Beer and Cheese Pairing Notes, December 2015

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar

My apologies for the infrequency of these dispatches, they have become a casualty of my success both with the beer program and with the writing phase of my professional life. In other words, the beer program’s success began to involve extra time maintaining the Instagram account and of course much more time in the store putting beer on the shelf. Yes, we have a stock clerk, but here’s one key difference between cheese and beer and a grocery store and a boutique. The people I worked with in cheese had an eye toward higher stations in the culinary world; they had a passion for food and of course cheese. The people I work with in grocery stores and especially in grocery beer sections are there to do a job and go home; even though craft beer is a 20 billion dollar a year business, it’s not something that my stock clerks see as a bright future. They are great people and I love my coworkers, but I can’t expect them to parse the difference between Maine Beer Company Lunch and MO or Founders Backwoods Bastard and Breakfast Stout. And I mean in the bottle, not in the glass. Thus I spent two-three hours a day taking care of the shelves in addition to handling the social media marketing, merchandising and much of the purchasing. In store promotion, the fancy term I use for sampling beer and cheese often gets pushed to the back burner, and these days when I get home journalism awaits.

But I did do some in store promotion in December, some where I work at Westside Market East Village and some at three different Whole Foods. Most of it involved trying to break the general public’s resistance to darker beers. During the warmer months, I sought to demonstrate that not all lighter craft beers are India Pale Ales, and that the best india Pale Ales are not just a mouthful of bitter. To that end I frequently introduced the public to Saisons, Helles Lagers, Sours and the like. In December I sought to acquaint the public with the joys of scotch ales, doppelbocks, schwarzbiers, milk stouts, and a few others. The idea was to demonstrate that not all dark beers and the malt and hops equivalent of black coffee.

At Westside I used a mix of classic brews like Schneider Weisse Aventinus, with recently arrived seasonal dark beers like barrel aged Wulver, Evil Twin Christmas Eve in a New York City Hotel Room, Stillwater Surround, The Bruery’s Eight Maids-A-Milking, Stillwater Folklore. At Whole Foods, I was on the clock for Brooklyn Brewery introducing their new Insulated, a dark lager. The WF gigs were a pairing with Flagship, a remarkable cheddar from Beecher’s Handmade. Flagship is a cheddar made with a bit of Gruyere cheese culture so there’s a sweet and nutty component to its flavor profile. Since I often sample Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, I was ready and eager to explain the cheesemaking process, much to the delight of the Beecher’s people. At Westside I used cheddars like Prairie Breeze Milton, the aforementioned Cabot Clothbound, and the occasional dose of Basque Sheep or Marcel Petite Comte as pairing companions.

It has been effective. People are delighted that cheddar is proving to be much more than they originally anticipated, and that not all dark beers finish like black coffee. In January, I’m going to press my campaign into blue cheeses. Ports and Stilton, no! Porters and Stilton, that’s the ticket. Now if only I could persuade the cheese buyer to get me some Stichelton.

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Some More Recent Posts from Beer Geeks TV Blog

On Great NYC Beer Bars

At Beer Geeks TV Blog on Three Great NYC Beer Bars.
Three Great Barrel Aged Beers
Beers and Thanksgiving
Evil Twin
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At Beer Geeks TV Blog on NYC IPA and on the new Paste Magazine Stout List

These new IPA’s are phenomenally bright!

The Paste List judges stouts!

Evil Twin

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Four Blog Posts from Beer Geeks TV Blog

It’s been a busy month.  Here are my latest posts from Beer Geeks TV

On Men, Women and Beer

On the need for a better lexicon

On Why Beer Should be Sold Like Wine

On Liking Beer with Stuff in it.


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Beer and Cheese Pairings October 2

Midnight Moon

There are several reasons that these dispatches have become less frequent. For one, some of the pairings have become routine and feel less newsworthy as a result. Some of the good ones get lost in the writing workload that I have (definitely a good problem) and then other times, I’ve worked so many extra hours at the store, Westside Market East Village that the last thing I want to do when I get home is write about my retail endeavors. The extra hours owe to the nifty coincidence of the busy season starting just as a new stock clerk gets settled in. The new guy is more conscientious than his predecessor but English isn’t his first language and he is still learning to parse the difference between the nine types of Lagunitas and eight varieties of Founders we carry. Asking him to grasp the six varieties of Stillwater or five of Maine Beer Company….yeah, that falls on my shoulders these days.

Anyway, Friday is a night I usually look forward to meeting the public with samples of beer and cheese. People are usually receptive and chatty. This Friday was tougher though. It was the first rainy and cold day of the autumn and on top of that the weather forecasts warned of a hurricane. New Yorkers used to shrug off hurricane forecasts, but Sandy, three years ago knocked the city in general and downtown Manhattan for a loop. Power was out in many areas for weeks, and everywhere for days. So I decided not to take any big risks. When my colleague on the cheese counter suggested I use up some Midnight Moon that he was going to trim, I was thrilled. Midnight Moon is an aged goat gouda from Holland via California and it has a smooth delivery and gentle sweetness that makes it an instant crowd pleaser. Aged Goudas with their sweet overtones and salty finish in general pair well with India Pale Ales and we are having a Double IPA moment. The clientele went crazy for the Grimm’s After Image and before that the Pipeworks Ninja v. Unicorn. We just got the Westbrook Citrus Ninja Exchange and those bottles are moving briskly, perhaps the best selling big bottle right now. I’m hoping to have a dedicated NYC section by the first of the year. Yeah, everyone has Sixpoint and Brooklyn, but I want to anchor a sales area around the work of the new Gotham breweries like Singlecut, Finback and Other Half.

We have two Singlecut bottles, Does Anyone Remember Laughter, an excellent IPA full of orange zest and smoky overtones and a new one, TNT Bon Bon, a Double IPA. I chose the latter to pair. It has a grapefruity finish that I figured would contrast nicely with the Midnight Moon’s smoothness. It did, and people either gravitated toward one or the other. It brought people out of their shell for a minute (“damn that’s good, can you show me where that is” was a common response to the items), which is all you can ask for from people with hurricanes on their mind.

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At Beer Geeks TV Blog on The Rise of Double

Double IPA’s are having a moment!

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Beer and Cheese Pairings September 21


A lot of the work that I’m particularly proud of at Westside Market East Village is in introducing people who don’t consider themselves to be beer drinkers to beers or ciders that they enjoy. About once a week someone will tell me that they didn’t like beer until they tried my free samples and discovered a whole new world called saison or that their new favorite vocabulary word is Brettanomyces. Sunday was a chance to see if I could stretch the playing field in a comparable way with cheese. The nature of our store is that all of the cheese is pre cut and wrapped, and although the section is meticulously maintained (there are two guys who spend 60 hours a week cutting, wrapping, cleaning and rewrapping cheese), this still isn’t optimal for the cheese, and the lack of cheesemongering limits the kind of cheeses that we carry.

Not that the buyer doesn’t take chances. Sunday my colleague gave me pieces of Cantal, an earthy buttery French cheese from the Auvergne, to sample, and I knew why. Cantal, much like a traditional English Cheddar, molds quickly, so I bet that the cheese guys were cleaning it often. The mold on Cantal isn’t “bad.” In fact, it makes the cheese tastier; peppery and earthy notes are more prominent. When I worked at Bedford Cheese Shop in Brooklyn, many customers wanted the bluest cheddar available. My colleague was concerned that I happily left the blue on the surface of the cheese and charged onto the sales floor. “Trust me,” I told him.

To pair with the Cantal, I fulfilled a request. One of the deli managers requested that I sample the Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout as he and his girlfriend had been surveying the dark beers in the inventory, and he wanted to make that one next. He liked the stout, its chocolaty and anise notes were different from other dark beers in our midst. Those overtones enabled the beer to pair nicely with the earthiness of the cheese. When the stout ran out, I switched to Stillwater Brontide, a Belgian Brown Ale, brewed by a Brooklyn based gypsy brewer. The Brontide is lighter and has distinctive caramel notes. If any of the clientele were put off by the moldy cheese, they kept it to themselves. I underestimated them again; I’ll have to some washed rinds in the near future.

Sunday often feels like one long dialogue with a variety of customers; Monday is completely different. The hustle bustle takes over and rush hour borders on a stampede of well dressed urbanites reacting to offers of free artisanal cheese and craft beer with something that borders on contempt. I was left to my devices and chose Etorki, a semi soft sheep cheese from the Basque regions of France (hence the unGaul-like name). The cheese has a muted, grassy sweetness: think of the aroma of dewey meadows in the morning. I figured that would be perfect for the savory overtones and crisp flavor of a classic lager, so I chose the Mahr’s unfiltered lager. The handful of people who tried it liked the pairing, and they were delighted to discover that Etorki was on sale. One woman also enjoyed the beer enough to comment that she didn’t think she liked lagers, but now she knew different.

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