M. Andrew Gordon

New England Cheeses with New England Beers

In Dinner Party on October 25, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Beer and cheese are often very wonderful together and just as good as the more heralded wine and cheese pairing.  Some will get high minded and discuss beers superior attributes in these situations but I really find this adversarial nature of the beer versus wine discussion silly.  For the first course of this past Saturday’s dinner I wanted to showcase some cheeses of the region with beers from the region.

The first pairing was Westfield Farm’s Hickory Smoked Goat Cheese and Mayflower Brewing’s Autumn Wheat Ale.  Westfield Farm, based in Hubbardston, MA, produces some great goat cheeses and their hickory smoked one is delicious.  I have lately been enjoying smoked cheeses so I felt this would be an interesting one to try.  Mayflower has quickly become one of my favorite breweries, producing some high quality beers.  The Autumn Wheat is a welcome departure from the more usual marzen-style Octoberfest or pumpkin ales have become extremely prevalent.  The pairing worked quite well with the roasted malty notes of the ale balancing the smokiness.

The second pairing was Pineland Farm’s Cheddar Cheese and Harpoon Brewing’s 100 Barrel Series Glacier Harvest Wet Hop Ale.  Since I had already settled on smoked goat cheese, I served Pineland’s cheddar instead of their smoked cheddar, which has been a staple in my refrigerator for the past several months.  This Maine cheddar is probably a medium on the sharpness scale of cheddar; it is not particularly pungent a flavor but definitely has the characteristic cheddar tang.  To balance that, a beer with some forward hop flavors is a usual pairing.  Since the Glacier Harvest Wet Hop was recently released, I thought it would be nice to showcase that beer which uses hops from New York.  Unlike most beers, wet hopped ales utilize hops that are still fresh and not dried.  Hops are generally dried to preserve them, so wet hopped beers need to be brewed with a day or two of the hop harvest.  This imparts a more herbaceous hop flavor.

The third pairing was Jasper Hill Farm’s Blue Cheese and Otter Creek Brewing’s Stovepipe Porter.  Jasper Hill is in Greensboro, Vermont and their Bayley Hazen Blue is definitely a quality blue with some great flavors that I want to describe just as being fresh, but I realize that sounds like a safe description.  But in hindsight, for a great many years, my exposure to blue cheese was more in line with the tubs of somewhat rubbery blue cheese that generally sit in major grocery stores.  It’s not to say those cheeses are entirely bad but they don’t have the same depth of flavor, so when I taste a well-made cheese like the Bayley Hazen, I am still overwhelmed by the simple freshness.  To pair with the cheese, the Stovepipe Porter is a nice low-alcohol porter with great roasted malt flavor and a nice hop presence that plays nicely with the cream and grass flavors of the cheese.  Having the ability to buy a six-pack of a beer like this regularly makes me quite happy.

Any good cheese plate needs to have a few accompaniments to the cheese however.  Bread is useful as both a vessel for cheese and as a palate cleanser.  A baguette sliced thin does the trick nicely.  I also tried my hand at making cornmeal-and-black-pepper crackers from a New York Times article I bookmarked several years ago.  But I also wanted to explore making pickles to accompany the cheese and beer.  Since the dinner was going to have a focus on regionality and seasonality I decided to pickle parsnip, a much unheralded root vegetable, and apples.  Since I was not looking to can these and save them for posterity, my intention was to jar them and refrigerate them for a matter of days.  Both were simple preparations of vinegar, water, sugar, black peppercorns, coriander, cumin, and fennel seeds. The parsnips also received a sliced jalapeño and the apples received several cinnamon sticks.  The winner: pickled apples, which were super easy and absolutely delicious with the smoked goat cheese.

Pickled Apples

  • 3 large Macoun apples (or other firm apple variety), cored and sliced ¼-inch thick
  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  1. Divide apples between two small or one large lidded glass jar.
  2. In saucepan, combine water, vinegar, and honey.  In separate bowl, place peppercorns, cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds and using the handle of a wooden spoon, crack the spices until broken.  Add to water-vinegar mixture, stir in salt and cinnamon.  Bring to a boil.
  3. Carefully pour water into jar until apples are covered.  Cap and refrigerate overnight.
  1. […] Apertivo: New England cheeses with house pickled parsnips, pickled apples, and corn and black pepper crackers […]

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