Wednesday night was all about local beer and cheese at the St. Paul Cooks of Crocus Hill. I paired up with James Norton and Becca Dilley, the folks behind The Heavy Table and authors of The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin, to bring together what are arguably the two best products to come out of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Guests were welcomed with a glass of Schell’s Pils to start the evening off. Once everyone was seated, we got down to business. As we got our introductions out of the way, Becca was wielding a skillet to heat up the first cheese, Brun Uusto from Brunkow Cheese of Darlington, Wisconsin. This munch-worthy American twist on the Finnish Juustoleipa-style cheese is buttery, salty, mild, and a bit oily. Light caramelized flavors made it a great match for Proper, a malt-forward English Bitter from Furthermore Beer in Spring Green, Wisconsin.
My second favorite pairing of the night was Surly Bender with Upland’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese. This is a fantastic cheese to begin with. It’s won the equivalent of Best of Show at the American Cheese Society three times. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is dry and nutty with gentle grassy background flavors that make for a “heavenly chorus” pairing with Surly’s nutty oatmeal brown ale. Both have big flavors, but they are evenly matched with one another. The nuttiness of one speaks to the nuttiness of the other. The beer and cheese together amplify some floral notes that are absent when tasted separately. You really should rush out and try this combination.
The pairing that really made my mind explode was Matacabras from Dave’s BrewFarm with Meadowlark, a cloth-bound, cave-aged cheddar from Pastureland in Goodhue, Minnesota. This is one unusual cheddar. The cave-aging lends it loads of funky, mushroomy funk that you wouldn’t normally associate with cheddar cheese. These melded seamlessly with the funky Belgian yeast flavors in the beer. Matacabras leans to the sweet side and drips caramel and dark fruit. These flavors offered a wondrous counterbalance to the deep, umami flavors of the cheese.
Although not the official pairing, Matacabras also went beautifully with the next cheese, Amablu, a cave-aged blue cheese from Faribault Dairy. Think blue cheese with fig puree. Fantastic. The actual pairing to this cheese was Summit Horizon Red. This beer’s slight caramel residual sweetness counters the sharpness of the blue cheese while dirty, grassy Horizon hops pick up the tangy moldiness.
The “dessert” pairing was also very nice; Crave Brothers Mascarpone with Tyranena’s bourbon-barrel aged Rocky’s Revenge. The cheese has a creamy sweetness of its own that was amplified by the rich vanilla and whisky flavors of this sweet-leaning beer. While full flavored, Rocky’s Revenge is not so heavy as to overpower this fairly lightweight cheese. The orange biscuits served with the cheese sent the whole ensemble over the top.
Gold Sovereign Ale, the 6th beer in Summit’s Unchained Series, made a great match for Hook’s 7-Year Cheddar from Hook’s Cheese Company of Mineral Point, Wisconsin. The beer is hoppy and bitter bit has enough backing sweetness to pick up the creamy sweetness of the cheese. With wine they say, “if it grows together, it goes together.” The same can be said of beer. Cheddar cheese and English India Pale Ale are a can’t miss combination.
I can’t wait to do this class again; sometime, somewhere. In the mean time I may just have to pick up some of these cheeses and beers to re-experience the pairings on my own.