The Great Beer & Cheese-Off

The Session

I’ve been loosely following The Session for some time now, planning to join in “some day.” So when beer writer Jay Brooks announced Session #51: The Great Online Beer & Cheese-Off, I knew this was a session I would join.

Jay chose cheeses he believed “are available throughout the U.S. and quite possibly beyond our shores” — and I shared this belief. Off I went, visiting the local grocery stores in our suburb: Safeway, Albertsons and Top Foods. Surprisingly, I came up empty handed at all three. Deciding against calling around or making a trip into Seattle or Tacoma, where I’d be sure to find the Recommended Cheeses, I settled on replacements for each.

Suggested Cheese Replacement Cheese
Maytag Blue Cheese
A blue-veined rich, pungent, and crumbly cheese made from cow’s milk.
Salemville® Amish Blue Cheese Crumbles
Produced by an Amish cheese cooperative that’s committed to sustainable agriculture, this blue cheese is creamy, rich, and pungent with a mild, earthy flavor. And it’s already crumbled.
Widmer 1-Year Aged Cheddar
A smooth, firm textured and full-flavored, rich, nutty cheddar, from cow’s milk, that becomes increasingly sharp with age. The cheese becomes more granular as it ages.
Black Creek® 9-Month Sharp White Cheddar
Though a year-old Tillamook would have been the obvious choice, it’s a staple in our house so I decided to go for something different. The makers of Black Creek Cheddar describe it as, “Rich, nutty flavor becomes increasingly sharp and tangy as the natural aging process takes place. Smooth, firm texture becomes more granular and crumbly with age, yet melts to a rich, creamy texture when warmed.”
Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog
A soft, surface-ripened luscious, creamy goat cheese with a subtle tangy flavor.
Snøfrisk
The package says, “Fresh spreadable cheese from goat’s milk (80%) and cow’s cream (20%), from the makers of Jarlsberg.” I admit, I chose this cheese because it was in a cute little goaty package from Norway. I have a fondness for Norwegian things since my mom, her parents, and many relatives are Norwegian. Uff-da! And sometimes cheese made from 100% goat’s milk can just be a bit too… too tangy. The makers say, “It is a semi-hard ripened cheese with small round wholes made from pasteurized goat’s whole milk. Texture is pliable and sliceable. Flavour is pure, slightly acidulous, rich and characteristic.”

My cheese selection for the Great Beer & Cheese-Off

In standard Tiffany fare, I ran through the Great Beer and Cheese-Off twice. This wasn’t intentional. After jotting my notes down from The Session, which was intended to be the sole subject of this blog, I noticed one of the rules Jay outlined on Bottoms Up said “(Be sure to choose beers that are readily available; no homebrew or draft-only beers, please.)” And, to my dismay, because we had a growler in the fridge, I had included a draft-only beer…

Session #51: The Great Beer & Cheese-Off, Take One

I just got home from the grocery store, where I selected my three substitute cheeses, and am waiting on client work to come through on email. After receiving a note that the project’s been delayed a day, it’s now become the ideal afternoon for The Great Beer & Cheese-Off.

The Session

The Great Beer & Cheese-Off, Take OneSalemville Amish Blue Cheese Crumbles and Stone Sublimely Self Righteous. I’ve never been a huge fan of blue cheese; the “mold” aspect skeeves me out a bit and the pungency of the flavor is a bit off-putting. However, in recent years, I’ve discovered that I enjoy a good blue cheese if paired with a very sweet, viscous beer — beers like Birra Troll Geisha and Deschutes Mirror-Mirror. But today I’m pairing it with a Cascadian Dark Ale. (Sorry, Craft Brewers Association, “American-style India Black Ale” just doesn’t flow off the tongue like “CDA”.) Why? CDAs pair well with spicy foods like hot wings …and blue cheese pairs well with hot wings… so they must have something in common for taming the beast. The CDA and blue cheese have an equal bite, so together the intensities of both are decreased, creating a pleasant, yet not perfect, pairing.

Black Creek Sharp White Cheddar and North Coast Old Stock 2011. Cheddar cheese goes with a lot of beers, and I’ve had it plenty of times with this beer in the past. I chose the Old Stock because it’s a beer that delights my tastebuds and I haven’t yet had the 2011. Any excuse to open an Old Stock, eh? I especially like a sharp cheddar as it hits room temperature, developing a creamy texture and the nuttiness begins to emerge. The caramelly notes of the beer complement and enhance. So nice.

Snøfrisk (goat cheese) and Mac & Jack’s Black Cat Porter. The cheese was smooth, with notes of sweet cream. Together with the beer, little notes of milk chocolate came off the porter. I could eat a lot of this. And a quarter package is only 80 calories. And the cheese isn’t bad with the Sublimely Self Righteous either, bringing out coffee notes in the beer. I find myself cross-pairing everything…

Cut! After realizing my error in not noticing the rules, I made the executive decision to run through the pairings a second time, only this time, using only beers available in bottles (no draught-only!). To change things up a bit, I’d do one pairing each night, instead of all in a single sitting.

Session #51: The Great Beer & Cheese-Off, Take Two

For the do-over, I’m taking the opportunity to include at least two beers I haven’t yet tried: Uinta Organic Sum’r and Emelisse Barley Wine Ale. I also chose an old favorite, Harviestoun Old Engine Oil. The three beers come home, taking up temporary residence in my fridge.

Evening 1: Aged Cheddar

Uinta Sum'r and Aged White CheddarBlack Creek Sharp White Cheddar and Uinta Organic Sum’r. I’m excited to try this beer. It’s so new, that it’s not even on BeerAdvocate yet (at time of sampling and blogging). I’m expecting a fresh, crisp flavor with light citrus notes from the Sorachi Ace hops — and this beer delivers just that. It even cuts through the sharpness of the cheese. A nice pairing, and a beer that I’m sure to have again and again when the sun finally begins to heat things up in the Northwest.

Evening 2: Snøfrisk (Goat Cheese)

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil and Snofrisk CheeseBlack Creek Sharp White Cheddar and Harviestoun Old Engine Oil. I already know this cheese and the beer are “da bomb!” on their own. Together, all is sublime and at peace in my mouth, with the world, and in my home. I am content. Tasting notes? Who bothered to take them?! I was too busy enjoying this.

Evening 3: Blue Cheese

Salemville Amish Blue Cheese Crumbles and Emelisse Barley Wine. As we were getting ready to head home, C told me he drank my barleywine while doing housechores that day. I hadn’t yet read anything about this beer, but was hoping for a sweet, viscous beer. I probed him with questions. His answers, “decent, malty, bitey hop” — not anything like I’d hoped. Hence, I changed this beer out…

Thomas Hardy's Old Ale (2007) and Blue Cheese CrumblesThomas Hardy’s Old Ale (2007). This beer has a mouth-coating syrupy feel, with flavors of figgy toffee, so it’s sure to protect me from the brash, pungent blue cheese. At least this was my goal going into the pairing, having previously enjoyed a 2008 Thomas Hardy’s with a super-delicious Stilton cheese recommended by the Cheese Monger at De Laurenti’s. A good pairing, but the 2007 has just a bit more bite than the 2008. It may just take more time and pairing to turn me into a blue cheese fan.

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