Last Sunday afternoon I was one of about 10 lucky people that attended the Three Penny Taproom’s Celebrate the Northern Forest: Craft Beer and Artisan Cheese tasting event. The cheeses we sampled were specially selected for this event by Montpelier’s Jeff Roberts (author of The Atlus of American Artisan Cheese and an instructor at the New England Culinary Institute). Jeff’s cheese selections for this event were chosen as examples of relatively small production, very high quality cheeses produced in rural New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Some of the cheeses selected are not readily available outside of their local marketplaces and three of them (the two from Maine and the one from NY) are not typically available in Vermont at all. TPT’s Scott Kerner specially selected craft beer to compliment the flavors of each of these cheeses. Chef Joey Nagy, TPT’s chef extrordinaire, added other simple food items to each tasting pair designed to enhance the flavor of both the cheeses and the beers; particularly when tasted all together. The beer/cheese parings and my comments are as follows (Disclaimer: The opinions expressed below are solely my personal, very uneducated observations and are not a reflection of TPT, Jeff or the cheese manufacturers):
- BreBis (from Appleton Creamery in Appleton, Me) – A soft ripened Brie-style cheese made from East Freisian and Dorset sheep’s milk. Served with Allagash White beer and dry roasted hazelnuts. The cheese was very mild and although the beer was also mild it seemed, to me, to overpower the very delicate flavor of the cheese.
- Landaff (from Landaff Creamery in Landaff, NH) – A slightly aged (2-4 months), natural rind, semi-soft cheese made from raw Jersey cow’s milk. Served with Smuttynose Old Brown Dog and dry roasted hazel nuts. This was one of my favorite pairings of the afternoon. I had no idea how well hazelnuts and a good brown ale tasted together. The cheese was good, but sort of got lost in my event-induced “epiphany” surrounding the brown ale and the hazelnuts.
- Sweet Emotions (from Lazy Lady Farm in Westfield, VT) – A certified organic, cave-aged (3 weeks), soft-ripened, double to triple cream cheese made from pasteurized goat’s milk and Jersey cow cream. Served with Hill Farmstead Florence Wheat Saison and a dried whole fig. I enjoyed this pairing quite a bit, especially the “all in” combination of a small bite of the fig along with the beer and cheese. The flavors of the three just all seemed to blend together very nicely.
- Pecorino Fresco (from Dancing Ewe Farms in Granville, NY) – An aged (60 days), semi-firm, farmstead cheese made from East Friesian sheep milk from the farm. Served with Southern Tier Double (2X) IPA and tomato jam. The hoppy bitterness of the IPA was mellowed by the sharper flavor the aged cheese and the sweetness of the tomato jam enhanced the subtle malty understructure of the IPA.
- Tarentaise (from Spring Brook Farm in Reading, VT) – A semi-form, farmstead, aged (5-12 months), washed rind cheese made from raw Jersey cow’s milk from the farm. Served with Hill Farmstead Edward IPA and honeycomb. The intense hoppiness of the IPA was a perfect match to the hardy flavor the cheese. The honeycomb provided flavor contrast the stronger beer and cheese. This is a favored beer and this was a great cheese to serve along side of it.
- Blue Velvet (from Hahn’s End in Phillipsburg, ME) – A certified organic, aged (2-4 months), hand-pierced natural rind blue cheese. Served with the the honeycomb along with the . contrasting flavors of two different beers; Allagash Four and Allagash Odyssey. Each beer provided its own experience with the cheese. Several people in the session pointed to the fact that the Four’s hoppiness seemed to be enhanced by the cheese, whereas the subtle flavors of this quite strong cheese were enhanced by the Odyssey.
I have to say that I was very inspired by this tasting session. I was very impressed by the knowledge and understanding of cheese, beer and food that each of the three session leaders brought into the session. As I continue to build my own knowledge of the fun, exciting and exceptionally deep topic of beer/food pairings, I can only hope to aspire to a tiny portion of the skills that these people showed to me on Sunday. But, then again, half of the fun in such an endeavor is in the learning… for it is not every of life’s challenges where you can eat, drink and savor such an adventure along the way!