj — who owns The Bistro in Hayward — hosted a different kind of cheese and beer event: the “cheese-off.” What Vic did was pick five cheeses and then invited five breweries to play along. Each brewery took the five cheeses and paired each with one of their beers.
So then on the night of the event, attendees got a plate of each cheese, in turn, along with the five beers (one chosen by each of the five breweries). You then tried each beer with the cheese and then picked the pairing you thought worked best. That continued through each of the five cheeses. Then they tallied up the votes — just for fun — to see which beer was the most popular with each cheese. The Bistro hosted a cheese-off two years, and you can read the write-up for the 2009 Cheese-Off and the 2010 Cheese-Off to get a better idea of how it worked.
Part 1: The Regular May Session
That brings us back to Session #51, and the topic of cheese and beer. Below are three cheeses. I chose ones that I believe are available throughout the U.S. and quite possibly beyond our shores. And they all sell via mail order, too. So pick up some of each, or if you can’t find those specific cheeses, choose similar ones. Pick a beer to pair with each one and post your results on the first Friday in May.
There are at least a few approaches you could take:
- Guess what beer to pair, and then report the results.
- Try a few beers with each cheese, then report the results on which worked best, and why.
- Invite some friends over, and have each bring a beer to pair, then report the results on which worked best, and why.
- Obviously, if you can only pair one cheese, or two, don’t let that deter you.
- Whatever else catches your fancy.
The Three 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 — I am a cheesehead, after all — 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.
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.
You can also find some general information about cheese at Artisanal Cheese, the American Cheese Society and the California Artisan Cheese Guild. And there’s some more pairing tips available from Lucy Saunders, the beer cook, Taste of Home and Artisanal Cheese
So that’s the three cheeses. To participate in the May Session, pick them (or similar ones) up and pair them with whatever beer you feel will best enhance the two, using whatever method you want. Then on May 6th, post your results. Let everybody know what you think are the best beers to pair with these three cheeses.
So that’s the regular Session. But wait … there’s more.
Part 2: The Extra Special Second Follow-Up Mid-May Session
Okay, I know not everyone will want to go for this, but if you’re with me so far here’s the idea for part two. As soon as I can after the May 6th Session, I’ll post the round-up with a list of all the beers that everyone suggested to pair with each of the cheeses. Then over the subsequent two weeks, whoever wants to participate, pick up some of the other beers that were suggested, and try them with the same three cheeses and do a follow up blog post on Friday, May 20 — let’s call it Session #51.5 — to explore more fully pairing cheese and beer.
You can write about how your choices compared, or what you learned from the other suggestions, or which out of all the ones you tried worked best. What recommended pairing most surprised you? Which didn’t seem to work at all, for you? It’s my way of taking the Session concept and making it more interactive and collaborative, essentially an “online cheese-off.” First, we each make our best recommendations for pairing a beer with these three cheeses, and then we try as many of the suggestions as we can, and discover which is the best one. I’ll then do a second round-up and try to report the findings of the group as a whole to the beers and the three cheeses together.
Spread the cheese .. er, the word. Even with making this next Session as difficult as possible, I’m hoping the fun factor of trying these cheeses with a lot of beer will make for a lively and interesting Session, with a lot of participation. If you agree, let’s get the word out and get people on board to do some beer and cheese pairing.
To participate, post a comment here with a link to your blog post for Session #51. To keep going with Session #51.5, post your link on or after May 20 to the round-up which should be up on May 7.