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.
I love a challenge, and beer and cheese are two of my favorite things. Factor in Verdugo and The Bruery, and I am yours.Â 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.
Barrie Lynn had given me five cheeses in all,Â which rangedÂ in funkiness with the intention of standing a chance against the sour ale’s…well, sour properties. We tried the first, aptlyÂ nicknamed “Cheese Sex,” – which was an agedÂ cheese spread, or aÂ blend of Widmers Aged Brick Cheese and aged cheddar. No, it wasn’t funky.Â Yes, it was divine; it reminded my friends andÂ me of a really well-executed version of the cheese in the HandysnacksÂ 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 parallelÂ 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 candidateÂ 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.