Dea Latis beer and cheese pairing
I've been lucky enough to be invited to a few beer and food events of late.
The most recent was organised by Dea Latis - a group of brewers, beer tasters, publicans, writers and marketers "united in its passion for beer and a belief that it's far too good to be enjoyed only by men".
That's right, beer companies.
Us women like beer too. And it doesn't need to come with a fluffy moniker and poncy packaging to appeal either. Just make sure it's good.
Beer writer Melissa Cole has written extensively and articulately on this very subject so in this instance I'll add my support by saying 'read this'.
Back to Dea Latis.
Hosted by the British Institute of Innkeepers' newest licensee of the year Mahdis Neghabian at her London pub the Camden Eye, the event was all about beer and cheese tasting, specifically how they go together.
Neghabian was also guest speaker and she gave the assembled guests a fascinating insight into her career and the way in which she turned around the Camden Eye from a seedy boozer to an inviting destination pub.
The hours and the hard work paid off. Tweaks to presentation - half pints are now served in stemmed glasses - higher prices to drive away the less desirable clientèle and an all-important weekly line clean have all helped turnover to more than double since Neghabian took over in 2009.
Then on to the all important beer and cheese pairing.
Annabel Smith, national account manager at Cask Marque Trust and one of the UK's first female beer sommeliers, had been busy selecting appropriate beers to accompany the cheeses chosen by Nigel Smith from the British Cheese Board.
While it was clear that Smith had worked hard to find a common theme between the two products, be it their place of origin or a flavour similarity, she was keen to stress that her key message was accessibility.
As a result, all the beers and cheeses were chosen to ensure that if anyone in the room fancied drinking or eating them again, they wouldn't struggle to pick up the product in the shops.
Both products originate in France and Smith said that the beer's high level of carbonation along with some very subtle fruit flavours on the palate made it a great foil to the creaminess of the cheese.
"Brie can be very fatty and coat the tongue," explained Smith. "The high carbonation scrubs away this fattiness on the tongue and really cleanses the palate ready for the next mouthful of cheese. This is what I call a 'cleansing' beer."
Wensleydale with cranberry and Thwaites Wainwright Golden Ale
Smith said that this was a tricky cheese to match and that she had to think of other things cheese is usually paired with.
She explained: "Most people eat cheese with crackers or oat biscuits and the biscuity malt used in the beer reminded me of an oaty cake.
"Even though the beer was dry, it was one of the sweetest beers I used, and this reminded me of my Mum always serving Christmas cake with a slab of Wensleydale (I think this might be a Northern thing?). The sweet fruit beer acted as a counterpoint to the mild sweet flavour of the cheese."
Blue Stilton packs a mean punch in terms of pungency and Smith felt it needed a strapping and complex beer to stand up to it.
"Most people would put a port with Stilton, so the subtle cherry and rich fruit flavour of Old Peculier, along with the high ABV and dark rich ruby red character was perfect. I would serve the beer in a snifter glass rather than a half or pint."
Interestingly this was the winning beer and food match according to the vote but it wasn't my own personal preference. I felt that the punch-up on my palate was won by the Stilton in a knockout blow.
"Think of what a lot of restaurants do with goats cheese," said Smith. "They drizzle it with raspberry vinaigrette to get that salt and sour combination. This is what I did with the Kriek - try and get an amazing contrast of flavours."
Lambic beers are always quite tart due to the yeast and this particular beer uses whole cherries when they are just about to shrivel on the trees, so the sugar is really concentrated.
Smith said the addition of the cherry stones adds a bit of 'marzipan' flavour to the beer: a little bit of nuttiness that is great with goats cheese.
"One of the easiest matches in my opinion and one which will always amaze and delight people!"
I couldn't agree more. This pairing was for me head and shoulders above the others for me. The flavours complemented each other perfectly rather than drown the other one out.
Never match a mature cheddar with a light beer or a lager, according to Smith. The cheese will wipe the beer out.
"You need the beer and the cheese to slug it out in the boxing ring. High ABV and complex flavours more than match up to this mature cheddar," he explained.
"The beer is malty at first, then huge fruity flavours come through, like banana and ripe tomatoes. Think of this as cheese and pickle, like a great ploughman's lunch."
* The next Dea Latis event will be held on Friday 7 December and will involve matching beers to full English breakfasts. More details will appear here as and when they are available.
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