The Beer and Cheese Pairings Will Return Soon

I’ve been dealing with a flare up of carpal tunnel.

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Beer and Cheese Pairings June 22

2015aprihopTwo beers and two cheeses yielded three separate pairings on Monday evening at the Westside Market, East Village.

Being a good organizational soldier, I chose to start things off with the Dogfish Head Aprihop and since it went over well, I used two bottles. The first cheese to the pairing board was Beaufort.   My coworker in the cheese station had suggested an industrial cheddar that we’re long on, but I rejected it. My Spanish is non-existent and his English is halting but I got across the point that that cheese would do well with passive sampling. I wish I could have conveyed that there was no story to tell about the cheddar. I suspect this will happen often as the cheese buyer has told me she’s cutting back on high end purchases with the store slowing in the summer. By contrast, the beer section continues to boom, so I’m sure I’ll have good stuff for the board all season. Anyway, my expectation was that the nuttiness and creamy mouthfeel of the Beaufort would balance the hoppiness of the Aprihop.

It’s funny. I don’t find the Aprihop to be that hoppy, which shows you how tastes evolve. I used to be hop resistant and sensitive. Part of my immersion in beer was by finding roads around the IPA craze, but during the last 22 months or so, my palate has acclimated, and I can drink just about any triple or even 4x IPA and appreciate them.   However, the clientele finds the Aprihop a tad bitter, so I look to pair to their tastes.

We’re right next door to a movie theater, and the best response to the beer was a woman who was shopping for a single to drink during a movie. She bought two. I’ll have to remember that idea when I resume cinematic habits.

The second bottle of Aprihop was only halfway finished when the Beaufort ran out. My colleague was trimming some pieces of Pecorino Buscano, an Italian sheep cheese with shavings of black truffles, so I saved him some work by making it the next cheese to the board. The buttery start and sweetly fungal finish of the cheese made it an ideal pairing for the Aprihop.

When the Aprihop finished I chose the Cigar City Helles Lager as the next beer. It’s a light refreshing lager with hints of lemon in the follow through. Its tone and finish made it a great pairing with the cheese, and its quantity enabled me to finish the board close to my usual departure time. During the shift there had been talk amongst the owners and managers about adding a growler program to our stellar bottle selection. I wanted to go somewhere, down a pint and ponder the possibilities.

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Upcoming Events

Snowdrop-ConvertibleI have two classes in the coming weeks.

Summer Red Wines and Cheeses to Match.  Pretty self explanatory, eh?  It’s at the 92nd St. Y, June 25 at 7.  Michael Whidden and I will present five pairings of cheese and summer red wines and discuss them.  $45.  Tickets are available at http://www.92y.org/Event/Summer-Reds-and-Cheese-to-Match?performanceNumber=114793

Cheese and Rieslings.  Also pretty self explanatory!  Five parings with Michael Whidden and me.  $45. For tickets visit  http://www.92y.org/Event/Cheese-and-Riesling

More classes in the fall.

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Beer and Cheese Pairings June 21: A Few of My Favorite Things

Crooked Stave Hop SavantA few days ago, I was at Harry & Ida’s Meat and Supply Co., a new smoked meat place near me and while chatting with one of the guys on the counter I told him that I co-manage the beer program at Westside Market East Village, the fancy grocery store down the block. And he exclaimed “wow, you get to order all of your favorites!”

“Not exactly,” I responded and explained that I can carry them if they sell. There have been several beers that I adored but they didn’t move quickly enough to warrant their shelf space (Stillwater Surround, a smoked stout, for instance). Anyway, that conversation resonated in the back of my mind during many of today’s pairings.

I knew that I would be expected to sample the Dogfish Head Aprihop aggressively, but to my surprise, most of my agenda was preset by the time I arrived. The beer stock guy wanted me to sample some of the Hof Ten Dormaal as those Belgian Farmhouse ales weren’t moving. HTD is makes some of my favorite brews, but at $6.99 for a 12.7 oz bottle, I have to concede that it’s a beer that people like but don’t buy. Then to my surprise, when I arrived at the cheese station my coworker pulled out a bunch of cheese, a La Tur, four tiny pieces of brie with shaving of black truffles, and last week’s roasted red bell pepper spread for me to sample. With so much of my script set in advance, the rebellious side of me decided I’d sneak in a bottle of Crooked Stave Hop Savant, an IPA with wild yeast at some point during the day.

I started out pairing La Tur with Hof Ten Dormaal Amber. I expected the buttery complexity of the cheese, which is made from a blend of goat, sheep and cow’s milk in northern Italy, to pair well with the yeasty mouthfeel and savory overtones of the beer. It did and hot damn, someone bought a bottle, which made me happy albeit wistfully. I will be bringing in HTD again later in the year, but it will be their large format boxed beers with the holidays in mind. Until then, I’ll have to go elsewhere for my fix.

The second pairing featured the Dogfish Head and the brie. It was an interesting pairing from a theoretical point of view. Good brie has some fungal notes in the finish and those were exaggerated by the presence of the truffles with gave the cheese and densely aromatic and sweet finish. The Dogfish Head is a sessionalble pale ale and many of those have stone fruit overtones in their delivery. The Aprihop is brewed with fresh apricots which again accentuates a natural flavor. It worked empirically too.

The store was remarkably slow during the mid-afternoon, so I had plenty of time to converse but little in the way of sales. I rolled through two bottles of Aprihop and had some brie leftover when the late afternoon rush began to kick into gear so I decided now was the time for Hop Savant. It too is a favorite and I suspect a mere 72 hours after we put it on the shelf, it’s justified its presence; we’ve sold a case. The Hop Savant is an IPA with wild yeast and it’s absolutely delicious, the pine notes happen early followed by a nice clean sour lemon finish. It’s pricey, $10 a bottle and worth every penny. I thought the sweet, fungal notes of the brie would work well, and…well I don’t know if it did. People either went for one or the other. The zealot in me is all too ready to drench people in information and I wonder if “an IPA from Colorado brewed with wild yeast which yields a tart lemon finish” was TMI for casual beer drinkers. The ones that did try it were ecstatic and some engaged me in conversations about wild yeast and its effect on beer. We sold some bottles and interestingly some six packs of Westbrook Gose for people who wanted a sixer with that kind of finish.

By the time that pairing was done, it was pushing 7:30 and I was weary (I’d made my first visit to the gym in 18 months on Saturday and yeah), but the store was still at full tilt busy and I’d barely touched the spread, so I loaded the board with the savory red bell pepper spread and grabbed a Hof Ten Dormaal Blonde and charged back into action. The spread was received appropriately as a munchie, but several people took an interest in the beer, which offers a more delicate sweetness and yeastiness than Belgian standard bearers like Chimay and Duvel. Who knows, maybe I won’t have to discontinue it after all. And maybe that guy at Harry & Ida’s was right.

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Beer and Cheese June 19: Accidents Will Happen

2015aprihopWhen I arrived at Westside Market East Village on Friday, I immediately got word from two other supervisors that Mark, the store manager and the person with whom I co-manage our beer program, wanted me to demo the Dogfish Head Aprihop that evening. Being asked to demo a Sam Calagione beer is not my idea of a problem, but the urgency of the request piqued my curiosity. I went downstairs to the stock room and found ten cases of Aprihop. Yep, we’d done a deal. I’m usually looped on the bulk purchases but this was a pleasant surprise and not because I’m a fan of the beer (I’m not not a fan, but if I’m taking a Dogfish Head brew to a desert island then I’m taking Raison D’Etre, Palo Santo or of course the 120 Minute IPA). The sales rep handling Dogfish Head is a beer geek and an avid supporter of the NYC beer scene. You’d be surprised how rare that is. Most of the sales reps I deal with might as well be selling paper clips for all the enthusiasm that they invest into the beer. Their complacency always exasperates me, and it shocks me coming from a specialty cheese background where everyone is a zealot. So yeah, put a feather in the hat of the DFH rep.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m on a campaign to demonstrate the versatility of sessionable IPAs with food and another chapter occurred on Friday. The Aprihop has a clean direct flavor with just a little pine in the background and the apricot overtones come in the finish. To pair with it, I chose Nancy’s Hudson Valley Camembert, a soft ripened sheep cheese from Chatham NY. Sheep’s milk is richer and more buttery than cow or goat’s milk and that comes across nicely in the Nancy’s. I was counting on the butteriness to pair well with the apricot finish and judging from the enthusiastic reception to the board, it did.

The concept behind the first pairing went so well that I decided to stick with the Aprihop and try it with a firm sheep cheese. I chose the Abbaye De Belloc, a deliciously nuanced Basque cheese with a buttery start, and herbal middle and just a hint of salt in the finish. I cut up the cheese and opened the bottle of beer and began to pour and realized that something was amiss. It was nearly white, not the amber shade of the Aprihop. I looked at the bottle, it was Dogfish Head Namaste, their wheat beer, brewed with lemongrass, orange peel, coriander and peppercorns. I was initially dismayed. We’ve set up a shelf for single 12 ounce bottles so that the stock guy doesn’t have to shotgun marry four packs and six packs but he does it anyway, evidently unaware that we actually get returns from people who discover that their four pack of saison is half stout and whatnot. Anyway, this wasn’t a disaster. I figured that sweet balance of the cheese would offset the spiky complexity of the beer, and I was right. And the Namaste won bragging rights for the evening. We sold 12 bottles to only 9 of the Aprihop. Lots of cheese moved too. In the end, I certainly couldn’t complain.

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Beer and Cheese Pairings June 17

Sorachi-Logo-205x300I call these the beer and cheese pairings largely because left to my own devices, I choose the beer first. We carry about 150 really interesting beers at Westside Market East Village, but we have well more than 200 well-made cheeses. But some of the time the cheese is chosen for me by the department managers and I roll accordingly, which was the case on Wednesday.

The powers that be left me a piece of Delice de Cremiers, a super-rich and buttery French triple cream. There are a lot of good choices for a cheese like this as its texture will highlight a variety of different flavors, but I had been stumping hard for the citrusy and stone fruit overtones of India Pale Ales as a companion with such cheeses. I decided to give that campaign a break and go with a conventional choice, Brooklyn Sorachi Ace. The beer is a saison but it’s light even in a genre of beers that are lighter in texture and temperament than most brews, and the Sorachi is highlighted by an intense effervescence. It also features a slightly lemony finish. It’s as if a cava or a prosecco was fermented with just a bit of wild yeast. That board didn’t last long, and both bottles and pieces of the cheese vanished from the inventory.

The other cheese left for me was one I would have never chosen. It’s from Roule, IIRC, the people behind Boursin, the spiced French cheese spread. This one was similar but with a swirl of red bell pepper. It wasn’t awful by any means, but the idea of connecting this cheese to an individual farmer or an affineur was completely out of the window. OTOH, this is a fancy grocery store and not a high end emporium like Bedford Cheese Shop. To pair with the cheese, I chose Fuller’s ESB. The beer had been on my mind lately as it was a favorite of Ray Deter, a man I learned a ton about beer from. He passed away in a bike accident four years ago, and I so wish that among other things he could see our beer case and know that the knowledge he passed along is being put to good use. The Fuller’s is a malty ale and I figured that the implicit sweetness would balance the creamy savory flavors of the cheese. It was well received.

It was well after 8:00 when the last board finished and I was happy not to feel compelled to rush home to watch a hockey or basketball game.

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Beer and Cheese Pairings June 15

Knee Deep breakingbudIt’s taken nearly eight months of sampling beer and cheese to customers at Westside Market East Village, but I finally had a night where no one looked at the board and said “beer and cheese?” as if the pairing was completely off the deep end exotic. I think they are naturals. The carbonation in beer pairs easily with the salt in the finish of most cheeses to create a refreshing sensation. That and the flavors of most cheeses and beers speak at similar volumes, so it’s rare for one to drown the other out.

I’m a stubborn guy, so Monday’s first pairing was a tweak of one from Sunday that didn’t work as well as I would have liked. I’m still big on the notion that a soft creamy cheese can pair with an IPA. In the bigger picture, I’m unconvinced that India Pale Ales are as food unfriendly as their reputation holds. Yes, superbig hop bombs will overwhelm every foodstuff near it, but more sessionable IPAs seem to me to be versatile. Thus, I chose Knee Keep’s Breaking Bud, which at 6.5% ABV and only 50 IBU is very accessible. I paired it with the Brie Chatelain that we’re trying to move out. The beer has a nice easygoing sequence of citrus and stone fruit flavors at the finish I thought it would pair well with the creamy texture and fungal flavors from the cheese. It must have; the pairing disappeared very, very quickly.

I had enough Breaking Bud leftover to do a second pairing, so I unintentionally got punny. I chose a piece of the Ewephoria, the sheep’s milk aged gouda. Yes, Ewephoria and Breaking Bud. That set off a series of contagious giggles in the store. Aged Goudas tend to have a bit of sweetness in the finish and the Ewephoria features overtones of molasses and vanilla. I’d usually save it for a more hop forward beer but it worked well with Breaking Bud.

For the next pairing I thought long and hard about the beer. It seems to me that I’ve leant really hard on our selection of IPAa and saisons. I wanted to showcase a different style. I chose Victory Golden Monkey, a Belgian tripel. The beer’s cool mouthfeel, muted melon-y sweetness and hint of spice make it a good cheese companion. For the cheese I selected the Marcel Petite Comte as its pronounced nuttiness would balance the complexity of the beer. It worked. People praised the pairing and even the concept.

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