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Cairn and Curds

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by Rachael Lucas

One of Kenmore, Washington’s most treasured businesses is a local brewery called Cairn.  Cairn is run by a knowledgeable and sincere staff, and their rotating selection of brews is among the best I have ever had.  

On my day off, like so many people, I felt a little restless and had a hankering for comfort food, some sensory stimulation, and a buzzy belly full of beer. I knew what to do.  Cairn is currently doing pick-up orders, so I got online, placed my order, and pedaled my cruiser the half mile to our local, beloved suds slingers.  It took about two minutes to retrieve said order, and the price was reasonable--even in our current economic situation.  Once I got home with my brews, I perused the selection of cheese that I had in my crisper drawer—there was a medley with various textures and milk-types.  Nothing could impede the sensual (albeit bloating) afternoon that ensued!    

The beer line-up went as follows: 

Savage Moose Juice, a wheat ale. This beer has a clean, refreshing aroma, an approachability and is definitely sessionable.  There is a suggestion of bitterness in the back end, which adds a touch of sass.

Sunshine Saison.  This one has funky aromatics, so I was expecting something fermenty; instead, I enjoyed notes of vanilla and cardamom.  The finish is smooth as eggs.

Finnigan’s Irish Red.  I love red ales, and this is a proper one.  The aroma is a little bilious, like Provolone Piccante (the first thing that I thought of when I whiffed it was butyric acid in cheese, though I can’t claim to know what volatile compounds create such an aroma in beer…).  Finnigan’s Irish Red is medium strength, but it is thick, chewy, and ongoingly effervescent.

Connie’s English Bitter.  This bitter has a gentle texture, is wildly floral, and escorts you from an instance of a dulcet bouquet to a tickle of bitterness that fizzles into a nice, lingering finish.

Thor’s Hammer Milk Stout.  An epic creation.  The aroma is roasty and smokey, like coffee. It has a charming, unexpected spume and an aftertaste like coffee breath.  Full disclosure:  I will not stop thinking about it until I pair this beer with some alpine cheese; there was not a morsel of it in my fridge, and that is deplorable.

See below, however, for details on the cheeses that I did have.

Domaine du Vallage, a triple crème from the Champagne region of France:  This bloomy rind is like eating butter.  In my experience, the rind is always the perfect thickness, which adds a little texture to the cheese, but it does not interrupt anything. There is zero funk, and all the purr allure.

Bethmale de Chevre, a French Basque (slightly) washed rind goat’s milk tomme:  There is no cheese to compare with this one.  It is floral, toothsome, clean, and melts like a dream.  This is a fromage that turns goat cheese non-believers into fanatics.

Green Dirt Farm’s Prairie Tomme, a ewe’s milk (also slightly) washed rind rock star from Missouri:  This is an artisan creation that I personally crush on, and each wheel is different.  This particular tomme is the most assertive that I have had the pleasure of tasting.  It is nutty, chicken stocky, a little stanky, and (per usual) tastes like the lush midwest.  It takes me home.

Coho, Cherry Valley Dairy’s artisan cow’s milk tomme is a head tilter:  Firstly, it tastes like the butter that they create, which is reminiscent of the land that they live on--where the calves are born, where the cheese is made and aged, where love is poured into toil.  Secondly, Coho is unquestionably briny.  It reminds me of Uni; it begins sweet and mouth-watering, and ends up saline, like sea, with a genuine breath of pasture.

Provolone Piccante, a raw cow’s milk, Italian classic:  This pasta filata (stretched curd) style formaggio is, as its name suggests, piquant.  It is the sharpest cheese currently in my case.  It is high acid, full-bodied, and, if you’re into stretch and pull, has a remarkable melting point.  Some people find the acidity in this cheese to be off-putting (a little like vomit), but I appreciate it.

Mons’ Bleu des Causses, a cow’s milk Roquefort-style:  This blue is luscious, round, full fat, and peppery.  I relate to this fromage.

With respect to the couplings, the best cheeses of the tasting were the first and the last.  Cream bombs win!  Both melded with every beer in agreeable ways .  The red ale paired with the triple crème tasted like the top of an ice cream float.  And with Thor’s Hammer, it was like drinking a breve cappuccino. I was shocked to note that the Bitter and the blue cheese were simpatico--the bitterness subsided, and the finish was nectarous.  I enjoy pairings for different reasons, and the I loved the bitter and blue for thier equitable union.  I anticipated a good intermingling between Bleu des Causses and the stout, and I was right.  The cheese thickened the brew into a viscous, smokey syrup.  The stout chunked up the blue mold and turned it chewy, which could be weird for some, but I like the textural curveball.  I have no qualms about getting a little mold stuck in my teeth.

Another well-balanced duo was the red ale and Coho.  It’s as if the two were made for each other.  All the sought-after nuances that you find in each came to the forefront.  I took note on this one:  Finnigan’s Irish Red, Coho, got it!

Thor’s Hammer Milk Stout and Prairie Tomme raised a few ginger (I’m a red head) brows.  The mouthful tasted like peanut butter:  salty, roasted, nutty (of course).  The spume flattened, but it created a tingly sensation on the tip of my taster.  I find it exciting to tune into the chemical reactions and textural alterations that occur when coupling two fermented foodstuffs like this stout and the beloved, grassy tomme.

My Cairn and curds tasting was a fun and educational afternoon activity.  During this Covid-19 business, people are encouraged to be fruitful and creative, become skillful, educate themselves, do something (at a distance).  When life is uncertain, and stress levels are high, it can be difficult to find the motivation to stay productive or learn new skills.  Why not try educating yourself in a non-literary, more sensuous manner?  What about conducting a tasting and enjoying sensorial invigoration?  It is an activity that indeed challenges the brain and the palate.  Besides, who doesn’t like a little pre-dinner beer buzz?  If you are in the Seattle area, I suggest you look up Cairn’s current suds situation and place an order.  There are plenty of grocery stores that carry choice, artisan fromage (please buy artisan cheese; our cheesemakers need us now more than ever!), and you can set yourself up with a palatal whirligig and feel productive at the same time.   

Rachael Lucas with cheese wheels MUG

Editor’s note:   Rachael Lucas is an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional (CCP).  She also has the distinction of being one of forty-six people in the country with the ACS C.C.S.E. (Certified Cheese Sensory Evaluator) accreditation.  You can most often find her cheesemongering in the Seattle area.  When she's not working with cheese, she's eating it, talking about it, reading about it, writing about it, and dreaming about it.  She can be reached with inquiries about fromage and food excitement in the Seattle area at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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