Normally, I'm not a beer person. That's not to say I hate beer, I'll throw a few back at a barbeque and certainly won't turn one down when offered, which, as I am to understand, is a sin. I even have a few favorite beers such as Blue Moon with a slice of orange, and Siamese Twin (a delicious beer with kaffir lime and lemongrass, only to be found in California) is a beer I hold dear to my heart, stomach, and liver. However, if you were to invite me to a beer tasting I would have to politely turn you down. It's just not my thing. Wine tasting, chocolate tasting, yes - but not beer.
Throw cheese into the mix and, well, how can I say no? When I heard about the cheese and beer pairing class to be taught by the Taylor's Market cheesemonger, Felicia Johnson, I immediately signed up. I was familiar with the epic duo of pairing cheese with wine and even cheese with chocolate, but cheese and beer, though known, was unfamiliar to me. It was a realm of dairy I had apparently overlooked like so much Budweiser and block cheddar.
I arrived to find a stylish plate adorned with six cheeses and three glasses of beer, each competing for affection through their body and funk. We would be tasting 18 different pairings, some which would be striking, others revolting. The reason: to learn not just from the positive experiences, but the negatives. An odd though sensible approach to tasting as human beings, being the obstinate beings we are, tend to hold onto our more unpleasant experiences with a miserly grip.
The tasting was instructive and enlightening. The Fromage de Meaux - the closest to a real Brie we'll ever get in the U.S. due to pasteurization laws - matched perfectly with the Scrimshaw Pilsner. The faux-Brie's single cream, mushroomy richness danced well with the light beer. The Pilsner, being light in flavor like a Champagne (a classic cheese pairing for Brie and other rich, mellow cheeses) thus also enjoyed the presence of the Lamb Chopper, buttery Carmody, and oozy Demon du Midi.
The Dogfish Head 90min IPA, a beer with great malt backbone that can stand up to an extreme hopping rate, was made more for the rank and stinky cheeses. When it eclipsed the soft in flavor Brie and sheep's milk cheeses it was able to share my mouth with the Demon, but came to a calming armistice with the meaty, smells-like-feet Gres de Vosges (think of a mild Epoisses).
The Maytag Blue, the oldest American blue and one I'm not keen on to begin with, matched well with the Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Stout (a beer made by Fritz Maytag no less). I say this from an indifferent point of view though. They did match well, but combining a cheese I don't care for with a espresso-esque beer I don't care for wasn't exactly a match made in heaven for me. But then again, taste is subjective as my tasting partner seemed to enjoy it.
The tasting was educational in introducing me to new cheeses and how to pair them with beers. It also enforced the main rule in learning about food. Use your senses. You can read about food all you want, but unless you're out there touching, smelling, seeing, and tasting food; the good and the bad; then you'll never really learn or know food. This golden rule of foodism couldn't be more true for cheese.