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The Perks of Being a Cheesemonger

By Jasmine · June 14th, 2013 · Comments Off

Working in the artisinal food industry is not easy. You don’t generally make much money, the hours are long, you’re usually on your feet, and the conditions are never cushy. You have to truly believe that what you’re doing is bettering the planet, or humanity, or animal lives, or whatever it is that drives you.

Or, you have to really dig the perks. Lean into them, if you will.

My friend and former Cowgirl co-worker Ruth now works for La Quercia, an amazing company that specializes in one of my favorite food groups (second to cheese, of course): salty, cured meats. They are based in Iowa, where the vast majority of US pork is raised. They know all their farmers and specialize in humanely raised, heritage breed pigs. So when Ruth contacted me to see if I wanted to join in on creating some beer and meat pairings at Magnolia Brewing. she got a resounding “Hell, yes”, and we agreed to meet at the brewery Monday morning.

So while you were having your first strategic team meeting of the week, I was getting half-pickled with Ruth and Ben Spencer, Magnolia’s Head Brewer.

When ever I do a tasting set of any kind (cheese, chocolate, wine) there is always one beer (or wine) that goes with everything. In this case, it was the Big Cypress Brown. We tasted what you might call a “vertical” of prosciuttos to go along with the beer. We had Prosciutto Piccante (rubbed with fennel & red pepper), Speck (smoked proscuitto), Tamworth, Berkshire, and Acorn Tamworth Spalaccia (a sort of prosciutto made from the front leg). Tamworth and Berkshire are heritage pork breeds. Herb Eckhouse, owner of La Quercia along with wife Kathy, calls these “varietals”, just like a fine wine. They even have Acorn editions of Berkshire and Tamworth, where the pigs spend the last few months of their life foraging for acorns. The Acorn Tamworth Prosciutto will be released in late 2013.The pairings will be revealed at an 18 Reasons event on June 30th that is part of their west coast Ham Independence tour (if you still think Italy makes the best/only prosciutto, go buy a ticket now). I mean, Herb and Kathy have made Spaniards declare that the best cured meats being made today are coming out of Iowa.

I also got to chat with Ben a bit–he says the new Magnolia location in Dogpatch is set to open in July–hooray! He’s been with Magnolia since 2004, and moved to San Francisco just for this gig and apparently is still loving it. The way he put it is “Why would I consider leaving a company that is growing so fast?” Also, your fun fact of the day: He told me they have started using more Maris Otter malt, a type of English malt known for its crispness, because a Haight St. neighbor’s father grows it.

I will give you a few hints on the pairings: Cole Porter + Speck = cozy chair by an English pub fire. Long Break Bitter + nutty Berkshire =sweet bursts of porky love.

The best kind of love.

Comments OffTags: Beer & Food · Tastings

Make a cheese platter at home

By Jasmine · June 5th, 2013 · Comments Off

When I say make a cheese platter at home, I mean the platter part quite literally.

At its most basic, the simplest way to do this is to take a nice piece of wood, sand it all nice and rounded and splinter-free, and then mineral-oil the shit out of it.

Birdseye maple cutting board

My dad gave me this for Christmas. It’s birdseye maple, which he just happens to have a bunch of sitting around. Birdseye maple cannot be grown–you just have to find it in the wild, much like black truffles–and no one knows why it happens. It has all kinds of little eyes in it, which tear out easily, making it hard to work with. However, because it’s maple, once you’ve got it in the shape you want, if you take care of it it will last forever. Just like anything else rare, hard to work with, and long lasting, it’s incredibly expensive. You can use other hardwoods, of course, like walnut, regular maple, or teak.

The Bird's Eyes

The second simplest (and more trendy) way is to buy some chalkboard paint, paint a flat surface, and plunk down your spread with labels.

Cheese on Chalkboard action

Breakfast in bed, with a cute message

Dark wood stain covers all sins

I fished this breakfast tray out of the trash. When I got it, it had rows of cheesy Mary Engelbreit style flowers across it. In fact, if you rub chalk over the whole surface, gravestone-rubbing style, you can still see them. So I sanded it down, stained the sides inside and out with a nice dark stain, right over top of remnants of blue paint that would just not come out. Then I painted the inside with chalkboard paint, intended to be used as a cute breakfast in bed tray, and then the bottom to use as a meat and cheese tray. It came out just as nice as I hoped it would.

Now I’m going to sell it.

Comments OffTags: Beer & Food

Adventures with Hops

By Jasmine · April 12th, 2013 · Comments Off

And for your enjoyment today, a guest post:

Jake Metzler is a home brewing fanatic who loves to write and share his knowledge with others. When he’s not brewing, you can probably find him rock climbing and/or listening to eighties metal.

As a home brewer, I often find myself latching on to the latest trends in beer. If I see that a commercial brand has just released pomegranate ale or something else I haven’t tried to make, I start researching into how I could make something similar.
Since IPAs have gained popularity over the last few years, I’ve been using a lot of hops in my home brewing. IPAs are noted (and sometimes hated) for their bitterness, since they use a lot of bittering hops, put into the brew during the boiling process when they will release the most alpha acids.
One trend I’ve noticed recently though is the act of dry hopping. When I first came across this term, I was not sure what it meant, since any hops I had ever bought were definitely dried. Turns out that it refers to adding aromatic hops to the brew either late or even after the boiling process. This reduces the amount of acids released and usually results in a floral aroma.

A lot of commercial brands have tried dried hopping in at least one of their brews. Sierra Nevada’s “celebration”, Samuel Adam’s Pale Ale: the list goes on.
Since I am a hops fan, I enjoy dry hopped brews, and have enjoyed experimenting with the technique. Before, I usually focused on the type of hops I used, but now, the point in the process when I add the hops I the most important thing. I’ve added late in boiling, right at the end of primary fermentation, and even in secondary fermentation.
Of course, not everyone enjoys hops as much as I do, and I’ve gotten some people who don’t like the floral aspect of the beers. I haven’t had people say it’s too grassy or oily like many websites warned me, but I have had people say it’s not their style.
The reason I started brewing in the first place is because I like to do things for myself. I figure that the less dependent I am on outside sources, the better. It also gives me a hands-on hobby that I enjoy. So it shouldn’t be surprising that all of this research got me thinking about growing my own hops. I’ve never been much of a gardener, but mostly because I’ve never thought much about it, not because I didn’t want to.
Beer is a motivation though, so last year I decided to get some hops rhizomes and plant them in my back yard. If my research was correct and my luck was good, I would have some homegrown hops in time for my fall brew.

When growing hops, the most important thing is placement. Apparently South-facing is preferred. You want the plant somewhere where the vines will have support. I planted mine near my fence. I dug my holes about a foot deep and put a bit of fertilizer in with it.
In beer brewing, the amounts are always important. You want your ratio of hops to malt to yeast to be right to get the right reactions and flavor. When planting hops, I learned that if you put too much fertilizer, the plants will basically suffocate due to too many chemicals.
Due to some bad weather and what might be a black thumb, I didn’t get any hops last year. But I’m going to be trying again this year. I see it as a way to be even more involved in the process of my beer brewing.
And it turns out, that hops don’t naturally grow all dried and shriveled up. When you grow your own hops, you have to dry them before you use them, which can be done by using a food dehydrator (which always makes me crave jerky), a low-heat oven, or even being set outside on a sunny day. Hops can get too dry though, so you have to keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get brittle and brown.
What’s your opinion on hops? Love them? Hate them? Have you tried growing your own?

Comments OffTags: Homebrewing · The Basics

Firestone Walker Epic

By Jasmine · March 20th, 2013 · 2 Comments

Joe can be sort of a hoarder. When it comes to magazines (need a Bon Appetit from 2007? Come on over.), brewpub t-shirts (how else will we remember that we’ve been there?), and special beers (honey, I bought these for you because you like this kind. Uh-huh.), there is no such thing as too much or too old.

With the magazines, about once a year I pointedly drag his piles into the middle of the living room and stare at them until he sorts them into a much smaller pile. This keeps us from living in true hoarder style, where we are forced to make furniture out of magazines. My grandparents basically did this with newspapers, and in fact had to stop using their back door because the entryway got too full. They were also smokers (cigarettes, not meats), and this plus their lack of smoke detectors meant that at a certain point my parents refused to let my brother and I sleep over there any more.

And I definitely can’t get all Naggy Wife about the t-shirts. Take a spin through our photos and you’ll see that other than the occasional rented tux for a wedding (ours or otherwise) he never wears anything else. One pair of jeans a year, one pair of shoes. Many t-shirts. As far as husbandly vices go, this I can deal with. I’ll take t-shirts over cars or video games any day.

But the beer. I love it. He loves it. It isn’t all that expensive, when you consider we could have been wine snobs instead. Or sometimes Joe will get really into, say, Scotch for a day, but has never once come home with four rare Scotch bottles he bought “by accident”. No, the problem with the beer is that we live in a one bedroom apartment. The closet where we keep our beer and wine cellar is also the closet where we keep our food.

The beer was starting to win.

After he discovered that we had TEN Firestone Walker bombers, we decided there was only one thing that could be done: we had to have a party.

We bought a case each of Solace and the FW Pale as palate cleansers and sobering agents. Fifteen or so of our best drinking buddies (they’re so lucky to have us) braved the North Beach St. Patrick’s Day hurricane to sit in our garden and drink our aged beers. It was phenomenal.

The best beer was the first one we drank (word nerds: is there a term for this? The first thing you eat/drink/try on/drive is usually the best. If not there should be). It was Firestone Walker’s 12th Anniversary beer. Brewed in 2008, it is a blend based in FW Parabola, which is, as far as I can tell, in every one of these anniversary blends. I suspect this is the reason that every blend can have totally different beers and still come out similar (but not the same!). Adding to the fun in this particular one was a special brew called Saucerful of Secrets, brewed by Sean Paxton (The Homebrew Chef); Opal, a “wheat wine”; and Rufus, which had been aged in whiskey and bourbon barrels.
The beer was smooth and chocolately, a hint of raisins, but no syrupy sweetness that raisin flavors tend to bring along. Unfortunately I can’t recall what it tasted like fresh, but I can only imagine that the aging toned down the sweet and enhanced the cocoa and coffee flavors.

The rest of the beers were Anniversary 14, 15 (two of them!), and 16, Sucaba (“Abacus”, two different years), Parabola 2010 & 2012, Wookey Jack, Double DBA, Union Jack and a Black Xantus we’d been holding for two years. Oddly the 15 was better than the 14–perhaps something about that blend helped it age better, or maybe it was better to begin with.

I remember very little after the 15. I do remember adoring the DBA, rich and malty honey flavors, but not sweet. I remember the Parabola is a bit overwhelming and difficult to drink after a bunch of heavy, high-alcohol anniversary beers, especially when those anniversary beers are more balanced.

Joe is smiling so aggressively his glasses are almost being smiled off.

After a few hours our friend Christian (who happens to be the beer buyer at Beltramo’s in Menlo Park) shows up with with a magnum. Of Stone’s Double Bastard. Which is what we called him for bringing such a thing (not really).

It was a bit over-aged, but still had good carb and decent flavor. We managed to finish 3/4 of it and all our guests still walked out on their own two feet.

We had such a good time–Firestone Walker has been one of our favorite breweries for a long time. It was incredible to taste these all side by side.

Note that is a 22 oz bomber next to the magnum, not a regular 12oz bottle

On another note, Joe has for years worn a Firestone Walker hoodie (see intro above) as his main jacket. This Christmas it went missing in a Wisconsin airport. Now that his grieving period is over, Joe is in the market for a new sweatshirt. Put suggestions in the comments!

→ 2 CommentsTags: Beer I can't get my hands on · Tastings

Being a Regular

By Jasmine · March 5th, 2013 · Comments Off

Although I go out for a drink fairly often, since I’m always on the lookout for something new, have an eclectic taste, and a wide variety of friends in different neighborhoods, I don’t really have a bar at which I’m a regular. Kennedy’s here in North Beach used to be close (hey, they have Buck Hunter and a usually-empty back room) and if it’s the right bartender, Joe might still get recognized. Certainly Craig and Beth at City Beer Store know us, and by now most of the staff recognizes me from Strong Cheese deliveries, but if I sat down at the bar, no one would be able to say, “Hey, Jasmine, you love stouts so you gotta try this…” La Trappe might come close. Not only have we done some events with Mike and his great staff, but last time we were in Mike spotted us and said, “You guys went to Belgium a while back, right? Let’s drink a Westie!” And proceeded to dig an aged Westvleteren 12 out of the bar’s cellar for us to share. So I can’t complain.

But today I became a true regular somewhere for the first time–at a coffeeshop in North Beach. Beacon opened up just a few months ago and I immediately fell in in love with their big windows, tasty coffee (even the drip!), chill music, and truly helpful staff. Today when I ordered my coffee, the barista waved away my money and said, “I’m getting your coffee today.” I thanked her, reached for it, and then she said, “Oh wait, let me get you an extra saucer for the top.”

See, I have this sort of quirk with my coffee, where I feel the need to keep it covered at all times. When you sit in a coffeeshop and sip slowly, it tends to get cold. So I’ll put my muffin plate over the top, or a book, or a plastic to-go lid. Whatever I can find. Oddly enough, it has never occurred to me to ask for a saucer to put over it. Apparently, it has occurred to her, and she remembered that I was the customer who did this. This is what separates fine customer service from above-and-beyond customer service. Just noticing things. I find this even more impressive in light of the fact that I am not a chatty customer.

This same barista is one of those people who is so comfortable in and good at her job that it’s fun to watch her do it. The tamp, steam, grind, pour monotony turns into sort of a performance art piece when someone can make a long line of espressos and cappuccinos quickly, and with a sort of calm confidence. I used to feel the same way certain days at Cowgirl, when we were busy but not crazy, and all of my excellent coworkers would just rock it. Twelve people could move around a 6×6 space at high speeds without ever stabbing, dropping, or hurting anything or anyone. Because they were that good.

My biggest complaint about Beacon is that it’s hard to score table space. It’s getting too popular, dammit. Also they don’t carry lunch type food, although perhaps this isn’t a bad thing as I might never leave otherwise. They have shelves full of local foods to buy for a snack or home-cooking though (you can see a bit in the background of the picture). The owners live right here in North Beach too. In fact, I saw them at our local Off the Grid night once (held at the North Beach Pool lot) and they told me they live in the same building as the shop!

Later this week Joe will give you a bit about HIS favorite new coffeeshop here, The Station, which opened up just a few months before Beacon. Competitors! But judging by how busy both places generally are, there is apparently plenty of room for both.

Comments OffTags: Non-Beer Beverages