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Hoja Santa and Pale Ales

The first time I tasted Paula Lambert’s Hoja Santa was so long ago that I cannot recall exactly where it occurred. It was definitely at an American Cheese Society conference somewhere in the northeast. What I do recall about the experience was the cheese, as well as the lovely countenance of the lady who served me – Ms. Paula Lambert herself.

I have become a good friend of Paula’s; we just run into each other too infrequently. I have also become a fan of her Hoja Santa. It might seem to be a rather simple cheese at first. Instead I think of it as a more “primordial” type.

Long before there was paper to wrap cheese, our cheese-making ancestors would wrap their cheeses in leaves. The goat milk cheeses lend themselves to leaf-wrapping especially well. These cheeses are usually consumed young, meaning that they have more moisture and are a tad softer than most sheep or cow cheeses. The leaves also contributed their own flavors, along with protection to the young cheeses within.

In developing her new cheese (within the city limits of big “D”) Paula chose the Hoja Santa plant’s leaves to wrap her young cheese, a plant that is indigenous to southern Texas and to northern Mexico. The leaves impart a little sassafras flavor; that flavor becoming more pronounced with a little aging. One thing that challenges Paula in keeping up with the growing demand for her cheese is the availability of the leaves.

Pale ale might seem to be an unlikely partner for the Hoja Santa. I had the opportunity to assess that pairing recently. What a delightful marriage! The effervescence of ales gives them a leg-up with cheeses; offering the quality that enables ales to lift up the butterfats and acids that cheeses can leave behind.

What seals the deal between pairings (and I hope that the current issue of the Wine Spectator got this right) is in the aromatics – the “finish” where the esters in the food and beverage co mingle well or clash badly. The root beer note in the Hoja Santa meets the light bitter notes of good pale ale evenly.

Spread the curd!
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Posted by Max McCalman

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