I often joke that at work, things always seem to come back around to cheese, and it’s funny because it’s very, very true.
Last night, I got the opportunity to attend one of thecheese-centric ventures at Jungle Jim’s International Market: Cheese Tastings. And let me tell you, it was probably the highlight of my week.
Hosted in the Oscar Event Center at Jungle Jim’s Fairfield, the night featured six cheese and beer pairings planned out by the store’s Beer and Cheese Experts, and they focused on matching up a variety of beers with fresh, spring cheeses (mostly sheep and goat milk). Each pairing was absolutely delicious, and the tasting was small and intimate, giving every attendee the opportunity to chat with an expert and have all of their questions answered (it also meant we got some generous pours of beer, which was a great end to a Thursday night).
Gaffel Kolsch | Jungle Jim’s Ricotta | Raincoast Crisps Rosemary Raisin
Now, I don’t like to play favorites, but this pairing was… amazing, out-of-this-world amazing. Jungle Jim’s ricotta is made fresh every two days, and the batch we had was so fresh and delicious. Ricotta is a really simple cheese, and they paired it with an equally as simple beer. The kolsch is a pure beer, meaning it was made with only five ingredients: yeast, malt, barley, water, and hops. The Raincoast cracker they served it on could be eaten alone for dessert, it was that tasty.
Bell’s Brewery, Inc. Oberon | Capriole Goat Cheese O’banon | Sully’s Jam Hot Date Jam
Capriole Goat Cheese is a Kentucky-based creamery that takes a lot of pride in their state and their products, which as a Kentucky girl, I have to say I’m a fan of. They use Woodford Reserve bourbon to give this cheese complex notes that hit the palate with a distinct richness. Bell’s Brewery just released Oberon, a citrusy beer that perfectly complemented the bourbon-y notes in the O’banon cheese and helps to clear some of the creaminess from the palate. The experts topped this cheese with “Hot Date Jam” from Sully’s, and it pulled everything together, adding a bite of heat that snuck through the other flavors.
Boulevard Brewing Company Pop Up Session IPA | Jacobs & Brichford Cheese Everton | Watermelon Mostardo
Another family farm cheese, Jacobs & Brichford’s Everton is a raw cow’s milk cheese that’s dense, nutty, and very flavorful. And all that flavor was a good thing because the experts paired it up with Boulevard Brewery’s Pop Up Session IPA, which is a strongly flavored, hoppy beer. Now, full disclosure, I’m not crazy for IPAs, but I kept an open mind and gave this a try, and while I’m never going to just casually drink an IPA by itself, this combination made it clear just how important pairing is when it comes to taste; the flavors worked really well to balance each other out, and the bitterness of the hops didn’t faze me when it was matched with the creamy, rich cheese and slightly hot, vinegary watermelon mostardo.
Dark Horse Brewing Co. Boffo Brown Ale | Carr Valley Cheese Co. Menage | Carmelized Walnuts
Oh, the odes that I could write to brown ales! This beer had a low IBU and a sweet, malty, and nutty taste that worked perfectly with the mixed milk cheese (sheep, cow, and goat milk) Menage from Carr Valley Cheese Co. This creamy cheese would make an excellent table cheese, with just a touch of sweetness and a slight tang, almost like a young Manchego. The sweet notes complemented the beer, and the caramelized walnuts amped up that sweetness along with adding a nice dash of texture to the pairing.
Abita Brewing Company Purple Haze | Cypress Grove Chevre Purple Haze | San Daniele Ham Prosciutto Secolo
Our experts were very candid about how happy this pairing made them: Purple Haze with Purple Haze, how much better could it get? Abita’s Purple Haze is a raspberry fruit beer that helped to cut the savory, floral creaminess of the Cypress Grove’s Purple Haze chevre, a lavender and fennel flavored goat cheese. It was all topped with a lavish amount of San Daniele Prosciutto Secolo, and the salty flavor made the perfect addition to mute some of the richness of the cheese.
Deschutes Brewery Fresh Squeezed IPA | Valbreso Cheese Feta | Watermelon
Our final pairing had a trio of unlikely candidates for me: an IPA, a chunk of feta, and block of watermelon. I will admit, I was skeptical. I’m used to feta being sprinkled on top of a salad, it’s tangy flavor deployed sparingly, and only in the company of a balsamic vinaigrette to partner it. In addition to which, I’ve never been a fan of a sweet/savory combination, and I’ve already expressed my feelings towards IPAs. But. BUT! This pairing won my heart, the sweet juiciness of the watermelon softening feta’s naturally drier texture, and the IPA washing it all down smoothly. Another winner!
So there’s another long-winded rhapsody about cheese! Keep your eyes peeled for the next session of cheese tastings; they’re looking to be even more amazing, and I promise you won’t want to miss out!