A few weeks ago we were invited to a special cheese and beer matching evening at Meantime’s Brewery’s The Old Brewery bar and restaurant.
Located in the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich (just a minute’s walk from the Cutty Sark), the setting is really beautiful. In the bar, exposed brick walls and vaulted brick ceilings create a cosy but modern space. In the enormously high-ceilinged restaurant, walls are decorated with informative flow charts on the beer making process, a modern work of art created from thousands of empty beer bottles hangs above diners’ heads and eyes are drawn to the eight scrupulously polished copper clad brewing tuns ranged in three rows along one of the end walls.
There’s a long history of brewing on the site, so it’s good to know that these are not just for display. This is a working micro-brewery – Meantime’s founder and brew master, Alastair Hook, along with Rod Jones, head brewer at The Old Brewery, experiment with a wide range of beers from trialling potential new lines to creating limited editions and having fun with some unusual styles, including wild beer, brewed using non-conventional yeasts.
For this event, Rod Jones was joined by Jayne Peyton from the School of Booze and Patricia Michaelson from La Fromagerie. Between them they gave us an introduction to beer and cheese matching, presented a cheese and beer menu for the evening meal, and did a more focused beer and cheese tasting after the meal.
The canapés (gougeres, cheese sables and parmesan crisps) were served during the introductory talk before the meal.
Rod’s first point was that, whilst people seem to think beer and food matching is a new and trendy thing, pretentious even, and that wine is the traditional match for cheese and food in general, this is a very recent phenomenon. He said that only a couple of generations ago, it was far more normal to have a beer with the Sunday roast, as his grandfather did, than a bottle of wine. Rod lead us down memory lane, reminding us that this was reflected on telly too – in the 1960s sitcom On The Buses, when bus driver Reg’s mum offered him a cup of tea with his steak and kidney pie, he quickly told her that it was a pint of stout that went best with steak and kidney! In ‘Til Death Do Us Part, it was pale ale that Alf Garnett had with his Christmas dinner.
We also learned that there’s a good reason beer works well with food – the effect of carbonation in our mouth is a mechanical scrubbing or cleansing of the palate. Dry hops do something similar. So beer helps bring out the flavours of the food, rather than disguise them, as wine can sometimes do.
Jayne gave us some advice for matching beer to food and suggested there were three possible ways to go.
1) Choose a beer that cuts through the food – for example a crisp pilsner and fish and chips.
2) Choose a beer that compliments the food – for example cheddar and barley wine, both rich, nutty, grainy flavours.
3) Choose a beer that contrasts with the food – for example creamy, chocolaty stout and salty, slippery oysters.
I also liked Jayne’s aside that the term ‘beer belly’ to describe the peculiarly rounded belly that’s afflicts more men than women is almost universal, in so many languages, the word ‘beer ‘ is involved.
Pete and I didn’t agree with all the matches, but the point of the exercise was to encourage the audience to give beer more of a chance when it comes to food and drinks matching, and to find their own preferred matches.
The first course once we’d transferred to our tables, was grilled Crottin de Chavignol goat’s cheese, orange and thyme honey, hazelnut and oat crunch, dressed baby herbs paired with Saison 1900.
The dish itself was delicious. Creamy, soft and salty goat’s cheese against sweet, crunchy hazelnuts. Gentle but appealing flavours.
Pete’s verdict was that whilst he could see that they’d chosen the Saison 1900 to cut through the distinctive sticky goatiness, he felt a much bigger beer such as a tripel or barley wine would have worked better, or possibly a sweeter, floral beer.
Next came roast Welsh lamb saddle stuffed with ricotta, dried apricots and pine nuts, creamed mash potato, sauteed cepes, buttered spinach and roasting juices which was matched to Meantime IPA.
The flavour of the lamb was absolutely fantastic, rich, sweet and meaty. Unfortunately, the cooking resulted in a thick layer of unpleasant, flabby fat and lots of stringy bits. The cheese aspect of the stuffing didn’t really come through at all in terms of flavour; the ricotta was little more than a binder for the apricot, in my opinion. The mash was oddly grainy, the texture of Smash, but the taste of real potato. The mushrooms were the best thing on the plate.
Pete felt that the IPA was too big a beer for the dish, certainly it didn’t bring out the reticent ricotta cheese, nor did it really enhance the lamb or mushrooms. He posited that it would work better with a more robust and rich dish, such as venison with a dark, fruit sauce.
For dessert, we were served raspberry cheesecake, frozen berries, hot white chocolate sauce. The beer match was Rodenbach Grand Cru.
For me, this felt like two separate desserts, the crunchy frozen berries with hot but quickly setting white chocolate and basil leaves worked on its own, and was the best element on the plate. The cheesecake was OK.
The beer was unusual. For me, it smelled like tomato ketchup. Pete was strongly reminded of cough medicine. How did it go with the pudding? Pete found that it cut through the sweet, rich white chocolate extremely well but that it didn’t really work with the sharper berries or the tanginess of the cheesecake. With a full-on sweet pudding, it would have been a winner, but he wasn’t convinced that it went with this plate.
After the main meal, we had a bit of a wait before the cheese plates and associated beers arrived.
Although I’m not a beer drinker, I thought some of these matches worked very well, in terms of the way the beer modified the taste of the cheese and vice versa. Pete liked the matches less, though again, it got him thinking on which beers he might choose to match with the same cheeses.
Chabichou is a soft but firm goat’s milk cheese with a slightly crumbly rind and had lovely nutty fresh citrus flavours. I liked the Blonde de Bruxelles match; its light, tangy, milk taste complimented the cheese well.
Soumaintrain is a proper smelly feet cheese, with an orange Annatto-washed rind. It’s very rich, creamy, intensely flavoured, very meaty savoury umami. The Williams Brothers Alba was, for me, an excellent match. The cheese brought out a real sweetness in the beer, like toffee apples and treacle.
Fribourg d’Estive Grand Reserve is a classic Gruyere with the familiar salty and sweet nuts and caramel flavour and grainy texture. I absolutely hated the Stone Brewing Old Guardian Barley Wine with it, as I felt it completely overwhelmed the cheese and make everything taste unpleasantly sour and off.
Abbaye de Trois Vaux is one of few cheeses I couldn’t warm to, probably because it has a distinctly bitter taste. Made by nuns at the abbey, the cheese has a dark red-brown rind from washing in local beer. The beer match was Chimay Red, which is hoppy, yeasty and fruity, also with bitter tones. Pete liked how the two bitter flavours complemented each other. For me, I liked neither.
Blue de Causses is what Patricia described as a ‘gutsy’ blue, very salty, very strong, slightly grainy in texture. The 10% ABV Durham Brewery Temptation was way too strong for me, on it’s own, but the blue cheese drew out sweetness and coffee flavours in the beer. I thought this match very interesting, as both the beer and the cheese really changed the flavour of the other.
The Old Brewery runs regular beer and food nights, so check their calendar for upcoming dates.
Kavey Eats dined as guests of Meantime London.