Pairing No. 11: What the Duvel!

David | Blog | November, 22 2010 | No Comment

Earlier this month we talked about the Belgian Strong Golden Ale in the Never Met a Beer I Didn’t Like series.  So today, we are taking Duvel– the grandpappy of the Strong Goldens– and pairing it with two fine American cheeses. 

I considered putting Avery’s Salvation into the mix, but decided against it and wound up drinking that fine beer later with the homebrewing partners.  So this pairing focuses only on Duvel. That’s fine, of course, because Duvel, (the original white label, which was recently joined by a couple of label siblings) is simply one of the most wonderful beers in the entire world. It’s complex, yet completely accessible; a unique mix of some of the best characteristics of German or Czech pilsner and a Belgian abbey ale. I’ve been enjoying it here in Midwest for at least 15 years, and enjoy it as much today as I did 15 years ago.

I didn’t overthink the cheese pairing for this one, I just went with some assumptions that came out of the recent blog on Strong Goldens, and decided to pair the Duvel with a gouda and a creamy blue. Of course I didn’t pick just any gouda or any blue. Pastureland Dairy Cooperative is made up of several organic dairy farmers from Minnesota. The milk f rom their herds is used to produce several varieties of delicious butter, and a line of artisan cheeses produced and aged by several Minnesota and Wisconsin cheesemakers. One of the newest cheeses in the lineup is Goodhue, an artisan gouda made at K&K Cheese in Cashton, Wi., and aged at Capri Cheese near Blue River, Wis. I owe a debt of gratitude to my fellow cheesemongers at Marion Street Cheese Market for introducing me to this wonderful gem.

Rogue Creamery in Oregon has earned a reputation as the premier maker of blue cheese in the United States, and has become the first artisan cheese maker to export blues to France. Smokey Blue is a smoked version of the company’s Oregon Blue, and it is simply one of my all-time favorite cheeses. The elegant whiff of smoke, most noticeable at the outside edge of this rindless, foil-wrapped blue is imparted by 16 hours of cold smoking over smoldering hazelnut shells.  

So, here’s what the notes say:

First the first Cheese:  The Goodhue exhibits a caramel colored paste speckled with white crystals, and a brownish, bumpy rind.  The aroma is all sour milk and sweet caramel.  It has a fudgy texture, melting slowly on the tongue to reveal the toothsome crystals. The flavor is sweet like candied nuts, finishing with a full sweet caramel flavor and just a hint of salt and earthiness. The rind itself has a flat flavor and a crumbly texture.

Next, the blue: The Smokey’s paste is bone white with pockets and rivulets of blueish, greenish mold. There are some deep holes that are dark blue and mysterious. On the nose it is sharply acidic, with a faint hint of smoke at the outside edge. It has a creamy fudgy mouthfeel, and melts to cream rather quickly. The flavor is sharply acidic, then turning creamy, then finishing with a bit of smoke—a real triple crown of flavors. It’s a blue, so it is salty, but not nearly enough to be out of balance. In short, Smokey Blue is a thing of beauty.

Duvel: The beer pours bright and golden with a huge a huge fluffy white head. Tiny bubbles race through the beer maintaining the head for a duration, and leaving a nice lace on the glass. The aroma starts with floral perfume from noble hops mingling with some pear esters. The flavor is at once crisp, refreshing, and spicy on the attack. There are some bready flavors in the middle and a dry, finish with a hint of hop bitterness and some dried fruit notes. You can’t help thinking of a dry white wine like Sauvignon Blanc, with some noticeable spiciness like one would find in a Belgian Wit beer. There is just a slight warming sensation in this 8.5% ABV beer.

Goodhue and Duvel: The caramel notes withstand the refreshing, dry onslaught of the beer. The effusive carbonation lightens the fudgy texture slightly without diminishing it. The flavors mingle becoming fruit and caramel.

The sweetness of the cheese also draws out the bitterness in the beer. And the compatibility holds up as you work your way through a nice chunk and a full glass. This is an excellent pair, and these two should certainly see more of one another. Four and a half of five rating.  

Smokey Blue and Duvel: I expected that maybe the sharp acidity and hint of salt in this beautiful blue to embrace the refreshing qualities of this great beer, but that was not the case. In fact the acidity stunned the beer leaving it tasting flat and lifeless. The cheese is left to drown in something unsavory.  There is a reason why blue cheeses are usually paired with roasty flavors and big, bold malty beers, they are simply too aggressive for more delicate beers, even those as full flavored and complex as Duvel.  I have had Smokey Blue with Anchor Old Foghorn and with Rogue Shakespeare Stout (those geographical marriages are such a temptation!) and both pairings were delightful. But in this case, it’s just one star out of five.

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