On Friday I paired a Belgian-style Wit from The Bruery, in suburban Los Angeles, with an aged goat cheese from Bohemian Creamery, Bodega Bay, North of San Francisco. Both companies are less than three years old, and both are making fantastic products.  

Wit beer (a.k.a. Belgian white, or biere blanche) is one of my favorite beer styles, and it really loves cheese. What makes wit beer strikingly different from other wheat beers is that it is spiced—typically with orange peel and coriander. Typically unmalted barley, and/or oats also add a softness and fullness to the mouthfeel. You can expect a lively carbonation with wit beers, and they are great with fresh chevre, fromage blanc, some soft ripened cheeses from cows milk and even hard pressed cheeses.

I also love goat cheeses in their many forms. In this case, I selected the beer first, and tasted a cross section of goat cheeses at Marion Street Cheese Market. We were looking for a flavor match (that would be easy), but decided on the Bohemian Capriago, in part because of the commonalities of the beer and cheese artisans. My feeling is that geographic proximity and similarities of histories and philosophies are the icing on the cheese-and-beer cake, so to speak. The Bruery and Bohemian illustrate how vibrant both the craft beer and artisan cheese communities are, when brand new producers excel right out of the gate. I knew this beer and cheese would dance together, so this pair had it all.

First the cheese:Bohemian calls the Capriago an Asiago-style cheese, but it’s less tangy and pungent than an Asiago. The rind is washed with brine at the beginning of six-  to eight-weeks aging. Bohemian’s website says the result is a moist, sweet paste. When I tasted the Capriago at Marion Street I picked up some floral perfumey flavors along with the usual tart/umami flavors of a hard goat cheese. Most farmstead goats browse on a variety of plants, and that complex diet can translate directly to flavor notes in the cheese. At home, I opened the paper and the rind looked formidable, almost like a clothbound, while the paste looked dense and white-gray. The rind smelled musty, the paste sweet.

I cut thin slices from my little wedge and ate it with the rind on. The rind was surprisingly mild, adding just a soft chew. Flavor was pretty uniform from the center to the rind. I found the texture a bit dry rather than moist. It flaked a bit when you cut a slice. It was dense on the tongue and became very creamy, with a nice long finish. I found the perfume and flowers in the flavor again with just a bit of salty-sweet balance.

The beer:  Like all the Bruery products that visit Illinois, Orchard White comes in a capped 750. When I opened the cap there was a blast of CO2, and soon the head was gushing, even after I poured the first glass. Not sure if my bottle was abused somewhere between Orange and Cook counties. Or, maybe something got a little too wild in the microbiology—but there was nothing in the flavor to suggest it, so who knows? The beer retained a nice head as it settled. Golden colored rather than the near-white you see in some examples of the style.

It smelled like a wit beer—that bready, spicy mix, like something sweet from the bakery. Can you smell wheat and oats? I always think I can, but maybe it’s just association. Sometimes there is sulphur from the yeast, but none here. The Bruery adds lavender to the spice mix too, and you might pick up a hint of it. The mouthfeel was thin and spritzy—more about the quenching than the softness or even slickness you get with a lot of oats. The flavors were tart wheat, orange skin then a hint of pepper bite from the coriander, with just a touch of hop bitterness to balance.  

The pairing:As the cheese melted on the tongue, the floral notes came out, and the spicy and citrus flavor of the beer provided a perfect complement. The sparkling mouthfeel of the Orchard was a perfect contrast to the dense creaminess of the Capriago. With cheese and beer together there was a wonderful sweet-tart finish. I just had to keep taking another slice and another sip!  This one gets a big 4.5 out of 5.

If you live in California, you can go local (or Bay Area meets L.A.) with this pairing. Elsewhere, there are several really great wit beers made all over North America, and dozens of goat cheese artisans: Allagash White in Maine, (I‘ve done a coast to coast pairing with Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog), Southampton Double White (paired this once with Constant Bliss), Blanche de Chambly, brewed in Montreal by Unibroue (with the cork-finished 750s), and the Calabaza Blanca interpretation from Jolly Pumpkin in Michigan. You could also try your local brewpub for a growler. In Chicago, Goose Island’s pub makes an outstanding Willow Street Wit. Finally, if you want to go old world, there are several Belgian imports (including the classic ) to pic k from, or look around the globe and you will find white beers from Japan, South America, maybe Italy and elsewhere.

With its low bitterness and spicy aroma, wit beer is great for cooking, and is a classic ingredient and accompaniment to steamed mussels and frites.

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