This past Friday I zipped over to Central Market and sat in on a beer tasting event with Greg Engert. The class was part of Brewtopia, a marketing event touting discounted beers and tastings that ends September 27. Engert's class used various cheeses to demonstrate how to pair beer with food, in addition to providing conventional tasting notes for each brew.
Engert knows beer. The barkeep turned beer director got his start in Washington, D.C.'s beer bars before hooking up with the restaurant group that would open ChurchKey, a nationally acclaimed mecca for beer drinkers. Within a year, Food and Wine had added Engert to their list of top ten sommeliers, an honor that had never been awarded to a hop head before.
Engert is a talker. Salty mouthed and verbose, he delivers encyclopedic knowledge on every beer he carries that include style notes, brew techniques, and a complete history of not only the brewery but beer brewing in the region as well. Combined with a solid understanding of food, Engert's lecture made for an informative evening.
Beer has challenged wine recently as a superior pairing mechanism that complements food rather than fighting with it. Beer champions will cite beer's effervescence as a palate scrubber and flavor distributor, and the residual sweetness in beer as a stronger complement to most foods. Even it comes to cheese, beer may reign supreme.
The most interesting paring featured at the class was the Duchesse de Bourgogne (a Flemish red ale) and a taleggio. On its own the cheese tasted of little more than funky milk fat, but a sip of tart beer, laced with a barnyard scent Engert describes as horse blanket, changed the cheese completely. Suddenly the taleggio had new complexities and nutty flavors were much more pronounced.
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It was a compelling lesson and one that's easy to recreate on your own. Central Market sells both the Duchesse beer and the oozy cheese (at a discount till Brewtopia ends), though the beer is wonderful on its own. The Duchesse de Bourgogne is also available by the bottle at the Meddlesome Moth.