THAT STINKS

David | Blog | March, 03 2010 | No Comment

Remember that Winnimere cheese I picked up back at the end of February? Well, it was put to good use last Friday. I ended up pulling together a panel at The Map Room to taste a group of four washed rind cheeses with a few different types of beers. The group included the MR’s own Cicerone, Jay Jankowski; the new wholesale rep from Marion Street Cheese Market, Lydia Burns; and three guys from the Chicago Beer Society who know a bit about pairing beer with food—Ray Daniels, Jonathan Levin, and Randy Mosher.
I’m going to go light on the descriptions of the pairings, for two reasons. First off, we did a bit too much—starting with four beers, but throwing in at least three more. Secondly, part of the reason that we tried so many beers is that these lovely stinkers are pretty damned fussy about what kind of beers they want to hang around with.
While other types of cheeses, (Alpenage styles or fresh goat cheeses for example), have a very obvious tendency toward certain beer styles, and/or tend to sing with several styles, it’s not the case for washed rind cheeses.
The session, however, did give me a chance to once again scratch my itch about pairing stinkers with sour beers. I tend to get sucked in by the subplot in this regard. Stinky cheeses get stinky (and pink on the outside) from an extracurricular microbe called Brevibacterium linens, which is a little bugger that cheesemakers want to keep away from their Gruyere or their bloomy rind cheese. Belgian-style sour beers are under the influence of several microorganisms, chief among them one that is banned from proper lager breweries, and which scares the crap out of wine makers. That would be Brettanomyces. So shouldn’t these two bold flavors caused by two rogue-ish bugs go great together?  I wish it were that easy.
We started the paring with Winnimere and New Belgium’s La Folie, and they made small talk, but no sparks.  Tried the La Folie with some of the other cheeses, and not much improvement.  As I slumped in my seat, Randy suggested La Folie is great with meat dishes. Part of the trouble is that stinky cheese smell like dirty sweat socks, but taste like a combination of sweet butter, mushrooms and flowers.
Lydia, who knows her way around a beer menu almost as well as she knows her own cheese case, thought the Dorest, from Consider Bardwell Dairy in Western Vermont, went well with the Pullman Brown Ale from Flossmoor Station, of Illinois. In fact, we all seem to think that the big malty brown ale got at least to second base with some of the cheeses. We tried some Bamburg smoked beers too. Again, close, but no cigar.
At any rate, after a couple hours we had tasted some wonderful beers and cheeses. We cleaned up the scraps, took some notes and licked our wounds. Thanks, as always to Map Room proprietor Laura Blasingame for her hospitality. Stay tuned, because Winnimere season isn’t over, and washed rind cheeses are among my favorites. I’ll just have to keep pairing and tasting. Still haven’t tried them critically with any of Jolly Pumpkin’s beers. Somebody’s gotta do it.

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