Cheesemakers & Brewers Make Some Crafty Collaborations

By Ruth Miller

The popularity of pairing craft beer and artisanal cheese is exploding these days, and it was only a matter of time before their respective producers began to become even more intimately involved. Brewers and cheesemakers are developing a more symbiotic relationship; born of mutual admiration for a quality fermented product, that also just so happens to pair very well together. The next step was obvious: incorporate beer directly into the production of artisanal cheese for a truly collaborative product.

Here in Vermont, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to craft brewers and cheesemakers; with the highest per-capita rate of each. Our state agriculture department is constantly looking for ways to help market and cross-promote the two products to encourage sustainable agriculture and bring national attention to these high-quality foods.

The Vermont Brewers Association has worked to encourage this partnership by helping to adjust the state liquor law to allow for farmstead breweries that aim to echo the ideals of farmstead cheese production. It’s no wonder that cheesemakers and brewers find themselves at many of the same events showcasing their wares—it’s a complementary relationship with many shared values, aspirations, and often the same devotees.

Early Pioneers

Recently, we’ve seen cheesemakers approach local brewers to initiate a collaborative effort to make small-batch cheeses with local beers. Rogue Ales led the way in Oregon by forging a relationship with Rogue Creamery, (separately owned) and now we are starting to see the trend across the country.

Many types of cheese are enhanced by washing them with beer during the aging process; or actually incorporating beer into the cheese itself prior to fermentation. Harpoon Brewery was a leader on the East Coast when they began working with Cabot Cheese to produce a cheddar made with their flagship Pale Ale.

How Craft Beer is Used in the Cheesemaking Process

What does beer impart to a washed-rind cheese? Actually, not as much beer flavor as you may think. Most cheeses are aged at least 60 – 90 days, which is too long for some of the flavors we most often associate with beer to remain intact. Instead, a new flavor dynamic is created, as the beer is applied to the outer rind, which is made sturdy, but permeable from a soak in a salt brine.

Partway through the affinage, or ripening process, the cheese is periodically brushed with, or briefly dipped into a dilute beer solution. This establishes a colony of micro flora that encourages the bacterium already in place and at work in the ripening scenario, without overwhelming it.

Once again, a collaborative process (albeit on a microbial level) begins, and produces characteristics unique and favorable to that particular cheese. The funkier the beer—the more yeasts and bacteria that exist in it—the more interesting the results can be.

Craft Brewery & Cheesemaker Collaborations

Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY + Harpersfield Cheese, Jefferson, NY

This tiny dairy, just 20 miles from the brewery, washes their Tilsit-style Cave Aged Beer Cheese in the Abbey and Hennepin ales, and sells the cheese at the Ommegang retail store.

Hill Farmstead Brewery, Greensboro Bend, VT +Jasper Hill Farm, Greensboro, VT

When the cheesemakers at Jasper Hill Farm sought a local beer to wash their much-lauded Winnimere washed-rind cheese, they had to look no further than two miles down the road. The Phenomenology of Spirit Saison, produced by neighbor and brewer Shaun Hill, turned out to be the perfect partner. Hill Farmstead Brewery is Vermont’s first farmstead brewery, and is run from his family’s farm in Vermont’s rural Northeast Kingdom.

Willimantic Brewing Company, Willimantic, CT + Cato Corner Farm, Colchester, CT

At farmstead dairy Cato Corner Farm, their distinctive washed-rind cheese Hooligan comes in a mead-washed, wine-washed, and beer-washed version. Drunk Monk, the beer-washed cheese, is bathed with nearby Willimantic Brewing Co.’s Belgian ales.

Rogue Ales, Newport, OR + Rogue Creamery, Central Point, OR

As for cooked-curd cheeses like cheddars, beer is mixed into the curds before they are pressed and aged, which makes for more distinct beer-y flavors, and unique visual appeal. I’m reminded of the marbleized look of Rogue Creamery’s Stout Cheddar, which made with Rogue Ales’ Shakespeare Stout, and imparts a somewhat chocolately flavor—fantastic!

Otter Creek Brewing Company, Middlebury, VT + Grafton Village Cheese, Grafton, VT

Locally, we are seeing several new collaborations between cheesemakers and brewers. Otter Creek Brewing Company’s Quercus Vitus Humulus, an oak-aged American Strong Ale/Wine Hybrid, is used to make Grafton Village Cheese’s QVH Marinated Cheddar. The cheese won an American Cheese Society award at their annual competition in 2010. Following that successful collaboration, their Stovepipe Porter is now being used in the Beer-Washed Cheddar Truckle.

Rock Art Brewery, Morrisville, VT + Mt. Mansfield Creamery, Morrisville, VT

When a town is lucky enough to have a brewery and creamery, it would be a shame if the two didn’t collaborate. Mt. Mansfield Creamery often washes their French-style tomme, Inspiration, in the brewery’s Bock-Style Lager, Mountain Holidays in Vermont.

Trapp Family Lodge Brewery, Stowe, VT + Von Trapps Farmstead Dairy, Waitsfield, VT

Most recently, Von Trapps Farmstead Dairy has begun washing their Oma cheese (named for Grandmother Erika of that famous family) with Trapp Family Brewery’s Vienna Lager. The historic connections of the Austrian family, and its subsequent roots here in Vermont, made it ripe for collaboration. The brewery and the farmstead are located in two nearby, scenic mountain valleys, apropos of their shared alpine legacy.

As brewers and cheesemakers continue their respective craft and share the limelight at local festivals, tasting events, restaurants and competitions, I expect we will see more collaboration from them in the future. I, for one, am waiting with great anticipation, and will continue to support both in their creative efforts. I hope you will too!

Cheers to cheese and beers!

Photo © Rick Souders/Souders Studios

Ruth MillerRuth Miller, The Beer & Cheese Maven, hosts pairing events featuring craft beers and artisanal cheeses throughout New England. She is a homebrewer of 15 years, and a cheese-lover of a lifetime! Ruth has contributed articles to Montreal-based beer-zine Les Carnets de Ma Bière, and Brew Your Own. She has served as a consultant to her home-state Vermont Brewers Association, Vermont Cheese Council, and a variety of brewers, festivals, chefs and brewpubs.