Kicking Off LA Beer Week: Pairing Cheese With Russian River Consecration Sour Ale

Funky Cheeses In Question: Which can stand up to Consecration?

It all started out with a contest. Hot Knivez, the beer-loving, meat-hating blogger-chefs in town, sent other bloggers and me a proposal. Said the email in my inbox: Pair cheese with beer. And write about it. If we love it, the winner with the best post will get to attend a private beer-cheese pairing symposium at Verdugo Bar with The Bruery.

Consecration Under Investigation

I love a challenge, and beer and cheese are two of my favorite things. Factor in Verdugo and The Bruery, and I am yours. I am a native Wisconsinite-turned-Angeleno, after all. Thankfully, Barrie Lynn Krich of The Cheese Impresario came to my aid by reconnecting me with my roots and her supply from Wisconsin cheese-makers.

Of course, the fun part was coming up with the control – the beer that would be lucky enough to have so much lactic love paid to it. Inspired by a particular Orange County-San Diego beer tour in which I discovered the wonders of sour ales, I found Russian River Valley’s Consecration within walking distance of home. Just knowing there was good beer stock so near was really the icing on the cake. It wasn’t the only sour ale but indeed probably one of the most approachable ones I’ve ever had. It isn’t a beer to smack you upside the head with overpowering citrus. In the 10% ABV Consecration is a blend of five different beers, including dark malts, which are then aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels for 4-8 months. Tobacco and fruit are prominent notes, particularly cherry (oh, look at that: currants are added). Carbonation comes from having fermented the beer in the very bottle it comes packaged in – and this further adds punch to its sour, my tasters and I found. Not only was it fun to pair this particular beer with cheese, it served as a palate cleanser as we went from candidate to candidate. Perfect.

Research Fellows

Barrie Lynn had given me five cheeses in all, which ranged in funkiness with the intention of standing a chance against the sour ale’s…well, sour properties. We tried the first, aptly nicknamed “Cheese Sex,” – which was an aged cheese spread, or a blend of Widmers Aged Brick Cheese and aged cheddar. No, it wasn’t funky. Yes, it was divine; it reminded my friends and me of a really well-executed version of the cheese in the Handysnacks cheese and crackers snack pack we all got in our lunches as kids. That is, probably the best execution that we had never dreamed of. (Seth noted as a parallel that we’re still waiting for the gourmet chicken nugget.) Don’t underestimate the Cheese Sex, okay? As far as a pairing, however, Consecration – and probably any other sour ale – overpowered the dream. The beer was too strong for even its slightly salty aftertaste, but all the same, I could understand why this spread is in such high demand, as evidenced by the sliver we were given. There be rations!

The next cheese candidate was Italico, which was appropriately named because it reminded us of mozzarella. It was an ivory-colored cheese and was even milder than the Aged Brick Spread – without any finish at all. It was almost like there wasn’t any cheese at all. After some research, I found that Italico is better paired with fruit. Truly, there would be stronger cheeses that could hold their own in this tasting.

Dunbarton Blue, Nutty Deliciousness

And one of those would be Cheese No. 3: Dunbarton Blue from Chris Roelli. Its blue properties are ever-so-subtle, with the ribbons really only weaving throughout the center. Overall it’s a deliciously bittersweet, even sour, cheese with nutty notes and even a woodsy finish. Bridgette, who has never enjoyed rinds before, thought this one was tolerable – while Seth and I thought it was an important and intrinsic component of the cheese. After tasting and pairing this cheese with Consecration, we all agreed that it was hard to imagine another cheese that would match better.

Cheese No. 4, Widmer’s Aged Brick Cheese, was probably the funkiest – also, worst pairing – of the five. It was stinky and since I’m not particularly intimidated by pungent cheeses, I enjoyed it on its own. However, it directly clashed with the Consecration sour ale. It was a contest of strong personalities, and we just wanted to exit the conversation.

Cheese No. 5 was the Limburger by Myron Olson, who is actually the only American cheesemaker left to make Limburger. Liederkrantz has been on the rise, lately, and with good reason. It’s not as pungent as my tasters expected – so there’s a case for it being the approachable stinky cheese. There was a tad of grainyness involved, yet it also had the finesse of being creamy. Many different textures could be found and we found it to be rather versatile, even a crowd pleaser. Its rind was rather sour and even eggy – and paired with Consecration it was a good complement in opposition.

The Finals: Limburger vs. Dunbarton Blue

And so, it was down to Cheese No. 3 and Cheese No. 5. We went with another round where we put the two head-to-head, and ultimately…Dunbarton Blue was the unanimous winner. While the Limburger was a good opposite to the Consecration sour ale, the nuttiness and even woodsy-ness of the Dunbarton Blue completed an entire circle in palatable eurphoria. I am now loving the funk and sour!!

Dunbarton Blue and Russian River Valley Consecration: A sour ale pairing made in heaven. Try it. And while you’re at it, be sure to check out LA Beer Week. It starts today – and really is one of the most exciting culinary events to be happening in the city. Go to Naja’s Place tonight, where there will be more Stone brews than at any other time or place. Or attend the Dogfishhead beer dinner at The Foundry on October 10th and finish with dessert at Food GPS’ Beer Float Showdown Redux (half the proceeds go towards Share Our Strength) at Verdugo Bar. Try Scoops’ limited edition beer ice cream flavors on October 11th. But don’t forget the culiminating closing party at Union Station, where you’ll get to score unlimited 4oz. tastings for $40 at LA’s pub transportation hub. The possibilities are endless…

Thursday – Sunday

October 7 – 17, 2010

L.A. Beer Week

Various locations, check website for event dates & times.