David | Blog | February, 27 2010 | 1 Comment

KeeperCorkSometime last year a friend of mine gave me an old bottle of Liefmans Goudenband. The Belgian brown beer received high praise from the late Michael Jackson over the years, and not so coincidentally, it has long been a favorite of mine.

Sometime just a few days ago, I saw that my friends at Marion Street Cheese Market had Cornish Yarg back in stock and I had them cut me a nice piece from the young wheel, not sure what I would pair it with, but pretty sure I’d find a beer partner for it at home. Last night old and young came together.

First the beer: Liefmans, is an historic brewery from the town of Oudenaarde, in Flanders, the home of the Flemish brown style or old bruin, which is quite different from brown beers of other beer cultures. These beers undergo a secondary fermentation in wood, which means that there are various yeast strains at work in addition to Saccharomyces cerevisiae. You might know the Liefmans brewery for its distinctive fruit beers that have long been in the U.S. market. Reflective of the bruin style, Goudenband retains a good deal of the malt sweetness and nutty and raisin-plum flavors of the darker malts that are part of its grain bill. Those flavors are balanced with a hint of tartness and a suggestion of cherry.

The cheese: According to Neal’s Yard Dairy, which brings the stuff to the states for us, Cornish Yarg has only been around since 1983. The current cheesemakers are the Meads of Lynher Dairy, who farm a mixed herd of Ayrshire, Jersey and Friesian cows in west Cornwall. Their cows are grass-fed.

YargThe basis for Yarg is a 13th century recipe that is a cross between Caerphilly and Wensleydale, however its most distinctive feature is a 20th century addition. Yarg is wrapped in nettle leaves, and like other wrapped cheeses that populate nearly all cheese cultures, the leaves retain moisture and add flavor characteristics.

I find the cheese very pleasant, and admittedly, am seduced by the beauty of the wheel in the leaf wrapper. The leaves are painted on, and look like a dark green crape paper around the 10-inch wheels.

The pairing: My wife Ann joined me in sampling the cheese and the beer. When I peeled back the tissue wrapper from the Goudenband I noticed that the cork was dated 2003. Safe to say that this was a very old example of the old bruin.

The cork yielded fairly easily, with no back pressure. The beer poured fairly still, but a thin broken head developed as a few bubbles ascended through the rusty liquid. The nose was encouraging—wine, damp basement, still some cherry, but no cardboard or vinegar. The body was super-soft like a nearly flat wit beer. The first flavors included sweet potato and hazelnut, then the raisin and cherry, with just a hint of citrus acidity toward the end creating a nice sweet-tart balance. Not a shadow of hops in the entire package. The finish was refreshing and nudged you toward the next sip. We both acted on the suggestion.

After more than an hour at room temperature, the bone/yellow paste of the young Yarg had kept its shape inside the thin, green-gray rind. Tiny holes peered out. The  rind was a bit springy when poked.  A sharp knife would cut a wobbly thick slice—still way too firm for scooping, but only a bit crumbly.

The rind smelled musty and mushroomy, and the paste smelled buttery and a bit lactic. On the tongue it dissolved into cream with just a little pressure. There was plenty of fresh milk flavor, and then a balanced lactic flavor with a hint of mushroom. We both found a trace of mango, especially at the rind.  It had a nice creamy lactic finish. The overall impression, oddly enough, was of a very well-mannered feta.

From a pairing perspective, this was a nice match, starting with the intensity. Old bruin is no imperial IPA or gueze, but it is not nearly as sublime as say an ordinary bitter or a Kolsch. The same can be said about the Yarg, although it may lean even closer to understatement than the beer does. Our six + year old Goudenband had lost a good deal of its acidity, and most of its carbonation, so it sat nicely with the Yarg. The beer was still just lively enough to cut the creaminess of the cheese. The mushroom, and raisin flavors married nicely and as did the fruit and fresh cream. As a pairing, this one gets a 4 out of a possible 5.

If you can’t get a 2003 Goudenband, fear not, a younger one might do just as well for this cheese. Some variations might be the Yarg with a nice American brown, (I like Bells Best Brown). Perhaps a really ripe Yarg would work with the bruin’s more outgoing cousin, the Belgian red.

If you like the idea of cheeses wrapped in leaves, you can find excellent examples from Italy to Center Point, Ore.  These cheeses are vastly different, and should pair well with a host of different beers including hoppy and wine-hybrid beers from Dogfish Head, and the wild fermented beers now being made in the U.S. But we’ll save those for later.

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  1. [...] with rounded edges, and are aged more than 90 days. The first time I tasted it I was reminded of Cornish Yarg. For the pairing, the the natural rind had a very light, almost ivory color and a fairly smooth and [...]

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