Pairing No. 16: Triomphe for Picolo

David | Blog | September, 09 2011 | No Comment

Last Saturday I was rained out of the Chicago Jazz Festival’s evening sessions but took the opportunity to conduct analytical pairing No. 16. Fear not, Jazz fans. Sunday’s weather took a turn for the better and I spent the entire day at the festival—helping Ira Sullivan and Willie Pickens celebrate their 80th birthdays.

For the Saturday night pairing I had stashed away a can of Belgian IPA from Brewery Vivant, Grand Rapids, Mich., and I selected the musically named Picolo, from Andante Dairy as the accompanist. Vivant is, among a recent batch of American Craft Brewers focusing primary on Belgian-style offerings (The Bruery, and Saint Somewhere come to mind).  Vivant was opened in late 2010 by Jason Spaulding, one of the founders of the successful New Holland Brewing Co., located just about 40 minutes from Grand Rapids.  Triomphe, one of the brewery’s year-round offerings, is a fine example of the Belgo-American style that emerged a few years ago—a balance of Belgian yeasty/malty sweetness and American hop bite.

Andante is a renowned, small-scale artisan cheesemaking endeavor in Petaluma, Calif.  Andante’s sole proprietor, Soyoung Scanlan is a modern-day renaissance woman–a lifelong student and accomplished performer of serious music, with a severe education in food engineering and biochemistry. She learned to make cheese at California’s Goat’s Leap Dairy, and in 1999 she established Andante in the creamery that had previously housed the storied Laura Chenel goat cheese operation. Since a move to Petaluma  a few years back,  most of Andante’s cheeses are made from organic cow’s milk, carefully sourced from a local Jersey herd. A few others are made with mixed milk.

These are skillfully made cheeses, highly decorated and not easy to come by. Picolo is a triple crème bloomy rind number made with the Jersey milk and an addition of crème fraiche. This was my first serious tasting of an Andante cheese and it was simply amazing. The half that I didn’t eat on Saturday went back to Grant Park for the jazz fest on Sunday and I enjoyed it with Boulevard Brewing’s Dark Truth Stout. But, on with the tasting notes:

First the cheese: Picolo is made in a small cylinder that is slightly taller than its diameter. Mine is about two inches around and about 2.5 inches tall, and the label says it weighs four ounces. It has a wrinkly off white ivory rind that has texture of a steamed dumpling. There are bright white patches of mold. It is soft and yielding to the touch.

The aroma is impressive, evoking barnyard and body aromas, big sour milk notes, a hint of mushroom, maybe some coconut milk. I am also getting pistachio, stale beer and sourdough yeast. The paste is white, and uniformly fluffy. The rind is paper thin.

The flavor is big and bold, but balanced. Sharp acidity at first, with some lemon and asparagus, just a hint of salt and pistachio joining in.  This is to cheese as straight lambic is to beer.  You just want one nibble after another, as the layers of flavors reveal themselves.  The delicate texture (it tears when you pull it like a mozzarella) is a testament to the care that goes into the cheesemaking—the gentle handling of both cheese and curd.  Let’s also recognize the wholesalers and retailers (in my case Pastoral’s loop store) for delivering the cheese in optimum condition.

The Beer: Vivant packages its beer in 16 oz. cans. I love the bright, colorful graphics on the Triomphe can. The beer pours very nicely at about 55 degrees—rich copper with an orange hue, tight white head that dissipates, just a bit of carbonation releasing, and good clarity. The nose is very Belgian–anise, honey and herbs.  It has a medium mouthfeel with some creaminess and just a bit of carbonation prickle.

The flavor is very malt-forward with candy sugar and just a suggestion of vanilla and clove at the outset, while a firm bitter backbone follows closely behind. Some warming alcohol lingers on the finish, not unexpectedly, for a beer that comes in at more than 8% ABV.  It is a delicious beer at a campsite, or a month later at home.

After tasting the cheese and chasing with the beer, out come the rich caramel notes from the malt. A lemony flavor emerges from the cheese. The cheese yields and melts when washed in the beer and the flavors continue to re-emerge. More vanilla from the Belgian yeast, for instance. Not much of a clash here, this is a genuinely nice pair. I will give it a 4.5 out of 5.

If you aren’t visiting Michigan any time soon you might have a hard time getting a four-pack of Triomphe, but a brewery near you should offer a Belgian IPA or the more traditional, lower gravity Belgian Pale Ale. Picolo won’t be an easy find either, but Cowgirl Creamery makes an excellent line of similar cheeses that are sold across most of the country.

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