Tag Archives: English beer

Beer and cheese matching: a seminar with Francis Percival and Melissa Monosoff at TexSom

Francis and Melissa

Francis and Melissa

I was quite excited by the prospect of this seminar. It was a session focusing on cheese and beer pairing, led by Francis Percival (who, together with his cheesebuying wife Bronwen has penned an upcoming book on cheese called Reinventing the Wheel ) and Melissa Monsoff (a master sommelier with beer expertise).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Francis began the seminar by describing how he recently took a scything class. Scything, an old-school way of cutting grass, was still in use in the UK back in the 1960s. He showed a picture of a field in the Yorkshire Dales in 1962, where the grass had been scythed for hay production. ‘Beer and cheese are both basically grass,’ he said. ‘We are looking at how these products access different parts of the grass.’

For cheese, ruminants break down cellulose in grass for energy. For beer, it’s all based on endosperm in grass seeds, which provides the sugar source for alcohol production. He pointed out that there are pronounced resonances between the worlds of cheese and beer making, which are both based on microbiology. ‘They are exercises in practical microbial ecology, like wine,’ he pointed out.

The microbes come to play early on in cheese making. Ruminants can access energy from cellulose, but we can’t. They derive their energy from an act of fermentation: they depend on microbial energy to break down cellulose into volatile fatty acids.

Cheesemaking is analogous to winemaking. In winemaking you are synchronising fermentation and extraction; whereas with cheese making you are synchronising fermentation and moisture removal. A litre of milk will give around 100 g of cheese. This conversion of something fragile and perishable into something much lighter and more robust was very important in the pre-industrial era.

Milk, of course, is made for young ruminants. Milk coagulates when it enters the acidity of the stomach and turns into curds. Whey is released, which contains milk sugars which is energy for the young animal. The solid curd remains and is digested more slowly.

Cheesemaking hijacks this metabolism of young ruminants, and it is the rennet, the enzyme present in the stomachs of juvenile ruminants, that is added to milk to begin the cheesemaking process. Then, lactic acid bacteria digest the milk sugars and produce lactic acid, a process called acidification. This is then followed by drainage, where much of the liquid is removed. Acidification and drainage are the two fundamental processes of cheese making

The cheese industry is bad at communicating how and why different cheeses are different from each other. Instead of talking about hard and soft cheese, or the animal origin, it’s better to talk about how the cheese is made. There are four fundamental types, on a 2 by 2 matrix consisting of high acid to low acid, and low moisture to high moisture. This classification is made at the moment of moulding, when the curds go into the container that will give the cheese its shape

  • High moisture gives a soft cheese. If you have high acidity, then your cheese will be crumbly. Goats cheese from the Loire would be high acid/high moisture.
  • Low acid/high moisture will be be ‘elastic taste’ cheeses.
  • Low moisture and low acid gives alpine cheeses such as comte and beaufourt. The curds taste sweet and milky but they are also dry.
  • High acid fully fermented curds and low moisture makes the cheese tend towards hard and crumbly – these are the classic British territorial cheeses such as cheddar.
  • From the dawn of microbiology cheese has been understood as a practical exercise in microbial ecology. Now, some are using molecular tools to look at this ecology in detail.

Ben Wolfe and Rachel Dutton got funding from NIH to look at cheese rinds for a model system to understand real world microbial interactions. The cheese rind is a good model system because it is a reproducible succession of microbes. At the genus level they found that the microbes found on the rind are dependent on the type of cheese made rather than where the cheese is from. Now they are doing more research at the species level and it has become a little more complex and interesting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The cheese rind is important and you want the right bacteria to colonize it – this is why the rind is washed. Then there’s a succession of communities that grow on the rind – from Staphylococcus to yeast to actinobacteria and to mould. This process occurs because the rind dries out and also loses acidity.

Melissa explained how she sets about matching beer and cheese. ‘In assessing [beer] aroma I’m looking for the main ingredients and what resonates the most,’ she says. ‘I’m trying to find commonality with cheese and beer aromas. In the palate, how it feels in the mouth is important. Then I think about the brewing ingredients on the palate.’ She pointed out that the water used in brewing is really important for beer quality, and it’s an element that has to be considered in pairing.

In particular, salty and bitter flavours are key. Salty cuts bitter: the saltiness of the cheese cuts the bitterness of the beer and enhances the sweetness. Cheese and beer often work so well together for this reason.

The beers

The beers

The matching process:

  1. Deconstruct: pick out the important aspects of the cheese: taste, smell, texture
  2. Break down the beer into base ingredients
  3. Matching intensity is important
  4. Work with the balance: some cheeses overtake the flavour of the beer. Look for balance, for the two to complement each other, see a nice contrast and look for similar aromas (earthy, barnyard, herbal, citrus, fermentation, etc)
  5. Taking it to the next level: go beyond matchy/matchy, go beyond the classics and think about things like seasons

What does the cheese need? Does it need freshness, hops, fruit, sour/tart, earthy, malt/toast/caramel/ sweetness?

On a cheese plate there are often other things apart from cheese, so why not use beer instead to go with the cheese?

Cheese 1
Willoughby washed by Shacksbury Cider
Made by Jasper Hill, Vermont, USA
Pasteurized cow’s milk, own herd, animal rennet

Cheese 2
Willoughby washed in brine

Both are lovely cheeses but the cider-washed cheese has more bite and complexity. It’s soft and complex.

Matched with Shacksbury Craft Cider from Vermont (6.5%)
Tangy and intense with lovely acidity. Appley, broad and really complex. There are nine different kinds of apples here, including some sourced from the UK. Quite a dry, tangy, complex style.

We also tried the cheeses with Orval Trappist Ale (6.9%) from Belgium.
This is very earthy and savoury with some herbal notes. It is earthy hoppy with some Brettanomyces. There’s a contrast here between the sweetness of the cheese and the bitter notes of the beer.

Cheese 3
Innes Log
This cheese is made with a continuous whey starter. It is made by Joe Bennett, Staffordshire from raw goat’s milk.
Really tangy and intense with lovely complexity and acidity. Very powerful flavours and quite lovely with amazing intensity. The process produces a lot of sulphurous aromas: cabbage and truffle.

This is paired with Pilsner Urquell (4.9%)
It makes the beer taste sweeter, and the grassiness of the cheese and high acidity work well the subtly herbal hop characters of the pilsner. It’s a surprising match.

Cheese 4
Camambert de Normandie made by Laiterie Fromagiere du Val d’Ay. This cheesemaker pools raw milk from 60 farms and then they keep the milk overnight. They run PCR for four pathogens on site. If the milk is clean they will make Camembert with it. The other Normandy appellations allow pasteurized milk cheese, so if there are any of these pathogens, the cheese it is declassified, the milk is pasteurized and they make the others. This happens about a third of the time.

Modern Camembert only exists because you can inoculate with a cocktail of yeasts and moulds. Uninoculated it looks quite different. In Normandy there are only two remaining farmhouse producers.

Matched with Sam Smth Nut Brown Ale (6.5%)
Nice match between the nut and chocolate notes of the beer, with some sweet caramel. This works with the creaminess. I don’t like the beer much, but it works with the cheese.

Also Fullers ESB (5.9%)
There’s a bit of hop bitterness. Rich, malty and a bit tangy with some hoppy bitterness. A really good match with the sweetness of the beer coming out in contrast to the creamy, tangy cheese.

Francis pointed out that it is possible to point to things in the cheese that are a consequence of the farming decisions that have been made. Not all grazing is created equal. As long as the cheese is made sensitively you can taste the difference between cheese from animals grown on a biodiverse wild flower meadow compared with a moderately high yielding grazing field composed of just ryegrass and clover.

Cheese 5
Saint-Nectaire from the Guerin family from raw cow’s milk in the Auvergne. It’s the dry Riesling of cheese: it is not tricked out. It is a good cheese for giving you a sense of the pasture. The flavour is really balanced with some creaminess and lovely texture.
There is a research group looking at cheese in the Auvergne, and they are interested in terpenes. There are plants in diverse pastures that the animals like eating with resinous terpenes, and then you find them in the milk. You can’t find them in the cheese though. But the cheese from milk of animals grazing these pastures are quantifiably different. Many of these compounds in the milk have selective antimicrobial properties that then alter the microbial ecology of the cheese. Terpenes are in the hops of beer: they are aromatic bittering agents.

The remaining cheeses Francis put into a category named ‘British territorial cheeses’. ‘These are session cheeses,’ he explained. ‘These are substantial and significant. They are also cheeses where delicacy is a virtue.’ Fortunately, he points out, we are living in the era of celebrating delicacy, nuance and balance, rather than power.

These cheeses are an endangered species. Raw milk farmhouse cheesemakers are few and far between now. There were 388 farmhouse Cheddar producers in 1939, now there are just 3. Wensleydale has gone down from 176 to 0. Cheshire is down from 405 to 1.

Cheese 6
Saint James, made by Nicola and Martin Gott in Cumbria. Very smooth, fine grained and spicy with lovely texture. Really fine and expressive. Creamy with a fine spiciness. It’s a raw sheeps milk cheese with a washed rind. Very seductive.

In terms of beer pairing this cheese needs something intense, sweet and well carbonated, but nothing too heavy. ‘When in doubt go Belgian,’ quips Melissa. The beer is the Chimay Premiere, 7% alcohol. The brewing water is free of minerals to create richness and softness. It’s sweet, toffeed and intense with a very rich texture and some spice from the carbonation. This works well: the sweetness of the beer is lessened and the bitter hops balance the sweetness of texture of the cheese. The Fullers ESB, a bit drier, doesn’t work so well, although there is some nice nut and toffee that is quite good with the sweetness of the cheese.

Cheese 7
Appleby’s Cheshire, made by Gary Gray and the Appleby family from raw cow’s milk in Shropshire. It’s hard and has high acid, with a dry, slightly crumbly structure and some spiciness on the finish. Very full flavoured with lovely intensity of flavour. Tangy and intense. The pairing here is the Sam Smiths Nut Brown. The dryness of the beer works well, but the cheese dominates the beer a bit with its intense flavour. The cider is probably a better match, although this time the cider risks dominating.

Cheese 8
Kirkham’s Lancashire, a raw cow’s milk cheese made by Graham Kirkham in Lancashire. It’s creamy, crumbly and delicious, and quite buttery but with a fruity tang. So complex. The beer pairing is a Kirsch Gose (4.7%) which is tangy, salty and fruity with some cherry and lime notes. Great acidity. The fruitiness and acidity of the beer complement the cheese well. The Chimay works pretty well, with the bold flavours of the Chimay cancelled out a bit and softened by the strong elements of the cheese. They pair well, but in different ways.

Kirkham inoculates with a very low starter culture. He has a 24 hour acidification, and keeps it, and blends a 24 and 48 mix. Acidification normally takes 8 h.

Cheese 9
Hafod made by Rob Howard in Ceredigion from raw cow’s milk. This is really smooth and intense with a strong grassy character and lovely intensity. There’s some spicy horseradish on the finish. The beer that Melissa chose was the very fresh, tangy Helles from Community Brewing in Dallas, Texas. It’s made with German malts and hops, and the bitter hops work well with the strong grassy notes, and the freshness counters the spicy horseradish finish on the cheese. It’s a good match.

This Hafod is a hard cheese that feels soft because of the fat chemistry. If you are grazing rather than being fed grain-based diets you get lower levels of fats. The curd colour is different. The Hafod is undyed, but still a bright yellow: this is a result of the grazing. The milk is sterile in the upper part of the udder, but microbes get into the milk. Farmers are interested in how you address the teet. There is a decline in microbial populations in raw milk – this can result in the loss of gastronomic culture.

If you need to sell fluid milk you need as few microbes as possible. There are antimicrobials in the milking parlour. In Hafod, they use best practice, which is cleaning the udder with wood wool. It’s cheap, sterile and biodegradable.

Cheese 10
Stichelton is a Stilton (it’s illegal to call it that because you need to make stilton from pasteurized milk) made with raw milk. It’s a brilliant cheese.

The match: North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.
The rich saltiness of the cheese goes with the big, bitter flavours of the beer. The alcohol also adds richness (9%) with lots of hops and malt, and it goes well with the potent, spicy tangy Stichelton flavours.

The other match is the JW Lees Harvest Ale 2009, which is 11.5% alcohol, a barley wine. This is very sweet indeed with real intensity and some subtle herby notes alongside the liquid toffee and fudge. It sort of works but I think the Stout is best.

So that was it: a brilliant seminar with some amazing cheeses and thoughtful beer matches that worked pretty well. I quite fancy getting hold of some serious cheese and experimenting with some interesting beers.

Camden Hells Lager

camden hells

Camden Town Brewery is a small craft brewery that by all accounts was fixing to be friendly with a big brewery, and ended up selling to AB InBev last year (one of the globes biggest brewers) for 70 odd million quid. There have been a spate of craft breweries selling to large brewers: the large brewers are terrified by declining sales of their key brands and see buying much hipper craft beer brands, which they can then scale up, as being the way forward. The flip side of this is suddenly there’s more beer and better availability, and the consumer wins – but only if the quality is maintained. Beer is recipe-driven and a brand can be scaled up, as long as no compromise is made with the ingredients. But some of these ingredients are expensive, and big breweries just love to cut back on costs, so there’s real peril. This Camden Hells is pretty good.

Camden Hells Lager
4.6% alcohol
Half way between a pilsner and a helles in style, using bavarian lager yeast and pilsner malts, with perle and hallertauer hops. This is a bright, fresh, yet flavourful lager with zippy citrus notes, a nice bitterness, and juicy lemony fruitiness. I really like it: it’s not the most complex beer, but it is very fresh and has plenty of flavour. 7/10

IMG_1659

This is delicious. I’m sitting in The Lighterman, Granary Square, Kings Cross. It’s a scorching August day, sweaty and heat-summery, and I’m waiting for a friend for a spot of late lunch. So time for some beer. This Saison is made by Windsor-based Savour Beer. Founded in 2013, they specialise in farmhouse beers. I like this: it tastes human, authentic, complex and real.

Savour Beer Saison, Windsor, England
5% alcohol
A golden colour, this is a deliciously full flavoured saison, with a spicy, tangy, bitter-hoppy twist to the herb and malt base. There’s a lovely depth to this: it’s rich and multilayered, with some floral aromatics from the hops and lovely spicy complexity from the yeasts. It’s mouth filling, has a sense of sweetness, but it’s also really fresh as well. 8/10

 

Visiting Beavertown Brewery and Duke’s Brew and Que

beavertown

The London craft beer is exciting at the moment, and one of the leading players is Beavertown, a brewery that’s just four years old. They’re based in Tottenham Hale on an industrial site, and although they’ve not been there that long, they have outgrown it and are looking for new premises around three times the size.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is a remarkable journey for a brewery that started as recently as 2012 as part of Duke’s Brew and Que, an American BBQ joint in Hackney. It was founded by Logan Plant, son of famous rocker Robert, and self-taught brewer. Logan was inspired by the BBQ joints he’d come across in the USA which served amazing craft beer, and he wanted to bring this back to London.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The canning line

The canning line

They can produce 15 000 litres a day, which equates to 45 000 cans, and about half this is just one beer, the Gamma Ray IPA. Production is also split 50/50 between small and big pack, and the brave move they have taken is to move pretty much all the small pack to cans. This is good for freshness.

Key kegs

Key kegs

They also use quite a few disposable key kegs, which are plastic containers that dispense the beer by air pressure on a metallized inner bag. This have quite an advantage over stainless steel kegs which need returning.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The illustrations on the cans are by Nick Dwyer, who previously worked at Duke’s as a waiter.

The original kit from Duke's

The original kit from Duke’s

The Tottenham Hale brewery is open 2-8 pm each Saturday as a tap room.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We visited the brewery and had an excellent tasting of some very interesting beers. We then popped over to Hackney to sample Duke’s. As well as serving the Beavertown range, Duke’s also has a really impressive list of craft beer. It was quite the day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Beavertown Neck Oil Session IPA
4.3% alcohol
I love this lighter-styled IPA. Very fresh, bright and linear, with lovely lemon, grapefruit and pith notes. This has real precision: it’s pure, direct and focused. 8.5/10

Beavertown Gamma Ray IPA
5.4% alcohol
Lively with nice spiciness. It has a bit of malt, quite a lot of hop character, and lovely weight in the mouth. Quite classic in this IPA style. 8/10

Beavertown Peacher Man
6.2% alcohol
A collaboration with Heretic, containing peach juice, oats, nutmeg and a Belgian witt strain of yeast. Cloudy and a bit brown. Very powerful and concentrated with lovely sweet fruity notes and a bit of earthiness. There’s also some banana and clove from the yeast. 7/10

Beavertown Bloody Ell
7.2% alcohol
This is made with blood oranges from Sicily. Beavertown take the whole harvest from a couple of farms, because they want the zest non-waxed. The beer contains zest and juice from the oranges, with the former going into the mash and the the latter in the fermenter. It’s a lovely beer with the oranges adding flavours that fit in well with the hops. Notes of orange peel: spicy, tangy and detailed. Lively and bright with a bit of pithiness, and lovely texture too. 9/10

Beavertown/Boneyard Bloody Notorious
This is Bloody Ell with some Notorious IPA from Boneyard in Oregon. 9.1% alcohol. This is such a beautifully complex beer. Amazing nose of peach, mandarin, some saline notes, oysters and seaweed. Lovely powerful, textured palate with real concentration. Complex and delicate with a grapefruit freshness. This is so delicious, showing lovely weight. 9.5/10

Beavertown Sour Power
7.8% alcohol
This is from Beavertown’s Tempus project, which involves barrels. It’s a mixed fermentation with Pediococcus, Brettanomyces and Saccharomyces. Redcurrants and sour cherries are added, too. It’s a remarkable beer with cherries, sour plums and damsons on the nose. In the mouth it’s quite sour with some fruit sweetness and an expressive personality. So detailed and fine. 9/10

Beavertown Holy Cowbell
This is a dry-hopped India stout. Powerful flavours of coffee, spice and nuts with nice black coffee aromatics. Fresh, complex and detailed, with lovely weight. 8/10

Beavertown 8 Ball Rye IPA
Orange/brown in colour. Sweet and textural with nice richness. Smooth and broad with interesting texture and nice depth. There’s real finesse to this beer. 8/10

Beavertown Delta Unda
This is no 10 out of a series of beers called invasion of the upuloids. 5.7% alcohol. Hops: citra, matoueke and enigma. Cloudy yellow colour. Lovely aromatics and a nice broad texture with a slight creaminess. Lovely depth and texture. 9/10

Beavertown Black Betty Black IPA
7.4% alcohol
Complex, powerful and textured with sweet coffee and chocolate notes, but also a luvely personality and some sweet creaminess. Complex, harmonious and balanced. 9/10

Here is a video of the visit to both the brewery and Duke’s:

Thornbridge Jaipur IPA

thornbridgejaipur

Thornbridge are one of the UK’s most exciting breweries. They’re based in Derbyshire, and the brewery started life in the grounds of Thornbridge Hall in 2005. Things grew, and now their main site is a modern brewery in Bakewell, although the original brewery is still operational for smaller brews and experimental batches.

This, the Jaipur IPA, showcases their expertise. It’s a seriously interesting  beer, with plenty of hoppy complexity, but also lovely balance and freshness. It’s wonderfully consistent, too. And widely available (Waitrose stock it, for example).

Thornbridge Jaipur IPA
5.9% alcohol
Very fresh and linear with lovely bright citrus fruitiness, coupled with intense, direct piney happiness, as well as some attractive floral notes. Citrus peel and dried herbs, too. It’s a really zippy, refreshing style of IPA which carries its considerable hop load really well. 8.5/10

Brewster’s Britannia’s Brew

brewsters britannia

So, this is a special beer. Just 1215 bottles brewed, in joint celebration of beer day (15th June, that’s today) and the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carter (in 1215, hence the number of bottles produced). The distinctive thing about this bottle-conditioned golden ale is that it contains botanicals representing the four members of the UK, in addition to the Sovreign and Boadicea hops and Maris Otter barley. They are: seaweed for Wales; flax seed for Northern Ireland; heather for Scotland and rose petals for England.

Brewster’s Britannia’s Brew
5% alcohol
Orange/gold colour. Quite flat. Subdued but interesting nose of warm herbs and spice with a bit of malt. The palate is savoury, slightly bitter, slightly earthy and a bit herby. It’s well balanced, pleasant and quite English, with medium body, but it is a bit flat, alas, which makes this bottle taste a bit more cask-like, which isn’t a terrible thing. 7/10

Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin

IMGP0579

Wychwood Brewery is owned by Marston’s. They practice the liberal use of the term ‘craft’ on their website, and give the impression of being a cutting edge craft brewer. Alas, their beers aren’t all that interesting. This, perhaps their most famous, tastes pretty mass produced, I’m afraid. It’s made with chocolate and crystal malts and Styrian, Goldings and Fuggles hops.

Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin Amber Ale
5.2% alcohol
Bronze/brown in colour. Sweet malty, spicy nose. The fresh, toffeed palate has a herby bite and some earthy notes, with a lemony finish. Tastes a tiny bit chemical. 5/10

The Kernel Export India Porter

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now I am not the greatest fan of stouts and porters. ‘Heresy,’ I hear you cry. It’s just that many of them taste excessively bitter and angular, and I don’t really enjoy them. But here is a gem. It’s a truly remarkable beer with so many dimensions of flavour. And it comes from the DRC of London’s brewers, The Kernel.

The Kernel Export India Porter
6% alcohol
Made with Columbus, Simcoe and Bramling Cross hops. Brown black in colour with a creamy head. Full flavoured yet balanced with it, with attractive hoppy bitterness in the background. It’s fresh with a hint of chocolate and a little iron, and there’s certainly malty flavour present, but it’s not sweet. Close your eyes as you drink and it’s hard to call it a Porter. Structured, pure, really fine and expressive. 9/10