The Session #51: Beer and Cheese Pairing (Part 1)

The SessionFirst Friday of the month among beer bloggers (both dedicated and casual) means it’s time for The Session, the group blogging effort whereupon we all virtually get together and write up a particular topic.

Jay Brooks is hosting this month, and he’s chosen a topic and set guidelines to make this probably the most engaging Session yet: Beer and Cheese.

Below are three cheeses. I chose ones that I believe are available throughout the U.S. and quite possibly beyond our shores. And they all sell via mail order, too. So pick up some of each, or if you can’t find those specific cheeses, choose similar ones. Pick a beer to pair with each one and post your results on the first Friday in May.

It’s worth reading the full post, but in essence the three cheeses are a blue cheese, an aged cheddar, and a goat cheese (Jay also includes some beer style suggestions to pair with the cheese). Then: taste the beer and cheese together!

Of course, as Stan has noted, “nobody has ever been kicked out of the Session for showing up with the wrong cheese”—so if you didn’t end up with exactly the cheeses that Jay picked out, that’s perfectly okay. (I didn’t.)

I’m a relative newbie to the beer-and-cheese tasting —at least in any intentional sense—but I love the idea and spent probably far too much time ruminating on the perfect cheeses to match up with some beers that I had in mind. In the end, I thought it would be interesting to stay local if possible—in this case, within the state of Oregon—and decided on the following combinations:

  • Tillamook Extra Sharp Vintage White Cheddar (aged two years) with Fort George Vortex IPA
  • Rogue Creamery Blue Cheese with 2010 Stormwatcher’s Winterfest Barleywine from Pelican Pub & Brewery
  • Goat cheese with Widmer’s Cherry Oak Doppelbock

In fact (most of) these beers are also ones I’m drinking for the first time, so my notes on each pairing reflects my review of each beer as well as the cheese pairing notes.

And, this is a first for me—my Session post was getting so long that I decided to split it into three parts, each one covering a beer and cheese tasting. (Right now this first part is already over 1,000 words! Yikes!)

Fort George Vortex IPA with Tillamook Extra Sharp White Cheddar

The beer: Fort George Brewery is located in Astoria and Vortex IPA is one of their very first packaged offerings (the other is their 1811 Lager), which they are packaging in 16-ounce cans. It’s been ages since I’ve been to Astoria—predating Fort George Brewing—so except for a taste of some of their stout I had in Portland last year, Vortex IPA and 1811 Lager are the first of their beers I’ve had. Of Vortex, the Brewery says:

India Pale Ales were designed to withstand the long voyage to India. Our IPA is made with generous additions of Cascade, Simcoe and Palisade hops throughout the brewing, fermentation and conditioning phases, balanced with heaps of organic pale malt. We designed this to not rip your taste buds off your tongue, but rather to vigorously stimulate them and your palate into a lupulin-ecstasy of pleasure. During the cross-country truck trip our brewery made to find its home in Astoria, it was nearly scattered to the cornfields of Nebraska by a tornado. We try to capture some of nature’s intensity in every pint.

Vortex IPA is 7.7% alcohol by volume.

Fort George Vortex IPAAppearance: Terrifically clear and bright copper in color; two fingers of dense, creamy head piled up; nice legs.

Smell: Citrus and tropical fruits along with a nice green spicy hop note to it; very fresh and appetizing.

Taste: Sweetly malty with extremely well-balanced hop bitterness, spicy and clean. Sweet caramelly malts are pleasant and toasty, and make you want to keep sipping. Nice rise of the hops again in the back.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, clean, with lovely hoppy aftertaste that’s a touch sticky and pleasantly bitter on the back of the tongue.

Overall: Truly excellent IPA.

BeerAdvocate: A-. RateBeer: 3.54, 94th percentile.

The cheese: Tillamook Cheese is of course the most well-known cheese producer in Oregon, located on the Oregon Coast (just north of Pacific City, where the Pelican Pub and Brewery is located). In addition to their ubiquitous orange cheddars, they also have a full line of aged cheddars, jack cheeses, blends with various ingredients (garlic, herbs, spices, etc.), and even ice cream, yogurt, butter, and sour cream. The Extra Sharp Vintage White Cheddar is one that we already had in the refrigerator, making this an easy choice; it’s aged for over two years.

Patience is the last ingredient in Tillamook Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar. Each batch takes over two years to age into a creamy, crumbly texture that blossoms with flavor in your mouth. There isn’t a food in the world that doesn’t go well with this cheese.

Tillamook Vintage White Extra Sharp Cheddar

And out of curiosity, I also decided to pair the beer with some of their regular medium cheddar cheese, which is aged only three months I believe.

Medium cheddar: The IPA brings out a creamy note to the cheese, and at the same time the cheese cuts the bitterness of the hops, seeming to accentuate the sweetness of the malts.

Extra Sharp cheddar: This cheese has a sharper, more pronounced “tang” to it, and is rich and nutty; interestingly my first impression is that this one accentuates the dry rather than the sweet—both in the cheese and the beer. The beer seems to cut the sharpness of this cheese quite a bit, while the hops seem more pronounced in a drier bitterness but not floral quality. They each seem less intense, as they play off each other. The cheese also seems creamier, like the medium cheddar.

Overall I was fairly pleased with this combination, and interesting to note, the rest of the beer after the cheese seemed to taste sweeter and maltier almost like I was still combining it with the cheese—I don’t know if that was the aftertaste of the cheese lingering on the palate or perhaps as the Vortex IPA warmed it brought out the malts. Either way, Fort George makes a pretty fine beer, and Tillamook a pretty fine cheese; I’d recommend trying these two together if you get the chance.

Next up: Barleywine and Blue Cheese!