There are many, many perks to being a cheesemonger, most of which I probably don’t even have to list for you all. I also shouldn’t have to justify why anything relating to cheese belongs on a beer blog–beer and cheese go together like hot chocolate and Bailey’s–but hang in there with me. There will be beer.
Last night I attended an “American and English Cheddar tasting” class at the Ferry Building, given by David Lockwood and Raef Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy. Everyone there was a cheesemonger–there were people from Rainbow, Bi-Rite, and even The Pasta Shop in Berkeley. David and Raef talked about how Neal’s Yard chooses and ages cheeses, how processes are starting to change, why some cheese is shipped to the U.S. and some is only sold in the U.K., and why the exact same cheese using the exact same recipe can (and probably should) taste different from day to day.
We tasted two different batches of Montgomery’s cheddar made on two different days of the week, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar (not the type you get in the grocery store, folks), Beecher’s, Silver Mountain, and two kinds of Stilton–one made with traditional rennet and one made with vegetarian. Then, to go along with it, we each got a glass of Marin Brewing Co.’s Mt. Tam Pale Ale (told you I’d come back to the beer!).
In general, hoppy beers work well with cheese–the astringentness of the hops is like a constant tongue-cleaner, stripping off the fat with every sip, so that each taste of cheese is brand new. The interesting thing about having it with aged cheddars is that it made them taste sweeter–all except the Montgomery’s. I think Montgomery’s is a drier cheese than the others and when you pair that with a dry beer, you start looking around for water.
One interesting thing I learned about myself is that I actually identify cheese better by smell than I do by sight, or possibly even taste. Beecher’s smells like butter (they rub it in butter for the first 30 days of its life so, okay, that’s an easy one), Montgomery’s smells like a basement, while Cabot smells like musty linens with an undertone of honey. I always smell beer when I taste it too, but I’m going to have to start paying attention to whether or not I can actually pinpoint what something is without being told–that would be a neat trick.
My favorite cheddar is still the Cabot–I’m not usually much of a cheddar eater (when Joe, who is a cheddar freak, found out I got to go to this class and he couldn’t, he was indignant at the unfairness of it). I did manage to snag a few leftover pieces of what we tasted for him, so tonight maybe we’ll see what kind of beer we have about the house (I see a Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen-Weisse in the fridge…) and do a tasting of our own.