Beer + Cheese
Before Louis Pasteur and the invention of the microscope, fermentation was thought to be a spontaneous act of God. It's no wonder beer and cheese have a natural affinity for one another — a match made in heaven or at least at the monastery.
Housing the most innovative and well-educated, monasteries were responsible for their own livelihood. Monks cultivated plants, raised livestock and produced foods for their own consumption, as well as for sale, as part of their self-sufficiency. This included the creation of beer and cheese — the magical products of fermentation — both of which present mouthwatering attributes of sharp bitterness, buttery smoothness and even a little funk. And perhaps the wisest invention of all was the monk's typical attire — a heavy form-concealing brown robe cinched above the waist, ideal for hiding a physique earned from the steady consumption of these rich creations.
Today, the rapid growth in the craft beer industry is part of the larger eat-local movement. People want to experience their food, enjoy new flavors, new ingredients and new preparation methods. People also want their food and drink to have a story and beer and cheese are no exception.
To say the craft brewing industry has blown up over the past few years would be an understatement. Beau’s All Natural Brewing opened in 2006, back when local breweries were more of a novelty. It wasn’t until 2012 that the number of breweries in the Ottawa area began to open at an approximate rate of eight breweries annually, swelling to more than 40 breweries currently in our region.
Even this past year saw the opening of Dog and Pony Brewlab, Étienne Brûlé and Windmill Breweries, Crooked Mile, Stray Dog and Parsons Brewing Companies. And it seems we can't quench our thirst for beer with more planned to open in 2017. This local growth mirrors a province-wide trend with 100 breweries currently in the planning phase across Ontario.
While there are fewer local cheese makers in our region, the wealth of experience in the industry has resulted in award-winning cheeses. Glengarry Fine Cheese quietly pulls in international awards year after year for their Celtic Blue Reserve and Lankaaster Aged Gouda. And younger cheese producers such as Back Forty Artisan Cheese in Mississippi Station and Milkhouse Farm & Dairy in Smiths Falls are gaining well-deserved reputations and a loyal following.
The trend of pairing beer and cheese is certainly gaining momentum — it can be seen in the number of breweries and restaurants offering beer and cheese pairing events and cheese tasting boards with flights of beer. Use our tasting notes, suggested pairings and recipes as a guide to exploring beer and cheese and possibly invest in a comfy monk-style robe — belt optional.
The Perfect Pair: Local beer and cheese
Pairing beer and cheese is a balancing act. One shouldn't out shine or overpower the other, instead strive to complement or contrast flavours. Starting with the lightest progressing to darker more complex brews, explore the tasting profiles of the beer and look for similarities in the cheese — nutty, floral and earthy flavours and sharp and dry or smooth and creamy textures. Although the rule of thumb is to pair bitter, hoppier brews with more acidic cheeses and saltier cheeses with richer beers, Vanessa Simmons, cheese sommelier at Savvy Cool Curds, thinks pairing rules are made to be broken. "Why not host your own pairing party and make your own rules," Simmons says. "With so many exciting new-on-the-scene craft brews coupled with the characteristics of fl avourful Canadian artisan cheese, the pairing possibilities are endless." And as the taste-testing chart below will show, our trio of taste-testers found some unconventional beer and cheese matches that when paired together elevated the flavours in delightfully surprising ways.nbsp;
Blonde, wheat and cream ales are often less hoppy, crisp, clean and dry with citrus notes. These lighter beers pair well with cheeses that are also fresher (young) and lighter in flavour and higher in acidity. Try goat and sheep cheeses that enhance the flavour of lighter brews without overpowering them.
Beyond the Pale's Pink Fuzz, a grapefruit American wheat, accentuates the smokey, caramel notes of the torched rind and tangy and fruity interior of Back Forty Artisan Cheese's Bonnechere. Stone City Ale's Windward Wheat, brewed with orange peel, chamomile and a whole lot of wheat, plays well with Glengarry Fine Cheese's Celtic Blue — delicious, but strange bedfellows.nbsp;
Brewed in the off seasons to be consumed in the summer, the saison style of beer originated as a thirst quencher for French farm hands during the growing season. Traditionally brewed to be light, refreshing and low in alcohol, farm hands were often alloted up to five litres each to get them through the work day. Using what they had available at the farm, these farmhouse ales offer a wide range of flavour profiles — from fruity and herbaceous to spicy. So when it comes to pairing saisons with cheese, there are no rules
Dominion City's Earl Grey Marmalade Saison is a mix of tangy, floral and tart flavours that matches the tang and fruitiness of Black River Cheese's 2-year aged cheddar. Tooth and Nail Brewing Company's Valour made with barley, wheat, oats and rye is a nice contrast to Back Forty Artisan Cheese's Madawaska, a sweet and salty soft sheep’s milk cheese.
These beers include India Pale ales, traditional ales and stronger pilsners. With the addition of extra hops in the brewing process, these beers tend to be more bitter and intense. That means they can stand up to stronger and more pungent cheeses, such as aged and blue cheeses.
Pair Tooth and Nail Brewing Company's hoppy and malty Tenacity, an English-style pale ale with Milhouse Farm & Dairy's Tomme, a rich full-cream sheep's milk cheese with grassy, herbal notes and a natural rind. Evergreen Craft Ales' Around the Corner IPA offers a combination of earthy, piney and tropical flavours. Pair it with Fromagerie les Folie Bergères' Chèvre Fatale, a smooth goat's milk cheese with a beer-washed rind.
With hints of caramel, toffee and chocolate, darker brews tend to be easier on the hops and heavier on the malts and yeast. Because these beers have stronger flavours, toasted notes and residual sweetness, they pair well with cheeses that are creamier and fuller in flavour. Try them with aged brie, buttery gouda or creamy blues.
Kichesippi's Bristol Milk Stout, made with roasted malts, pairs well with the nutty, buttery Tête à Papineau by Fromagerie Montebello, an okastyle semi-fi rm cow’s milk cheese. Try Big Rig Brewery's Midnight Kissed My Cow, a double-chocolate milk stout made with a healthy dose of Belgian cocoa, with Glengarry Fine Cheese’s award-winning Lankaaster.