05 November 2009

A Belgian, drunken treasure

Cheeses that are prepared with beer have become more and more popular since the rise of artisanal cheese production worldwide. In the both the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., for example, there are many examples of popular preparations combining these ingredients. Some of them are in the form of a 'cheese spread', where the beer is added mostly as an adjunct flavor, while others integrate the beer or ale in to the production process, producing of a more flavorful and finer hard cheese; this award-winning Chocolate Stout Cheddar from Oregon is one of the latter.

Although beer and cheese seem at first to be at odds, they actually compliment one another nicely. We think it is the contrast of the richness and creaminess of the dairy with the bitter and bubbly composition of the hops and trapped gas that makes for a great mouthfeel.

After a brief hiatus from Fromage-du-Mois posts, we decided to write about an excellent and hard to find 'beer cheese'. While most are familiar with the Chimay Brewery which produces Trappist beer from southern Belgium, you may not know that they also produce excellent cheeses. In fact, they make 5 different cheeses , each with an ostensibly unique flavor. The one we recently tried is called, "Chimay with Beer". It seems the only one of the 5 made with the beer itself. Limited research shows that it is also fairly rare in the United States. This cheese is a semi-soft, cow's milk cheese whose semi-hard rind is formed from several, repeated washings with Chimay beer. The flavor then naturally soaks in to the curd itself.

According to the official Chimay website, the monastery has been making cheese since 1876 and in recent times has modernized their production equipment. Even with new technology, they argue the taste has not been compromised: the milk still comes from cows who graze along the rivers near the small town in Belgium and it is still aged for 4 weeks in the cellars of the monastery. We concur.

The cheese itself: it is a very mild and not as strong as some others in its 'genre' of semi-soft, like Taleggio or Scamorza. The texture of the cheese is close to that of a firm brie. It has a distinct flavor, with hints of sweet beer and meaty nuts. The yellow-orange rind tastes somewhat bitter and salty which adds another dimension to the flavor.

Chimay cheese has an outstanding all-around taste. Although we had it plain, off the tip of the knife, we think it would probably go very nicely with.....well....with a tall glass of a Belgian beer.

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