Would You Like Some Cheese with That Beer?
Greg Engert, the only beer expert ever to be named Sommelier of the Year in 2010 by Food and Wine Magazine, first got his interest in fine craft beers from his father. After he studied abroad in Munich and Dublin, his taste for international brewing developed. Engert now works with chefs to pair foods with beers and strives to promote the seriousness of beer in a wine-centric world. He was at Central Market's Cooking School Saturday evening to teach a Beer, Cheese, and the Confluence of Flavor class.
Photo by LexnGer on Flickr
Engert, a gregarious man with a lot to say, bedazzled, if not bewildered, his students with his infinite beer knowledge. Upon arrival, each class member received an 18-page packet denoting all the beers and cheeses to be tried that evening. A plate with eight cheeses was set on the table along with eight beer samples, each served in a wine glass conducive to swirling and smelling. "Friction and movement," said Engert, "causes heat, and this heat sends up the aroma." He also noted that temperature was an important part of aroma -- the lighter the beer, the more chilled it can be served, but as beers become more complex and thus richer on the palate, they should be served at warmer temperatures.
To Engert, a good beer has to taste amazing at the start, in the middle, and at the finish. But in the end, he said, it's all a matter of preference. He paired the eight beers and eight cheeses in a particular order but encouraged cross-tasting and flavor exploration. After all, food, like art, is often a matter of taste, and this down-to-earth attitude made him immediately likable.
According to Engert, beers are no longer classified by region (i.e. Belgian beers can now be made in the U.S.) because grains can be stored and shipped. Instead, Engert categorizes beers by type and/or taste.
Category: Tart and funky
Beer: Duchesse de Bourgogne
The Duchesse de Bourgogne, which tasted sweet, almost like champagne, is a Flemish red ale aged for 18 months in oak barrels. Tart and funky beers go well with wash rind cheeses, and the Italian Taleggio is a semi-soft, fatty cheese made of whole cow's milk.
Beer: Stone Smoked Porter
Cheese: San Simon Smoked Cheddar
The smoked porter tasted rich, deep, and roasted, almost like coffee. In addition to pairing well with meat and chocolate, the smoked porter is naturally a match for smoked cheeses. The Spanish San Simon smoked cheddar is a semi-firm, cow's milk cheese smoked after production. Smoked cheese was long ago discovered when heat was used to keep away flies; nearby foods were caught in the incidental smoke and soaked up that woody flavor. Brewing used to be outlawed during the summer because heat increased the likelihood of infection. Thus in order to prepare for winter, grains were dried over the fire, and this was the birth of smoked beers.
Category: Mildly fruity and spicy
Beer: St. Arnold Weedwacker
A Houston brew similar to the Bavarian hefeweizen, The Weedwacker from St. Arnold is a sweeter, less bitter beer made fruity and spicy with top-fermenting yeast. Because Weedwacker is a more refreshing beer, it pairs well with a cheese that's only slightly funky, such as the Bucheron, an aged goat's milk cheese. The aging process gives the outside a soft, brie-like texture, while the inside is tangy and slightly drier. Bucheron is one of the first French cheeses to ever be imported to the U.S.
Category: Intensely fruity and spicy
Beer: Boulevard Sixth Glass
Cheese: Humboldt Fog
The Sixth Glass is a full-bodied beer with a rich, caramel malty flavor. It is fruitier and spicier than the Weedwacker. It was paired with the American Humboldt Fog, a soft, ripened, goat's milk cheese.