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Bean Juice and Curd

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By Rachael Lucas

Cheese begs to be paired. It is such a versatile food that it can stand up to and enhance flavors in just about anything you choose as its coupling.

I have become increasingly interested in learning how acids in cheese work with and/or combat acidity levels in other fare. I have set out to do several high-acid tastings this winter, and first up is the stuff that I look forward to when I go to bed at night. My morning crutch. One of my first (and favorite) addictions: coffee.

I chose to do my tasting at Mercury’s Coffee in Woodinville, WA. They are a local, organic, exceptional company/roaster who pride themselves in not only the highest quality coffee, but also a knowledgeable, competent, pleasant staff. These baristas are very well trained, so I knew that the espresso would be perfect. There aren’t many things worse than a watery, bitter, or burnt shot of espresso.

Bea Juice and Curd Ossau Iraty pic PicmonkeyOssau Iraty

My coffee line up (in order) included a medium/dark roast, black, drip coffee which had a whiff of chocolate and hints of hazelnuts. Next up was a single shot latte in an 8 oz. mug--not nearly strong enough for my robust caffeine requirements, but pleasantly rich and milky. I then enjoyed an 8 oz. mocha, also with one shot of espresso. It tasted like a hot chocolate with a mini punch.  Last was a doppio, big and intrepid, with subtle bitterness and a dreamy crema.

I had difficulty in choosing the cheese because I, of course, want to know what every cheese ever created tastes like with coffee. As I gave myself a pep talk about how this isn’t going to be my one and only coffee and cheese tasting, I narrowed it down. I opted for Pavé de Jadis, a charcoal ash-coated fresh chèvre from the Loire Valley in France. It is bright, tangy, and zingy, with a profound lemony finish. My second cheese was Ossau Iraty, an old-time, natural rinded, raw ewe’s milk tomme from the Midi Pyrenees in France. It is pastoral, floral, and has levels of lanolin. This particular wheel had low level wooliness. My safe cheese was Two Sisters Gouda, an aged, pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Holland. It is dulcet, fruity, and approachable. Beaufort d’Ete is a raw cow’s milk alpine cheese from France. I liken this cheese to Willy Wonka’s Ever-lasting Gobstopper. The layers ceaselessly unfold, and among them are some roasty-toasty notes that are fun to pair with coffee. Just for kicks, I had to include a blue cheese. California’s Point Reyes Original blue (made with raw milk) is one of my favorites. The cows graze on grass that is sprayed by the sea. The result is an unctuous, briney, slightly piquant mouthful. It also has some of the most gorgeous veining you will ever see in a blue cheese.

I first tested the drip coffee with each cheese, starting with the mildest and moving up to the strongest (also listed in order previously). Then I tasted the latte with each cheese, and so on. I had some unanticipated results. One thing I would do differently next time is to add an extra shot to the milky drinks. Even so, those milky drinks had their merits.

There were not any abhorrent pairings. Many of the combinations met somewhere in the middle. I was tickled to learn of the exceptional minglings, the ones that I will recommend to customers.  

My favorite textural pairing was Ossau Iraty with the mocha. All wooliness was muted, and the result was chocolate pot au crème and a lingual coating, much like the mouthfeel that I get when I eat a donut. Truthfully, I don’t like that coating from donuts, but since I knew that the glaze is from butterfat and not frying grease, I reveled in the texture. Ossau Iraty also coupled swimmingly with the latte. Its flavors were rather muted, but an otherwise undetected saltiness in the cheese came to the forefront. It tasted like a salty marshmallow.

The most palate-combusting pairing was Point Reyes Original Blue with the mocha. Neither entity lost its gusto. It was a tart, piquant, salty, rich, fudgy explosion. It stimulated the entirety of my tongue. My lips smacked together. Chocolate and blue cheese have synergy.

The Beaufort d’Ete, of course, was chummy with the drip coffee. Alpines love to stir up toasted nuts and smoke with a good brew.

Two Sisters Gouda placed me in a state of nostalgia when I tried it with the latte. It tasted like a soporific cup of warm milk; I wanted to get into my jammies and have my mom braid my hair.

Pavé de Jadis was superior in this trial. I am cautious about pairing younger goat’s cheese with acidic drinks because I have found it to be a challenging union with red wines. As such, I surmised it would be one of the more difficult cheeses to couple with coffee, perhaps imparting overly bitter notes. I was wrong. It was pleasant across the board. The best mouthfuls were with the mocha, and shockingly, the doppio. The mocha with this cheese tasted like goat’s milk chocolate: slightly tart, lactic, not too sweet. The doppio with Pavé de Jadis made me cuss in my notes. It tasted of a very bright, peppery, goat’s milk latte. I would have this for breakfast every day.

The thing that I love most about cheese tastings is that my presumptions get squelched. It proves that cheese education is endless. I left this tasting with a better understanding of acids co-mingling with fats. I left with new selling points and inspiration for other tastings. And I left amped on caffeine, sated from primo fromage, and ahem, rumbly in the tummy. Worth it.

Rachael Lucas with cheese wheels MUG

Editor’s note:   Rachael is an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional (CCP).  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.  You can find more of her writing on Tumblr under Lukaasrachael.

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