Live Water Toma - Westminster Dairy, VT, USA (cow): The only thing I could think of when I tried this was the cheese my aunt used to bring down from Quebec when I was wee. Luckily even though it has a similar tangy and buttery flavor, it didn’t keep the bizarre rubbery consistency I remember from the Quebec cheese.
Beer: Ipswich IPA - Ipswich, MA, USA (IPA): While it didn’t clash with the flavor of the cheese, I prefer having pairings where the elements build on one another as opposed to alternating flavors and character. With this pairing, you either tasted the cheese or the beer.
Mrs. Kirkham’s Lancashire - Lancashire, UK (raw cow): A lovely cheese that I would happily throw into a picnic basket with some grapes and a roast chicken for a long drive in the country in my Lotus Elan S3. (What? It’s my fantasy.) Robert spent a lot of time talking about the milling process that distinguishes Lancashire from the irregular curds of the Cheddar family, and about how the style is in danger for not being as popularly known. Intense tangy flavor that verges on citrusy, with a texture that begins a little grainy but melts away nicely on your tongue.
Beer: Rogue American Amber Ale - Portland Oregon (Amber Ale): Maltier than I was expecting from Rogue, but pretty interesting nevertheless. Had a nice caramel finish that played well with the tang of the Lancashire.
Pont Couvert - Quebec, Canada (washed rind cow): Made in the style of Vacherin, but with new world cows and grass and without the characteristic bark wrapping. The result is a cheese that is drier and has it’s own character. Flavors are predominantly earthy, with hints of yeast and pear.
Beer: Berkshire Oktoberfest - South Deerfield, MA (Marzen): The cheese definitely needed something malty to play off of, and this fit the bill. Hailed by some as the best pairing of the evening.
Epoisses - Burgundy, France (marc washed cow): I love cheeses like this. Not only was it completely unafraid of being exactly what it is, but the makers use leavings from Burgundy’s wine-making process to create a brine wash the cheese in. It is a taste of the place. Another orange-rind gooey Camembert-style offering, this was intensely earthy, and the feel from the grapes bursts through just as the cheese is finishing. Some said it was too much like kissing a sheep for their liking, but I’ll come back to that later. Not for the faint of heart.
Beer: Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale - York, England (English Brown Ale): This cheese really needed something spicy to go with it. I was thinking something like a biere de garde or perhaps one of Unibroue’s notables, but they went a safer route with the Samuel Smith’s. A good beer to be sure, but I’m not convinced of the pairing.
Petit Agour - Pays Basque (aged sheep): I dig sheep cheese. It’s strong and assertive, and if you pay just enough attention, you can pick up some of the complexities as the oils break down in your mouth. In this case, the first thing I noticed was the competing sweet and salty flavors, and this duel was quickly followed by a hint of dill to the nose.
Beer: Heavyweight Stickenjab - New Jersey, USA (Alt): This beer just utterly confused me. Supposedly it was an alt, but the hops flavor just kind of lingered in your mouth, which is kind of weird for the style. In fact, I was so caught up in trying to figure this out as an alt that I didn’t get much of an impression of the pairing. Oops.
Tarentais - Savoie, France (aged goat): I’ve come to compare nearly all aged goat cheese with either Chevrot (which is better than sex) or Chevre d’Or (which, if I’m in the right mood, is better than orgasm). I can’t say that I thought this rose to that level, it was a neat cheese in its own right. Flavors were mostly spicy herbs with a hint of banana.
Beer: Kapuziner Hefe-weizen - Kulmbacher, Germany (Wheat Beer): It was Jeremy’s contention that goat cheeses work well with wheat beers of all sorts, and I’ll concede that he was right with this. Spicy banana cheese goes well with spicy banana beer. (Incidentally, the fruit is subtle and the ester is characteristic of the strain of yeast used. Most of the time it’s overpowered by the lemon they float in your glass.)
Saint Agur - Auvergne, France (triple crème cow): If you've ever known someone who claimed they couldn't take blue cheese, I urge you to point them at this. Triple crèmes have the milk supplemented with cream, radically altering the texture and flavor of the cheese. For the most part, my experience with them has been based on the likes of Pierre Robert - rich camembert style cheeses that resemble nothing so much as rich, frosted cheesecake. This is a blue and a fairly unusual one. The roquefort tang is almost entirely missing and in its place is a very mild, slightly spicy buttery taste that rolls over your tongue and finishes with fruity nose almost reminiscent of peaches.
Beer: Traquair Scotch Ale: In keeping with the richness of the cheese, Robert and Jeremy gave us one of the best Scotch ales available. Malty sweet and complex, it is nonetheless nicely balanced within itself. It played nicely to the strengths of the Saint Agur.
Krumenswiller Forsterkase - Krummenauer, Switzerland (raw cow): Sooner or later, it had to happen. I was destined to come across at least one cheese that I could say smells like sex. Rolf Beeler, the affineur who sells this to Formaggio cannot understand why American palates prefer other cheeses (most notably French cheeses) to this. The flavors of this cheese are as intimidating as its name, ranging from sex to barnyard and back to sex again. Or maybe just barnyard sex. Just to show that I don’t really understand the American palate either, those who were most vocal about not being able to stomach the Epoisses said nothing about this. Of course they may have thought they were being challenged as “cheese sophisticates” when Robert talked about this as an “advanced” cheese.
Beer: Saison Du Pont - Tourpes, Belgium (Belgian Saison Ale): I wasn’t sure about this pairing either. I would have preferred the cheese with a sweet tripel (Gulden Drak came to mind) or maybe something like Magic Hat’s Braggot. The saison didn’t clash, but I think there might have been a better way to go.
Snackage: Honey roasted peanuts
Aargauer Bierdeckel - Krummenauer, Switzerland (beer-washed cow): My notes read “Wow. Good.” I remember coming away with hints of berry in the nose, but my fellow tasters thought I was crazy.
Beer: Bornem Double - Ertvelde, Belgium (Belgian Dubbel Ale): Jeremy claimed that Belgian doubles are so named because they double everything that goes into the beer - double the malt, double the hops, double the yeast, etc. I didn’t say anything, but as a point of fact, dubbels get their name from a process of double fermentation, not from the ingredients. While Belgian ales in general use a great deal of malt, this characteristic affects most all Belgians, not just dubbels. Belgian ales also use significantly less hops than you’d expect for this amount of malt, relying instead on ancillaries like orange peel and spices to flavor and bitter the beer. Finally, doubling the yeast would only lead to off flavors because of yeast bite. As for the pairing, it was respectable, but I was thinking of a sweet lambic for this one.
Snackage: Vine-dried raisins.
Pradera - Holland (aged cow): For finishers, they pulled out the big guns. Now, let me just say that I’m really fond of Old Amsterdam, another aged gouda. Pradera is aged for at least three years and the result is a hard dry cheese that has coffee and toffee flavors fighting over a kick-you-in-the-head sweetness. Entirely a dessert cheese, and probably the most popular of the night amongst the other tasters, but I thought it would get cloying after a couple of bites. I still prefer the Old Amsterdam for its subtlety.
Beer: Old Rasputin - Mendocino, CA (Russian Imperial Stout): Serve a finger of this in a snifter of this with a sliver of the Pradera as desert after a rich beef course. A good pairing, but I can’t say that I’d just drop these on the table for people to have at.
After the tasting, I hung around for a little while to share some of my beer with Robert and Jeremy. We cracked my house bitters while we talked about the brewing process. Overall I think it was received well, and Robert caught some of the subtleties of the Fuggles and Kent Goldings hops, which made me pretty happy.. I’m really curious to see what they thought of the First Snow Old Ale, but that was held off until the two of them could sit with the owner to do the tasting. One or both may be coming to the next brewing.