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The cheese is in the following order from 12 o'clock:  Cottonbell, Dirt Lover, Mont St. Francis, Monte Enebro, Pt. Reyes Original Blue. The cheese is in the following order from 12 o'clock: Cottonbell, Dirt Lover, Mont St. Francis, Monte Enebro, Pt. Reyes Original Blue.

By Rachael Lucas

Some cheeses are wallflowers. The ones with a great deal of volatility, with a stratum of aromatic implications, can be resistant to intermingling with a boozy counterpart. 

When asked for a pairing recommendation for such cheeses, I often opt for a safe beer. The fact is, however, that craft beer varies as widely as artisan dairy products.  It is presumptuous to assign definite qualities to a certain brew style when so many factors influence its make and result—just like in cheese.  And so, in order to know for sure how a cheese pairs, one must try it.  Last week, I challenged my palate.  I purchased some mini-growlers from my neighborhood brewery, 9 Yards Brewing, in Kenmore, Washington, and I selected a handful of cheeses that I deem extraordinary, curious, and arousing.  This was one of the more difficult tastings that I have done; it was an education learned the hard way. 

Nine Yards Brewing Rachael Lucas Picmonkey

My beer selection was random.  I chose the Sunset Cerveza, Brilliant Blonde, Homewrecker Red, and Brewnette Brown.  The Sunset Cerveza is an American Lager style.  It is bright, floral, effervescent, and slightly bitter, especially in its long finish.  Brilliant Blonde exemplifies my point about not ascertaining qualities prior to experience:  I assumed that it was going to be permy, like many blondes that I have tried.  It is not permy.  It smells like honey, tastes of caramel, and is lingually suave with light frothiness.  Homewrecker Red, an American Amber, is cunning.  At the nose, it possesses sweet, vanilla aromatics.  Awash on the palate, though, it commences punchy and puckersome; it stimulates the entirety of the tongue and encourages a flooding of salivary reactivity; and then it smooths out like a blanket of fresh snow in a forest.  Brewnette Brown is an English style Brown Ale.  It smells of maple syrup and is thick and filling, like a beer-nuanced maple malt (I’d like to taste it in an ice cream float).

The cheese line-up was personality-plus.  These are cheeses with vast flavor profiles; not everybody likes them; and they are not necessarily easy to pair.  Because I have customers who trust my (not exactly expert) advice, it is important to do these seemingly daunting tastings.  I knew at the onset that some of the couplings would leave my palate wanting a more agreeable mouthful.  Often, growth comes from discomfort.

The cheeses that were tasted went as follows:  Boxcarr Handmade Cheese’s Cottonbell, a soft-ripened cow’s milk umami mind-boggler from North Carolina.  The fungal rind and (at peak ripeness) oozy, savory paste remind me of an unctuous mouthful of creamy mushroom soup with a beef broth base.  Missouri’s Green Dirt Farm’s Dirt Lover is a sheep’s milk, ash-ripened, geotrichum-rinded (the brainy looking rind) enigma.  It starts out tart and lactic, much like sour cream, and then you take a journey from tremendous minerality, to a slight biliousness, then on to sweet cream and herbs, and lastly, a pleasant coating with a saline drop-off.  Indiana’s Capriole Creamery’s Mont St. Francis is an odiferous, pudgy, beer-washed, goat’s milk squidge disc.  People are put off by its uric aroma, but its pastoral, salted silk pâté and agreeable tanginess are nothing to be afraid of.  Spain’s Monte Enebro is one of my favorite cheeses.  It is a fudgy, duplicitous goat’s milk brick that is coated with Penicillium Roqueforti.  Its moldy rind claims it as a blue cheese, but its interior boasts of being one of the cleanest, zippiest, velveteen goat’s cheeses in existence.  Lastly, Point Reyes Original Blue, California’s signature blue cheese, made an appearance on my tasting board.  This raw cow’s milk blue emits a skosh of brininess and a lemony finish with a palatal clean-up that does not always occur so readily in blue cheeses.  Point Reyes Original Blue is scrumptious and has been victorious at several recent tastings that I have had.  I threw it in to see how it would fare with 9 Yards craft beers.

As expected, many mouthfuls were not agreeable.  I found myself puckering, gagging on bitter swallows, and chugging water in between tastes (as I should be doing anyway).  It was brutal.  There were times when I was tempted to discontinue the tasting.  I didn’t submit--what kind of cheesemonger quits mid-tasting?

Alas, the most exciting textural pairings occurred with the Brilliant Blonde.  It cut through the fats in Cottonbell and made for an abrupt, clean finish.  It turned an otherwise, soft, cakey Dirt Lover into grainy clumps.  Upon contact with Monte Enebro, the beer spumed and filled my oral cavity in its entirety with froth.  Point Reyes Original Blue created a similar reaction upon contact with Brilliant Blonde, which leads me to surmise that there was a chemical interaction with the Penicillium Roqueforti that left me feeling like I had an overflow of funky pop rocks in my kisser.

The most neutral, unprovoked couplings were Cottonbell with Homewrecker Red and Mont. St. Francis with Brilliant Blonde.  Both pairings sort of cancelled one another out.  Neither added to nor took away from the other.  Sometimes pairings like this are ideal; for instance, if you are entertaining lots of people with an array of palatal peculiarities, easy marriages make for undeterred guests.

The easiest beer to pair with this motley crew of lactic hubbub was the Brewnette Brown.  It won me over for different reasons with (nearly) each cheese.  With Cottonbell, Brewnette enhanced the delectable savory qualities in the cheese, and it coated my mouth with salt and butter.  Conversely, Dirt Lover buttressed the brown ale.  All those maple malty notes tip-toed through a fatty, creamed vestibule and reared its frothy head until it gently dissipated.  Brewnette with Monte Enebro was my favorite palatal interaction of the tasting.  It was what I consider to be a perfect pairing in which all the best characteristics of each party was enhanced by its counterpart.   It was an instance of gentle tang and salted maple butter.  It was my six-year-old self, sitting in old Busybelle’s farmstead kitchen, drinking freshly drawn milk to wash down hot pancakes with butter and syrup.  It was the union that I kept going back to until both the cheese and the beer were no more.

Having persevered in this challenge of quirky fromage and suds, I have, no doubt, grown as a cheese professional.  I learned that I cannot rely on a genre of beer to be a great fit across the board for any given cheese.  Each beer has its own unique microflora, and the only way to know for sure if it works with a cheese is to try it.  I learned that malts might be less of a challenge to couple with cheese than hops.  Most importantly, I was encouraged by, and utilized, the adage to Never Quit, Ever.  Someone successful instilled this notion into my psyche.  I needed it for this challenge, and as such, I prevailed.

Rachael Lucas with cheese wheels MUG

Editor’s note:   Rachael Lucas 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.  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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