Today’s pairing tells a story of the South. No, I won’t attempt any literary references to William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor, but I will say that the setting of this cheese and these beers is crucial to the plot.  The subplot is beer and cheese for breakfast.

Belle and the Bees is an award-winning fresh goat cheese from Fromagarie Belle Chevre, an artisan cheese company established a couple decades ago in Elkmont, Ala. Weeping Willow Wit, and its sister beer, Endless River Kolsch are brewed at Mother Earth Brewing Co., Kinston, N.C., which mashed in for the first time about two years ago.

The idea for the pairing started with Belle Chevre, a company I’ve written about a few times (see archived article from Dairy Foods) and its lovely cheese spread made from fresh Chevre and Savannah Bee Company’s  Tupelo Honey. The terroir and the vibe of the South are very important to Belle Chevre owner Tasia Malakasis, and that feeling comes through in the company’s cheeses. So I felt compelled to find a southern beer for the pairing, preferably a Wit, a Weisse, or a Kolsch, which I knew would play nice with a sweetened goat cheese.

Julie Atallah from Bruisin’ Ales in Asheville recommended Mother Earth, and sure enough they have a Wit and a Kolsch, so the pairing became a grouping.  

Malakasis grew up in Northern Alabama and moved back home to buy the creamery. She loves the South, but can’t help being a bit envious of her colleagues in Vermont and Wisconsin, who might have more cheesemaking neighbors in their home county than Tasia can find in Alabama and Georgia combined. Likewise, Mother Earth’s co-founder Trent Mooring likes his eastern North Carolina location too, but while the Tar Heel State is undergoing a craft beer boom right now, there is more happening in the Asheville area than in the vicinity of Kinston.

For these reasons, I am thrilled to give some bandwidth to these pioneer southern artisans who may feel somewhat isolated at times. I hope my little audience will help spread the word, in particular to friends in the warm humid climes. Mother Earth’s market is currently limited to North Carolina, but odds are that won’t last long. Anyone traveling within 100 miles of Bruisin’ Ales ought to make the visit, where you will find Weeping Willow, Endless River and their siblings. Belle Chevre’s cheeses are sold primarily in the Southeast, including most of the region’s Whole Foods Markets, but like most artisan cheesemakers, Belle Chevre does a nice mail order business as well.

So, yesterday morning I sat down with the two beers, the cheese, a fresh toasted bagel with poppy seeds, some almonds and some sweet, fresh, organic strawberries.  Jeez, with those kinds of ingredients, what could possibly go wrong? Nothing did.

The cheese: Belle and the Bees is made by blending chevre (fresh goat’s milk cheese) with tupelo honey. If you only know the Van Morrison song do a little research on the distinctly southern product, and then listen to the song again–by all means–and sing along. As for the honey, I’ll just tell you that you can’t make it outside of the Deep South where the tupelo gum tree grows, and its most rare form, white tupelo honey does not granulate. It’s a perfect ingredient for a Southern terroir cheese.

The cheese I sampled was bright white and fluffy, and if offered a soft, sweet honey aroma. The texture was just as fluffy as it looked, melting in the mouth to whole milk. The honey flavor came right up front, but it was a rich, floral flavor, instead of just a punch of sweetness. It also contrasted perfectly with the mildly tangy, clean flavor of the cheese. On that warm poppy-seed bagel, other flavors emerged including nuts, yeast and roasted meat. Even before the beer chimed in, we had the strings and the woodwinds. Belle has won several awards, and it was recently named a silver finalist for a 2010 Sofi award by the organizers of the Fancy Food Show, and it lived up to its rep.

The Wit: The Willow Tree Wit poured with a straw-golden color and a good haze, which is appropriate for the style. The white fluffy head had some staying power. The nose was citrus and spice, seemingly from a spice blend, (I’m guessing the traditional coriander and orange peel) and there was just hint of floral hops. It had a smooth, creamy mouthfeel and a slight tangy sourness on the finish, mingling with vanilla and clove notes. Overall, a very nice, traditional interpretation of the style. 

The Kolsch: The Endless River poured bright golden, and crystal clear, with steady steams of bubbles and a tight white head that dissipated quickly. The nose was almost neutral, with just a tiny bit of malt. It offered a crisp refreshing mouthfeel, and a nice balance of hop bitterness and clean malt flavor, with no sulfuric yeast flavor or aroma. I felt it could use a bit more malt assertiveness, but overall it was a solid Kolsch.

Cheese with beers: I brought both beers to pair with the Belle and the Bees, because I was a bit worried the sweet honey flavor of the cheese and the vanilla-clove flavor of the Wit might cancel each other out. No need to worry, as it turns out. The honey and the spices simply fell into neat layers and the result was wonderful. The creamy cheese and chewy bagel stood up to a good dousing of the Wit. And when the beer hit the cheese, the clove and vanilla flavors mingled with the honey. The creaminess of beer and the cheese swirled around one another. The combined flavor was like lemon meringue pie. Encouraged, I added a slice of strawberry to the bagel and cheese. Chewed and doused, and now strawberry ice cream came to mind.  All the while the poppy seeds added the occasional toothsome bite, and savory flavor notes. Now we had a full orchestra.

Pairing the cheese with the Kolsch was quite different, but nearly as enjoyable as with the Wit. The bitterness and carbonation lifted the cheese, and there was a nice contrast at play between bitter and sweet. The malt flavor complemented the bready notes of the bagel. Next I crushed some almonds and sprinkled them over the cheese, and there was another layer of savory.

Two excellent pairings in one sitting! I would score the “Wit and Bees” at 4.5 out of 5, and “Kolsch and Honey” at 4.

If you don’t live in the South, you will have a hard time getting your hands on Mother Earth beers, but you should have no problem finding an Allagash White, the Bruery’s Orchard White, or one of the Belgian imports like Hoegaarden. Your local brewpub might also make a pleasant Wit and or Kolsch. Both styles are approachable but not without subtle complexities. They are also low in alcohol, and they offer room for variations in their interpretation.

I would recommend ordering the Belle and the Bees, and some of the other fine cheeses from Belle Chevre’s website. Otherwise, any good cheese shop should also carry a few good fresh chevres, including some that will be flavored with herbs, and maybe honey. Or, you could ask your cheesemonger for Belle Chevre cheeses. Many of the best retailers order a portion of their cheeses directly. These nearly-milk cheese and their case-mates like burrata pair really nicely with Wit, Hefeweizen and sweet Lambics.  These pairings are great as aperitifs, they make a nice summer dessert, and can even be enjoyed for breakfast.

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  1. sgrasso

    great article, very educational. will pass on to my other friends who are beer enthusiats. keep the articles coming!

  2. David

    Susan, Thanks for the nice words!

  3. Emmanuel Voissard

    This is a great article. I love your pairing idea. Tasia Malakasis Belle Chevre is the best!

  4. David

    Emmanuel, Thanks. Tasia and the Belle Chevre cheeses make for great subject material.

  5. [...] Willow Wit (Mother Earth) with Belle and the Bees (Belle Chevre)  ……….. [...]

  6. Great…

    love your blog, http://bambi.thumblogger.com/ ,Thanks again….

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