Wednesday was a fun evening to hawk beer and cheese to unsuspecting New Yorkers at Westside Market East Village. The store’s rush hour started busy then slowed down considerably. That meant that the first pairing got a big dose of hustle bustle, but the second one was open to careful consideration.
For the first board, I chose Snowdrop, a wondrous creamy goat’s milk cheese from Haystack Mountain, a Colorado dairy farm a bit north of Denver. It’s a soft ripened cheese and we had about a half dozen that were entering their optimal window of ripeness. I put it on an onion focaccia. The easy match for the beer would have been some sort of wheat beer, and I do think that I’ve used the Finch Wet Hot American Wheat with this cheese in the past, but I wanted to go beyond the usual, so I chose Sgt. Pepper, a saison from Cambridge that is brewed with pink, white and green peppercorns. The pepper is only a light accent, so the zesty flavors and light texture of the beer went nicely with the rich creamy cheese. I particularly delighted in the responses from several people who ignored my commentary, and just grabbed a piece of cheese announcing “oh good, it’s brie,” then stopped in their tracks and came back to me to find out what divinity was in their mouth and ask if the beverage on my board was just as good. The backstock of Snowdrop disappeared as did a bottle or two of the Sgt. Pepper.
Sgt Pepper is a 22 oz bottle so it lasted nearly an hour, though by the end I was beginning to fear that it was going flat. I had a customer one time ask if a particular beer was drawn from a cask. I looked at him knowingly and he smiled. I thanked him for the subtle tip that it was time to change the beverage portion of the board. Those thoughts came to mind as I set up the second board. Business had slowed a good bit and my coworkers wanted me to stop so that I join the discussion about the NBA Finals. However, by my count there were still about three to five customers a minute entering the store (yeah, imagine the mayhem when it’s busy and that number is two or three times higher). I figured it would be an ideal time to put out a provocative pairing. I chose Beaufort, a nutty French alpine cheese with an especially creamy mouthfeel. For the beer I mused for a bit before settling on an old standby, the Stillwater Cellar Door, a farmhouse ale brewed with white sage. I felt the light zesty overtones and floral finish of the Cellar Door would pair nicely with the nuttiness of the cheese. Also both components offered nice talking points. As expected people stopped and engaged. Nearly 8 bottles of Cellar Door left the store in half an hour. It could have been more but I avoided promoting the board to a group of young men who walked in fearing that they were underage. As I circulated, I saw all six of the guys in the beer aisle with decent but not amazing craft beer six packs in tow. Grrr, a missed opportunity! I made a mental note of their faces; they seemed like the types who have never built an alliance to mainstream beer, just the sort who are interested in what lies on the top shelf.