Monday, November 12, 2007

Cheese for mental health (and beer)

NARSAD'S Beer, Cheese, & ChocolateIn early October, I was a co-host for a Beer, Cheese, and Chocolate Tasting at the Old Brogue Pub in Great Falls, Virginia. It was a fund raiser for the Washington D.C. chapter of the national mental health non-profit NARSAD.

The evening had a bittersweet poignancy to it. Beer and whisky writer Michael Jackson, who died in late August, was suffering from Parkinson's, as had my father. Some of the money raised will fund research on Parkinson's Disease.
Perry Soulos, cheesmonger and beer buyer for Arrowine
The cheese and chocolate was provided by Arrowine; cheesemonger, Perry Soulos, provided the cheese descriptions in the program and talked on the cheeses. The beers were provided by Clipper City Brewing Company; I spoke about those and the pairings.

The evening raised over $12,000. Make a donation here.


The 1st pairing was Oxford Raspberry Wheat with Fromager d'Affinois.
When ripe it has a runny texture that coats like icing. The rind is flawless and adds flavor to the sweetness of the cheese. This truly is an addictive cheese. Cows milk/France.

The slight tartness of the Raspberry Wheat was a good foil for the buttery cheese.

The 2nd pairing was Small Craft Warning Uber Pils with Abbaye de Belloc. The beer is a deep golden helles bock but with a firm structure of Czech and German hops. 7% alcohol by volume (abv).
This gourmet cheese has the shape of a flat wheel with natural, crusty, brownish rind with patches of red, orange, and yellow. The rind is marked with tiny craters. the flavors of the abbaye de Belloc cheese are smooth, buttery, nutty, and sweet; a very interesting and addictive cheese. Sheep's milk/France.

Often, I'll use sheep's milk Manchego to pair with Small Craft Warning. But the delicious Abbaye cheese combined a nutty character with a sweet middle: a wonderful mate for the Small Craft Warning and its shortbread-like malt base and Euro-hop floral character.

The 3rd pairing was Winter Storm Imperial ESB with Keens Cheddar
The beer is a ruddy-hued winter warmer, brewed with English malts and a hop cépage of English and US varietals. 7.5% alcohol by volume (abv).
This cheese has a full, deep-layered flavor, a firm yet buttery texture, and a sweet grassy aroma. The flavors hint of nuts, apples, and hay. Keens Cheddar is made in the traditional way, using un-pasteurized milk from its own herd of cows. It has a moist texture with a tangy bite and a full-bodied flavor. Cow's milk/England.
Cizauskas prepares to vent a cask Of Winter Storm
The combination of a pint of bitter (Extra Special Bitter, i.e., ESB, while actually being one particular commercial English beer, has come to mean a stronger pale ale - or bitter - in the US), a hunk of fresh bread, and a piece of cheddar is often referred to as a traditional Ploughman's Platter - even though that moniker may be of more commercial derivation. Be that as it may, the two together made for a wonderful combination. The cheese's tang seems to contrast well with the earthy and lightly caramel flavors of the ESB.

The beer was served fresh from a cask. Many in attendance were wine people; several came up to me afterward saying that they had no idea about what was meant by beer's freshness ... until tasting from this cask.

The 4th pairing was Peg Leg Imperial Stout with Colston Basset Stilton. Whereas many strong stouts tend to be extremely roasty and bitter, this evinces more a baker's chocolate character, and is, of course, very dark in color. 8% alcohol by volume (abv).
Colston Bassett, a rural village in the heart of the English countryside, has become famous to lovers of fine cheese worldwide. Greenish-blue veining is liberally spread through a crumbly, rich, ivory paste. England's only name protected cheese easily earns a spot in any cheese counter. Cow's milk/England.

It's a flavor dance. The roasty bitterness of the stout softens the moldy aromatics of the blue cheese; the funk of the blue softens the roast of the stout.

The 5th pairing was Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale with Tellegio. Hops, hops, and more hops. In fact 3 pounds of whole leaf US hops hops per barrel, added to the brewing and fermenting at three points. Very herbal and fruity. 7.3% alcohol by volume (abv).
The rind in an intense burnished orange-brown color with several molds, and a stamp indicating it is a true Tellegio. It is a wonderfully distinctive cheese with a wide range of flavors including a meaty richness, accented with yeasty, fruity qualities, and a tangy, salty bite. It has a very pungent aroma.

That sounds like a beer that is made specifically to be served with cheese! The pungent aromatics of the Loose Cannon complement and play with the like aromas of the Tellegio.

The 6th and final pairing was Below Decks Barleywine-style Ale, not with cheese but with chocolate! It's an English-style strong ale that can, unlike most beer, be cellared. It will develop additional flavor as it ages, often maderizing. 10% alcohol by volume (abv).
Scharffen Berger 70% Bitter Sweet Chocolate

The nutty, tropical fruit, toffee, and sherry notes of the barleywine were a complementary mate for the chocolate. Read more on beer and chocolate pairing here. Several members of NARSAD's local board had met with Perry and me at Arrowine a couple of months earlier to plan the evening. We tasted the beer and cheeses and made our choices. Beer and cheese was one thing. Beer and chocolate: it pleasantly surprised many.

More photos.
Press coverage here.


  1. "People don't want to settle for mass-produced, tasteless beer and cheese," said Beverly Baker, regional marketing manager at Cabot Creamery in Vermont, which makes award-winning cheddar cheese.
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  2. Here's an event which paired Clipper City Brewing and Cabot Cheese.


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