Thursday, March 1, 2012

Paste, Slurry, Evaluate: Pairing Precepts 101

I hope all you SFers participated in the recent Beer Week, a citywide celebration of local brews, brewers, and terroir. We at Mission Cheese were so thrilled to hold three different events in honor of the lauded libation.

The week began on February 13th with a visit from Drakes Brewing of San Leandro, followed by a day with Lucky Hand on the 15th, culminating in a tribute to farmers inspired by Almanac Beer.

The events afforded us not only an avenue to further our partnerships with like minded agricultural agents, but also, the opportunity to educate a wider audience about the delicious versatility cheese brings to the table. For this blog post, I'd like to give a short run-down on the precepts of pairing.


This first step is the most second-nature to us all. See cheese, eat cheese is basically the way it works. Instead of swallowing, create a paste with the cheese to then be paired with your beverage of choice. We chose many different genres of American artisanal cheese for the Beer Week events. Here are just a few:

Cabra Blanca (goat) - This semi-soft goats' milk cheese from Avalanche Creamery in Basalt, Colorado, offers a complex grassiness that we thought would pair well with lighter wheat and hopped ales. Cabra's notes of lemon and other citrus temper it's tang and its creamy texture balances well with an acidic beverage.

Classico (goat) - The nutty, sweet taste of Classico, Tumalo Farm's gouda-style goat, imparts a flavor that can stand up to a richer beer. The caramelized flavors of ambers, abbeys, and even scotch ales would would surely be enhanced by the taste and texture of this aged goats' milk cheese.

Shepherdista (sheep) - The earthy qualities of Shepherdista, an aged sheeps' milk from Bleating Heart Creamery in Sebastopol, easily paired it to many of the beers we tried it with. It's salty center and grassy, almost leafy rind create a sublime communion with pale ales and farmhouse Belgians.

Bohemian Blue (sheep) - It can be more difficult sometimes to pair strong cheeses, like blues, with beers, but the sweet, fruity flavor of this sheeps' milk blue from Hidden Springs in Westby, Wisconsin is excellent with most Belgians and Barleywines.

Dunbarton Blue (cow) - Beer and cheddar, DUH.

Winnimere (cow) - Winnie, as we lovingly call her, is a Vacherin-style cheese made at Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont. This cheese has been washed in beer and wrapped in spruce bark. It has an almost bacon-like meatiness that creates majesty with smoked beers, rich stouts, and nutty Belgians.

2. Slurry

This step is where the beer comes in to play. The paste becomes a slurry once beer is introduced. This is the magic moment where new flavors are produced on the palate. Here are a few of the beers that were tasted during Beer Week:

Cabra Blanca with Almanac Winter Wit
Drakes Amber with Classico
Shepherdista with Almanac Autumn Pale Ale
Bohemian Blue with Almanac Summer Belgian Ale
Dunbarton Blue with Lucky Hand Black Lager
Winnimere with Drakes Seasonal Smoked Stout

3. Evaluate

When evaluating a pairing, there are simple rules to remember:

First, integrity of elements. It is important that both individual elements of the pairing can be tasted when combined. This being said, a single element, the cheese or the beer, should not overpower the other.For instance, when pairing a more delicate, fresh cheese with a robust, bitter beer, the cheese will more than likely acquiesce to the beer's more forthright flavors.

Secondly, a successful pairing will be evocative. It is quite lovely when a cheese can evoke flavor nuances from the libation it is paired with and vice versa. We found, for example, that when paired with Bohemian Blue, subtle grassy notes could be tasted in the Almanac Summer Ale.

Third, a good pairing is one that is delicious. Just because flavors are evoked by the pairing does not mean they are always palatable.

Finally, the ultimate pairing produces the elusive and extremely technical, alchemical mouth explosion. This occurs when an entirely new and extremely delicious flavor is introduced by the pairing union. It's that WTF moment that elicits instant happiness.

I hope this simple run-down of pairing precepts answers some of your questions and inspires you to pair cheese with beer, wine, and spirits. If you were not able to enjoy the delicious pairings during Beer Week, be sure to watch our website for upcoming Night Cheese events.

Blogged by Liz Rubin

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