“Life doesn’t need any more mediocre.”
Consummate words to live by if you’re Mary Keehn, owner and head cheesemaker for Cedar Grove Chevre in Humboldt County Northern California. They’re the words of her own father who taught her that especially with food and drink, there is really no point in eating anything that wasn’t delicious.
Fitting that she made these remarks at a dinner event at Haddington’s one recent Monday evening as the summer heat doggedly hovered in the triple-digits.
The event featured a beer and cheese pairing — along with some inspired nibbles from the kitchen of Jimmy Corwell, the restaurant’s new chef.
Most would agree that cheese and bread are the perfect duo. Consider the ingredients that make up beer and you essentially have the quintessential liquid bread.
Why pair cheese with beer, you ask? Why not wine with cheese? Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Not necessarily. Wine and cheese have somehow lived a long life together. Perhaps because we’ve romanticized the French joie de vivre as a lifestyle of drinking loads of wine and nibbling endless rounds of cheese and bread. When you’re drinking wine, and you need a little filler, cheese and crackers are an easy supplement to satiate the appetite, but as Tom Allen of North Coast mentioned, “most wine and cheese pairings are a train wreck.”
Some wines have an acidity that doesn’t work well with cheese, others are too bold and overpowering. With the exception of some Sauvignon Blancs with fresh goat cheese, and some ports with rich blue cheeses, Allen’s point is fairly true. Cheese, as Cathy Strange described it, is intended to coat the palate when you’re eating it and beer has an effervescence that lifts that coating to reveal more complex flavors in both the cheese and the beer itself. Don’t believe me? Try it.
Most would agree that cheese and bread are the perfect duo (soft, toasted, cracker, what have you). Consider the ingredients that make up beer and you essentially have the quintessential liquid bread. While wine may have a blend of different grapes, it is essentially made of only a couple of ingredients. Beer, on the other hand is made with a number of different flavor elements with everything from hops and yeast to coffee, nutmeg and cocoa. This diversity makes it a perfect pair for the many elements that effect cheese beginning with goats on a lush green pasture in California or grass-fed cows in Dublin, Texas, and finishing with the method by which the curds and whey are separated and handled.
Take the Haddington’s Beer and Cheese Pairing for example. Strange selected seven different cheeses to accent seven selections from North Coast Brewing Company.
Self-proclaimed beer geeks are likely already familiar with North Coast Brewing Company, a sort of pioneer in the craft beer movement in America churning out award winning beers for more than 20 years including the popular full-bodied, citrusy Pranqster Belgian Style Golden Ale and the rich, dark, chocolaty tones of Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.
Strange found an unusual Norwegian cow and goat cheese blend made primarily from whey to pair with the Old Rasputin. This Gjetost is a common Norwegian breakfast cheese and looks and tastes a lot like caramel, making a sort of turtle brownie combination with the smooth and creamy stout.
The nationally-recognized Le Merle, a Belgian style farmhouse “saison” beer, paired with Humboldt Fog soft-ripened goat cheese, made by Mary Keehn of Cedar Grove Chevre. And her Humboldt Fog is anything but mediocre. Coupled with the tangy hop-driven flavor of Le Merle, the cheese became like liquid gold in the mouth; a perfect example of why cheese and beer belong together.
North Coast also introduced a couple new-to-Texas releases including the Red Seal Pale Ale, the first cask-conditioned ale in the state—a fermentation process used without introducing carbon dioxide, making for a smoother feel. The Red Seal is heavy on hops giving this English-style ale a nice spicy finish. The other new release is the Old Stock Ale, a classic balance of malt and hops, as well as a bit of age in the bottle and hefty legs with the alcohol content weighing in at 13 percent. The Old Stock is best enjoyed like a fine port, sipped slowly after a long, enjoyable meal. Fitting then that it rounded out this occasion with an equally decadent and creamy English Stilton made exclusively for Whole Foods Market.
See below for the full menu and be sure to check out Whole Foods Market for both the cheese and the North Coast beers. If you’d like to experience a formal beer and cheese pairing, Haddington’s is looking to host them on a semi-monthly basis featuring different cheeses and both local and global beers. Look for the next one at the end of this month. But if you’d like to host your own home pairing, there are a few tips Strange suggests following.
Tips on Cheese
· Buy cheeses with the intent to eat them within 3-5 days. Cheese continues to age as it is exposed to air, which means it is best consumed as soon as possible.
· Buy only as much cheese as you need. Because you only have 3-5 days to eat it at its best, ask your grocer’s cheese department to cut cheese based on what you need.
· Before serving cheese, it should be brought to room temperature so it reveals the best flavor. (About 30 minutes before serving.)
· When enjoying a cheese plate, always start with the lighter (in taste, not necessarily color) cheeses first, the flavors get more complex as you go.
· Mold on cheese isn’t a bad thing. You shouldn’t be concerned if a good cheese develops some mold after a few days. You should be concerned about cheese that doesn’t mold. i.e. If that yellow block of processed cheddar sitting in your refrigerator for the past two weeks is still looking clean, you probably need to invest in better cheese.
· Don’t scrimp on cheese (or beer for that matter.) You’ll enjoy it more if you buy the good stuff, and so will your guests.
Haddington’s Cheese & Beer Pairing
North Coast Brewery & Whole Foods Global Cheese Buyer Cathy Strange
Scrimshaw Pilsner with Le Gruyere (Swiss Cow’s Milk)
Red Seal Pale Ale with Saracino (Italian Sheep’s Milk Gouda)
Pranqster Belgian Style Ale with Yodeling Goat (Holland Goat’s Milk)
La Merle Belgian Style Farmhouse Saison with Humboldt Fog (California Goat’s Milk)
Brother Thelonius Belgian Style Abbey Ale with Robusto (Holland Cow’s Milk Gouda)
Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout with Gjetost (Norway Mixed Goat and Cow)
Old Stock Ale with Stilton (England Cow’s Milk)