Frequently Asked Questions
Why Beer and Cheese?
You might wonder why we are talking about beer and cheese when wine and cheese are customarily such great partners. Thirty years ago beer and cheese was mostly an odd proposition, with the exception of a few well-worn traditional pairings. Well, beer has grown up, especially beer in United States. Craft beer in the U.S. is now well into Version 2.0, with new brewing companies, brewers becoming owners, and a new younger consumer who never drank bad beer. While it may bristle the hairs of beer people and wine people alike, the aphorism “beer is the new wine” is pretty easy to stumble across these days. Something interesting has also happened on the other side of the equation. If you think back to the late ‘70s again, great cheese meant imported cheese. Today great cheese is also made in the U.S. The brilliant and remarkable emergence of craft brewing and artisan cheesemaking in the United States has brought to light an intriguing notion—true artisan examples of beer and cheese taste wonderful together, and pairing them couldn’t be easier. The American craft beer industry has made the pairing of beer with fine food a major part of its promotional efforts. The American artisan cheese community has given craft beer and fine wine equal partnership consideration for nearly ten years, and more recently cheese folks have really begun to embrace craft beer folks like long-lost brothers and sisters. In some ways beer and cheese is now a better partnership than wine and cheese, or at least on parallel with the older, more traditional relationship.
What is craft beer?
Craft beer is the most accepted term for the beer made primarily by those brewing companies that have been part of the beer U.S. beer renaissance that began in the late 1970s and took off in the mid 1980s, and those that have followed in their footsteps. The Brewers Association, which embodies those companies, uses three adjectives for its more simplistic definition of craft beer: small, independent, traditional.
What is artisan cheese?
This one is a bit trickier, as it is still being debated by those most involved in the American artisan cheese community. The working draft is that Artisan cheese is manufactured by hand using the traditional craftsmanship of skilled cheesemakers. Farmstead cheese must be made in a creamery located on a farm, and the milk used to make those cheeses must come only from that farm.
Who makes great beer in the U.S.?
There are currently nearly 1,600 brewers in the United States, more than at any other times since before prohibition. At least 90% of those are craft brewers, including more than 900 brewpubs, more than 400 microbreweries and more than 60 regional craft breweries. The top five states in breweries per capita are Vermont, Montana, Oregon, Maine and Colorado. But breweries are well distributed throughout the country, and some of the most active areas in recent years have included New York, California, and even North Carolina.
Who are the cheesemakers?
The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese, published in 2008 by Jeffrey Roberts, identifies more than 340 artisan cheesemakers in nearly every state except Alaska, and estimates that there might be as many as 200 more in operation, with new companies continuing to add to the tally. Author Max McCalman has called them “cheese farmers,” and Roberts’ book profiles them. They include dairy farmers seeking a better livelihood and a new passion, hobbyists and home farmers who decided to go pro, and retired couples and younger folks who fell in love with artisan cheese and just had to get their hands into a vat. There are also a handful of seasoned, small family-owned companies, and some back-to-nature entrepreneurs, who are making glorious new cheeses. The American Cheese Society is made up of more than 1,250 members including approximately 450 cheesemakers. Each year they send more than 1,000 cheeses into the Association’s annual competition. www.cheesesociety.org
What about homebrewing?
Homebrewing, which became legal in the late 1970s, helped lay the groundwork for craft brewing. You can find out more about it from the Brewers Association’s sister organization the America Homebrew Association, at www.homebrewersassociation.org.
Can I make cheese at home?
Some cheeses are very simple to make at home, and while the hobby is not as well developed as with homebrewing, there are great resources available for home cheesemakers. www.cheesemaking.com
Who buys this stuff?
Hand made food products cost more to make and they sell at a higher price, so educated, well-traveled folks with higher annual income continue to be a big part of the customer mix for both craft brewers and artisan cheesemakers. However, a growing number of hairy, heavily-tattooed young people, have come of age surrounded by great beer and great cheese. They are extremely knowledgeable, and they are bringing new passion and energy to both communities.
Can I eat the rind?
The rind on most artisan cheeses is perfectly edible. In most cases it is a natural “skin” of the cheese. It sometimes has a bitter, unpleasant flavor, so most people proceed with caution, but it also provides a nice contrasting texture to that of the paste. It may come down to personal preference. This is very similar to the question about what to do with the yeast in a bottle conditioned beer. Some people will leave all or most of it in the bottle, others will pour it right into the glass.