Friday, 4 May 2012

Cheese and Beer - Post-Hoc Analysis

This week, thanks in no small part to the hard work of all the lovely staff at Beer-Ritz in Leeds (GhostDrinker worked his arse off behind the counter, while Beth and Jeff did their best to demolish the mountains of cheese on offer), as well as the tireless enthusiasm of Leigh Goodstuff, we hosted a beer and cheese tasting event. It's fair to say that although it doesn't take many people to fill our little shop to bursting, the evening was very well attended, with both a plethora of regulars and a whole bunch of new faces on show.

Orval and Delamere mature goats cheese was, for me, always going to be a hard sell, so this was the obvious first choice for me. I'm not a fan of goats cheese - it's just too, well, goaty for me. Perfect then to pair it with Orval, a beer that slowly turns to dung through the action of brettanomyces yeasts, also a bugbear of mine. Look, I know this makes me sound (a) fussy and (b) a philistine, but I simply struggle with these flavours. I can appreciate that they have a wonderful depth, complexity and intensity, but I simply don't like them. It's a good beer, it's a good cheese, I'm just not crazy about how they taste.
What better, then, to clear the palate than some gently crumbly Lancashire cheese and and dark ale. Ilkley Brewery are firm favourites locally, and starting to make some serious inroads into the national scene. Not only have they been very generous to our little homebrew group, but brewer Stewart Ross also distinguished himself by (a) turning up to consume some beer and cheese and (b) bring some Ilkley Lotus IPA with him, presumably in case we didn't have anything worth drinking on the premises. The cheese was marvellous - like soft, crumbly butter - and paired nicely with the dark nuttiness of the Ilkley Black.
This is a pairing handed down to me, father-to-son style, by the legend that is Rupert Ponsonby. The pairing of mature cheddar against a medium-bodied IPA is one that isn't immediately obvious, but one that actually works really well. The sharpness of the cheddar serves to bring out the sweet nuttiness of the beer, which in turn acts as a foil to the.... well, cheesiness of the cheese. It's hard (as you can see) to explain exactly why this works, but it's something along the lines of marmalade and butter - salty and sweet rubbing up against each other in a deliciously saucy manner.

I started out this post 'fessing up to a dislike of certain flavours that no doubt many readers will view as a lack of maturity, but I'd like counter that by saying that blue cheese is something that I used to abhor, but have come to love. I tell you that to demonstrate that (a) I like scary cheese - I'll eat runny brie with a spoon quite happily - and (b) don't give me a load of crap about how my palate will mature and I'll eventually like goats cheese. I won't. Ditto brett - a tiny amount is OK, giving some sort of hint of background sexiness, like glimpsing the silhouette of the body of someone you fancy through backlit sunlit clothes, but anything more than a glimpse is a bit intimidating, and can almost be unpleasant, because after all, it was only a fantasy anyway (note: I'm aware that I've stretched that simile to breaking point). ANYWAY, blue cheese with strong dark beer totally rocks - the Elland 1872 Porter was great, as was the Moor Amoor (Peat Porter), which displayed a remarkable body and muscularity (sorry, I'm still reeling from the sunlit clothing simile) for a beer of relatively modest alcohol content.

In summary - people like beer, people like cheese, but people love beer and cheese. It's a win-win scenario.


  1. Blue cheese is something I still struggle with, though I can eat it in small quantities. Brett on the other hand is something that I do like, though perhaps I have not had enough Bretty beer to decide if I like the mature stuff. Must find an old bottle of Orval as I have only had young versions.
    I am a fan of a simple dry Irish stout with a mature red cheddar myself. Simple and delicious.

  2. I think they all sound like good pairings, but the double goatiness may be a bit ott, to mellow out the goat try with a weisse. I'm not sure orval needs to go with any cheese!

  3. you should be reeling from that similie ;)

    1. I reckon the only way to enjoy Orval is with a really funky washed rind cheese. Its not the brett I struggle with I love it , its just the austere dryness. Brett needs a big beer as host.

      Try fresh goats cheese with a fresh hefeweizen, its a match that I have managed to turn Goat haters with.

      Dark beer (Stout/porter) and blue is an oddity to me. Often recomended but seldom if ever works for me. Peat would defnitly help tho. I usually find success with Rochfort 10, particuly if you scrap out the wheel with it. This year I did a rather oddball and hugely successful match of colston basset stilton and Three Boys Wild Plum which is a strong golden ale aged over hierloom plums. Salty cheese and fruity beer made for an almost Japanese soy sauce and plum wine combo.

      Try a Burton with a mature cheddar. Fullers 1845 and cloth ripened cheddar. Earth shatteringly awesome.

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