Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Yes, in some ways the combination seems strange to me as well. Cheese - or at least the kind you don't squirt out of a can - has always come across to me an effete food, the kind of thing that you picked out of glass trays and nibbled on in the company of tuxedoed people enjoying caviar. It has for as long as anyone can remember been the sidekick of fine wine when it comes to dining and drinking.
So, when I heard about the beer-cheese pairing that Denver's Great Divide Brewing put on last week, I had to see how this worked. And after about 90 minutes of enjoying some of the best beers in Colorado along with some butt-kickingly strong cheese, I have to say I'm eager to go back for more.
(Yes, I realize that butt-kickingly is not "technically" in the dictionary, but hey, as a journalist I can create new words, right?)
What surprised me is how easily the tastes of hops and dairy flowed together. Think about it - when you're sitting at home sipping on a pale ale, you're probably not thinking: "I sure could use some ice cream with this." But Justin Trosclair, a cheesemaker with Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy in Longmont, told me he was so interested in the idea that he tasted both his creations and others he could find to determine what was a harmonious match.
I can tell you that the one that blew away both my wife and me was the pairing of St. Brigid's Porter, a classic straight dark and black-as-night heavy beer with the slightly jumpy Boulder Chevre from Haystack Mountain. I won't pretend to understand what gives each type of cheese its unique taste and appeal, but I will say that when the soft cheese came into contact with the remnants of the porter after I'd sipped it, it really made me think of a complex chocolate melting in my mouth. The tastes of the beer and cheese could not be more opposite on their own, but together they just sung.
Justin also teamed up a very strong, sharp, creamy cheese with Great Divide's Samurai Ale; a light, crisp beer that, when sipped first, cleansed the palate enough to heighten enjoyment of the cheese. The combo of an aged English cheddar cheese with the musty, chocolatey Hibernation Winter Ale was intriguing as well - the Hibernation worked almost like a fire extinguisher to tone down the edge of the big cheese. The only pairing that felt slightly off was a monstrously pungent blue cheese stacked up against the monstrously hoppy Old Ruffian Barleywine; I can't believe I'm saying this about Old Ruffian, but the barleywine actually couldn't stand up to the heft of the cheese. Still, it was a fascinating experiment.
The pairing was the third effort Trosclair has made with a brewery, and he said he'll be heading to Avery in Boulder for another next month. Roll your eyes if you must at the idea of combining your big beers with a little piece of cheese, but I'd advise making it out to one of these to test your preconceived notions.