The appetite for cheese in Colorado appears to be rising faster than ever. Little surprise then that artisan cheese making is enjoying an uptick to satisfy that growing demand. Artisanal cheese production has been in existence for decades here but now the industry is booming. Craft beers are a big thing in Colorado too, which helps to grow the cheese appreciation.
The fifth annual Colorado Cheese Festival was held in Longmont this year, about an hour north of Denver. The festival enjoyed record-breaking attendance even though it was not in Denver itself. Several Denver denizens made the drive up, but there were other participants from all over the state as well as a number from out of state.
John Scaggs of Haystack Creamery brought four of his goats to the festival this year, two Nubians and two La Manchas, beautiful and gregarious animals. They stayed out in the parking lot munching on hay and taking in all the attention. When a small plane flew overhead all four of them looked up to see what it was. Curious, too. They held their gaze on the plane until it was out of sight.
Inside the convention center hundreds of cheese lovers were milling about, visiting cheese makers’ kiosks and attending sessions. I was asked to conduct a pairing session on cheese and beer. Turned out to be a big hit. Along with the Oskar Blues beers a local gin and coffee liqueur were thrown into the mix from Spirit Hound. My word of caution to the assembly was to know one’s capacity.
It appeared that everyone in attendance was being careful though. No one falling down. If there was anyone who might have fallen down it would have to be the festival’s organizer, Jackie Rebideau. Jackie had been up most of the night before putting the final touches on the event. She met us a few years ago when she attended one of our Master Series. She has gone on to make quite a cheese career for herself, along with hosting the Colorado Cheese Festival she also hosts a radio program, A Fermented Affair, and she just rolled out her first food truck in Denver, Mobile Meltz.
The festival will be back in Longmont again next year and I look forward to being a part of it again, helping Jackie spread the curd.
Did you forget that yesterday was German Beer Day? You may have thought the beer celebrations only take place in October. Not according to our German beer expert Freddy Bohn. According to Freddy there is a reason to celebrate the superior beers of Germany every single day of the year, though there is this one day in particular – April 23rd – that is marked on the calendar recognizing this near-perfect beverage, especially by German brewers. It was this day, exactly 497 years ago, that the Reinheitsgebot was implemented. Perhaps you have already read the beer chapter in my new book, Mastering Cheese, which delves into its history. You can hear Mr. Bohn explain the significance of this law while we enjoy a generous helping of his country’s finest at this Sunday’s German Beer class.
Along with hearing him speak about the Reinheitsgebot while enjoying distinguished Biere, we will also get to understand their superior pairing capacities with great cheeses. Speaking of cheese, did you know that Germany produces more cheese than France? Their output is second only to the United States.
Last week I attended the 3rd Beer Bloggers Conference in Indianapolis. The camaraderie and shared experiences continue to be ones that I will treasure and relive through every craft ale or lager I taste. Though I have attended the two previous conferences only as a craft beer advocate, this year I also participated as a passionate employee of Artisanal Cheese.
My tenure with Artisanal thus far has shown me some surprising parallels between craft beer and the local cheese movement here in the United States. While artisan cheesemakers are not fighting for market share as craft brewers do with gargantuan operations like A-B/InBev, the small producers are in battle of finances, awareness and distribution. The labor of love that farmers, dairies and artisans have for their art truly shines in the ever more delicious product cheese-lovers taste everyday just as it does for the craft brewers.
During the past few years, I have witnessed the ongoing evolution and deepening of the relationship between the craft beer industry and the bloggers that support it. By utilizing the audiences and channels of bloggers, the smaller craft breweries are tapping into not only the interests of people already highly involved with the segment, but introducing new people to an alternative to mass-produced and adjunct-filled American lager.
To the same end as the craft beer bloggers, Artisanal is stepping up to become THE central rallying point of the American artisan cheese movement to support the “craft” cheese producers. By working collectively with the entire local cheese industry, we can further boost the awareness, promotion and access to great products.
I love being able to locally taste some of the incredible craft beer from across the US, though I do love travelling to meet my fellow bloggers to enjoy them. A favorite annual conference event is “The Night of Many Bottles”. Picture a banquet room with tables lining three walls filled with bins of ice with incredible (and in some cases) very rare craft beer from all over the US. Now imagine yourself sampling these tasty brews with fellow craft beer advocates as well as industry professionals. In addition to being led by fellow “citizen” or non-industry bloggers, I also had the pleasure of tasting beer from representatives of RAM Brewery & Restaurant, Green Flash, Florida Beer Company, Flying Dog and beer guru and author Randy Mosher’s new endeavor, 5 Rabbit Brewery. The discussion of the nose, taste, mouthfeel and the crafting of these beers creates an energy that must be experienced to be believed.
Now think of a similar setup, but with 150 different American artisan cheeses. That scene became Artisanal’s Media Day on June 27th, where we replicated the energy of “The Night of Many Bottles”, though on a much smaller scale. I hope in the future that I will be able to participate in a “Night of Many Cheeses” on a similar perspective, and I anticipate that Artisanal will be at the heart of it. I would love if everyone could do the same with artisan cheese in their personal spaces. Just think of all the pairing parties, gatherings and events that could be enjoyed in the company of friends and family!
As I always say, “Life’s a tap…drink up ‘til it’s dry.”
Customer Service Manager
Artisanal Premium Cheese
Everywhere you turn now people seem to be talking about pairing foods and beverages, especially the cheese and beverage pairings. This could be partly because we started digging into this study almost twenty years ago and now it seems like everyone’s doing it. Our pairings began with the focus on cheese and wine. The beer lovers hopped on the pairing bandwagon, then spirits aficionados, sakes cognoscenti, tea drinkers, coffee lovers, etc.
Cheese has been enjoyed with beers and wines for many centuries, the other ones are more recent studies. Yet Americans seem to have a near-obsession with the pairings, whatever the food and beverage, as though if we get it wrong we have made an egregious error. The pairing principles are good tools to use to master pairings but the variables are limitless, and we have to admit that it is a little subjective.
Our preferences for certain cheeses or wines (or other beverages) likely has a big say in our pairing assessments. For example, if we are particularly fond of Pinot Noir we might find more successful pairings with that grape than with a wine we avoid. The same goes for the cheeses. In our Cheese & Wine 101 class we dissect the pairings of several cheese types with a range of wines.
This “laboratory” is probably not the way most people experience cheeses and wines–by mixing them in the mouth and noting what happens as the mixture crosses the palate. It is normally a less formal or academic exercise, one that is more leisurely. We have a sip of wine then we have a nibble of cheese a little later. Most people do not consciously force the two together simultaneously. Even though the “forced” pairing is not taking place in these casual situations the results can be very much the same. If the cheese and wine were not good mates to begin with, they probably eventually leave a disappointing finish.
More often than not, cheeses and wines (or beers) do work well together. Again, we all have our personal preferences and sometimes the confluence of flavors and aromas between the cheeses and beverages can bring out new flavors and aromas which some of us may enjoy while others do not. Those aromatics are what “seals-the-deal” in pairings not just with cheese but with all foods.
The balancing relationships between cheeses and wines have several parallels: the “fruit” in the wine (or beer or other beverage) balances the salty or savory characteristics in the cheese. The saltier cheeses pair better with the fruitier wines, generally even better with the so-called “dessert” wines. Those wines with higher levels of residual sugar should be called “cheese” wines. When you already have sweet in your dessert why would you want to top it off with a little more sugar in the wine? One of the classic matches between a cheese and wine is the one between a salty Roquefort and a sweet Sauternes.
Another balancing act between cheeses and beverages is how they relate to overall “size” of flavor. The bigger flavored cheeses can annihilate a milder wine. It is usually better to have the cheese and wine find a matching fullness of flavor otherwise the cheese can change the wine into water, so to speak. The gentle wine may wash the big cheese down nicely but the subtleties in the wine may be lost.
We have found that the more acid cheeses generally work better with the more acid wines. All wines are more acid than all cheeses. If the cheeses had those low pH levels they would be intolerable. This is more a relationship of harmony than an actual see-saw balance. This is perhaps one reason why beers and cheeses can mate so well, the pH levels in beers are rarely as acid as those in wines.
Speaking of beers, the texture of each partner plays a not insignificant role. The effervescence in beers helps to lift up the butter fats and acids in cheeses so that they swirl around in the mouth like Balanchine. Wines have their textures too; it is not just “advantageous” sparkling wines and still wines. The mouth feel of still wines can be notably different. One varietal such as a Chardonnay has a round texture compared to a Sauvignon Blanc. This overall mouth feel is drawn from a number of qualities: acid, astringent (as those presented in tannic wines), trace minerals, barrel influence, and any effervescence.
Cheeses obviously have their own textures. Some are liquid like water while others are nearly as hard as granite. This is a relationship between cheeses and beverages that may be a little less important than others yet we have found that the firmer the cheese the better the mating with the beverage. This could be partly because the flavors in the cheese become more focused as they harden and age; the salts become more pronounced – those salts which play off the liquid partner so well, especially a liquid partner on the sweeter side. The softer cheeses often work best with the more effervescent beverages. The flavors in a younger softer cheese can be a bit scattered and unfocused compared to the harder cheeses. The bubbles provide a little texture to the duet.
Again, in more cases than not, cheeses and wines or other beverages do work well together. There are the occasional bad marriages but they are much less frequent than the successes. It should be noted that the hungrier and thirstier you are the more likely they pairings will be pleasing.
We may consider Pilsners to be on the light side of the beer spectrum but this does not mean they should be taken lightly. When it comes to pairing them with cheeses the Pilsners can hold their own with some of the big guns, stinky cheeses included.
The water used to produce the best Pilsners is softened; this helps give them clarity and it allows the hop aromas and flavors to come forth. These distinct aromas and flavors is what give Pilsners their heft, while the alcohol contents of most of them remain moderate. This hop-forwardness of Pilsners can present pairing challenges to some of the milder goat cheeses, whereas other less flavorful lagers can meld pretty well with that family of cheese types.
Not to over-analyze it but we want to mindful of the potential for mismatches, particularly when they occur with goat cheeses. The goat cheeses can clash with some beverage partners, while on the other hand, the good goat cheese matches can be sublime. When the clashes do occur we just want to make sure that we donâ€™t blame the goat! Goat cheeses have been much-maligned long enough. As I have noted over the years, the first no-no I get from people contemplating a selection of cheeses is the avoidance of goat.
The second no-no we hear when people select their cheeses is to skip the blues; almost as many people shy away from the blue cheeses as those that skip the goats. On the blue (strong) end of the cheese spectrum is where the Pilsners may also falter. For most cheese categories in between these two bookend cheese types, the milder goats and the big bad blues, Pilsners perform admirably. To savor the finer qualities in a Pilsner you may want to skip over the blues.
If we skip the mild young goat cheeses and the blues (but do not entirely write either of them off) we can find a broad grouping of cheeses that are Pilsner friendly: most cows, some sheep cheeses (which tend to be versatile with more beverages anyway) and some mixed milk cheeses. The pressed sheep milk cheeses such as the Bianco Sardo, Ossau Iraty, or Stella Royale have their own full aromas that can balance the aromas in the Pilsners.
There are a couple of other cow cheese categories that fit the bill: the cheddar types and the cooked curd or Gouda types. The success with the Pilsners can be attributed to the â€œsharpnessâ€ in those cheeses: the acid, the salt, as well as the texture. When you have all these pronounced qualities in cheeses a chilled Pilsner can be just the ticket. The Gouda, 4 y.o.; the Roomano; the Terraluna or the Quickeâ€™s Cheddar; any of these leave a happy ending in the mouth and tummy.
I trust that you know that cheese is a near-complete food, a delicious food that offers a full range of nutrients, pretty much everything except for vitamin C and fiber. This is one reason why cheese pairs so well with fruits. It is more than the aesthetics, it is a valuable nutritional consideration as well. Cheese has a way of satisfying us before we have consumed enough calories. This is one of several ways that cheese can help you lose weight â€“ that you can reach satiety before you have sufficient calories. You can pick up a few extra calories from the fruit, but for those of us who prefer to have our fruit in the morning, what is our other calorie choice for the rest of the day?
This is where the beer comes in. It is the aesthetic partner, and one that provides some of those make-up calories. Beers have their fruity flavors, some have more than others. These flavors can be hidden when a beer is high in the IBUâ€™s (international bittering units) but the â€œfruitâ€ is still present, or it should be. These flavors help give cheese and beer that potential for matching aesthetically.
We tasted a pilsner with a range of cheeses recently. No two pilsners are the same, of course. This one was a little heavier than most; it was more of a German style of Pilsner. The hops were more dominant so you might consider this a medium-flavored beer. The first cheese in the mix that stood out with this beer was a perfectly ripened Coulommiers. The buttery paste wrapped around the pilsner, hops included, and dissolved into a lip-smacking delicious finish. Sometimes these bloomy rind cheeses (bries, camemberts, double-crÃ¨mes and triple-crÃ¨mes) can leave a little metallic edge so I was not sure how this would play out, though I do recall finding some nice matches between IPAâ€™s and other bloomy rind cheeses. The bitter is a distinguishing feature in beers; it provides a sort of â€œbackboneâ€ for beers. Yet that bitter can also dominate lighter flavored foods, lighter cheeses included.
Speaking of buttery, the Bianco Sardo is so buttery; some would say that it is more â€œgreasyâ€ than buttery. This may not sound like a flattering description, that is until you take into account that the â€œgreasyâ€ includes some delicious butterfats, butterfats that also happen to be very good for you, inside and out. This toothsome oily cheese melded in full well with the beer. With just the right amount of salt, it dissolved into the pilsner gracefully and left a little meaty note.
Next up was Edwinâ€™s Munster â€“ a cheese type (wash rind stinker) that is often paired with lagers and pilsners. Even with the extra hops, this pairing was delightful. It is a wonderful cheese on its own, so it would be surprising if it did not meld well with any beer. Made with unpasteurized delicious milk, with just a little salt, and a good amount of umami; this is a most satisfying cheese: tangy, creamy, warm and savory. The pilsner broke up the paste of this cheese into a stringy texture which reminded me of a perfect fondue.
The Cheddar, aged two-years, was a no-brainer; always is. Any style of beer seems to favor good cheddar. The acid and the semi-hard texture of cheddar give this pairing a nod â€“ the â€œploughmanâ€™s lunch.â€
The Andeerer Schmuggler; it even sounds like a beer cheese. A German fan of this cheese would drive into Switzerland and â€œschmuggleâ€ several wheels back with him, quite probably to enjoy alongside his bier. Even though our pilsner was hoppier than many German styles of beers, the pairing made me happier. It is a pretty good rule of thumb: cheeses with the b. linens surface bacteria work well with beers.
Then we come to the magnificent Beeler GruyÃ¨re (that also has some if those b. linens on the surface). The crystalline texture, the depth of flavor; this is a rather profound cheese. One might think that it would overwhelm a pilsner. This bold cheese can turn meek wines into water, so to speak. Yet when you think about the smorgasbord of flavors this cheese offers: nutty, meaty, chocolate, fruity, with a dash of salt; it sounds like a good partner for a pilsner. And indeed it was.
That was the range of pairing successes I found for this pilsner in this setting. It fell flat with the blue. From a previous tasting, I found this same pilsner to be an excellent match for Robiola Rocchetta.
Except for the blues, you can get a fairly broad range of cheeses to pair with your German style of a pilsner.
The Swiss have been tinkering with cheese recipes for centuries. They have elevated milk to alpine heights with their creative endeavors. Their talent for producing outstanding cheese can be largely credited to the availability of pristine waters for the animals and for the cheese making steps, to the diversity of plant species provided by respectful land management, to the careful animal husbandry, and to the state-of-the-art cheese making and ripening methods.
Along with all of these considerations they also like to put their own signatures in recipes: either by adding special blends of herbs and spices to the cheese baths, or infusing those blends directly into the curd; or by using different wines, beers, or other spirits in the bathing solutions. One might think that all the extras might diminish the flavors of the milk itself, yet cheese making always involves at least one other ingredient. The added ingredients should then be permitted for use if the end product becomes a delicious cheese that is unique.
I recall my impression when I tasted the magnificent FlÃ¶sserkÃ¤se the first time. I liked the name too. It sounded like it might be a good cheese for your teeth. Then again, cheese is good for you teeth anyway. Like if you were rushing out the door this morning and you did not have time to floss you could make up for it later in the day by having some FlÃ¶sserkÃ¤se?
Then when I found out that it was washed in hops I understood its flavor a little better. Hops are usually associated with the bitter notes they give to ales. In the case of FlÃ¶sserkÃ¤se it is not so much a bitter note that I detect but it is more of a grassy, spicy, piney and earthy flavor that comes through, flavors that are often associated with hops. The milk flavor certainly comes through but the influence of the hops is there.
Keep in mind that most cheeses do pair well with most beers, or in more cases than not they do marry well together. The FlÃ¶sserkÃ¤se is a standout. Whether it is the influence of the hops or just the fact that this is a phenomenal cheese to begin with, and it is good for your teeth.
This is one of the greatest things about pairing beers with cheeses: a cheese that you might not normally choose might actually taste great with the right beer partner, or vice versa. Along with delivering some delightful mixes these pairings can open up new appreciations for second-choice (not second class) cheeses or beers, ones that you would typically avoid.
Part of the key to successful pairings of cheese with the wheat beers is that those beers tend to be especially effervescent, always a plus for cheese partners. The underlying silky textures of wheat beers make smooth platforms for toothsome cheeses.
The wheat beers also tend to be lighter flavored; they can meld into cheeses a little more gracefully. These beers are less bitter than almost all ales. The bitter may be an attractive flavor quality for some beer lovers but it can also present special challenges to cheese partners.
Try a wheat beer wit your next cheese plate, and skip the lemon peel.
The cheese is produced with unpasteurized milk,which happens to give it an extended shelf life, as well as a full aroma and flavor. A generous dose of umami rounds out its flavor profile while the aroma takes you to one of the most beautiful places on earth â€“ the Alps. You could easily consider having this cheese on its own. It has an eggy flavor; it reminds me of scrambled eggs, with a touch of salt and no pepper, cooked in butter.