Monday, March 24, 2008
At the aforementioned Dogfish Head beer and cheese pairing I sampled a formidable French cow's milk cheese that hailed from Lorraine in northeast France. Bordering its sister region Alsace as well as Germany, Lorraine is also home to Les Brasseurs de Lorraine, located in Pont-à-Mousson. Two local favorites when it comes to cheese are Alsatian Munster and Grès des Vosges, which are both aromatic cow's cheeses with pink rinds.
The Grès des Vosges had originally been paired with the Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, which I thought went well, but for some reason I thought I could do better. Opening the wrapping, my nostrils were filled with the smell of onion and sharp farmhouse scents, and I'm kicking myself for not pairing this with a saison or a gueuze. Tonight I've opened up the Southern Tier Hoppe instead, hoping to see how a balanced pale ale that's been kicked up a notch (much like the 90 Minute) will tackle the creaminess and the funky flavors simultaneously.
The idea behind this is to see if this pairing will work based on what I imagine the key flavors to be. With no real idea as to how to pair such an obscure cheese, I'm sort of grabbing at straws here. Should I get something that would work better with a brie, or perhaps a beer that might pick up the more subtle, meaty and nutty notes? Let's just say I've got Hoppe.
Biting into the cheese, I'm struck by how much funkier and onion-like it is, in addition to being quite creamy. My palate is immediately coated in a thick layer of fat as the softness of the cheese provides a lot of cover. Sipping on the Hoppe, the carbonation cuts through most of the viscous cheese and the sharpness of the piney hops parries the tangy taste. A sweet, caramel-like malt flavor brings up the rear, but seems more out of place than I had anticipated and doesn't seem to fulfill the role I had envisioned.
While the Hoppe is a solid example of balanced brewing, being an "Imperial Extra Pale Ale", it doesn't quite rise to the challenge of the Grès des Vosges. The cheese is just a hair too formidable for the beer, which I think is due to my underestimation of the cheese when I first sampled it. All it requires is a swig or two more of the Hoppe and that does the trick, but I feel I could do better with the pairing.
Who knows, I may try this with a Saison Dupont soon and give you the results. Although I'll bet an offering from Les Brasseurs de Lorraine would be unstoppable; a veritable beer terroir, if you will.