Say artisan cheese, say craft beer, please!

Craft beer and artisan cheese: A pairing made in grain.

When I think of cheese pairings, my mind immediately goes to wine: the two are a classic combination. Apparently, mine is not the only brain that works this way. At a beer and cheese tasting held at Black Creek Pioneer Village, one attendee admitted, “I never would have thought to pair beer with cheese”. Though it may be a less-obvious pairing, under the expert guidance of Julia Rogers, I learned cheese and beer can complement one another beautifully.

“Cheese and wine is such a known pairing, it has become a single word, cheeseandwine,” Julia said. “But I am more nervous when pairing cheese with wine. Cheese and beer work together every time.”

Julia explained that cheese and beer make sense together because they share a common origin: beer is made from grain (usually barley), and grain is one of the main foods consumed by dairy animals. This common source can be detected when tasting both cheeses and beers.

But being in a historical replica village, we, the tasters, had to go through a lesson on the history of beer in Canada before we got to test Rogers’s theories.

Black Creek Pioneer Village is set in the 1860s, and so our lesson focused on the state of the beer industry at that time. Many of the big-name Canadian brews lining liquor store shelves today got their start in the 19th century, including Labatt’s, Alexander Keith’s, and Sleeman’s.

These early brewers were part of the upper echelons of Canadian society, dabbling in politics, banking, and business, and they helped to build much of the country’s infrastructure at that time, including schools, churches, and banks. As my tasting companion remarked with awe, “Canada was built on beer.”

Black Creek Brewery: Crafting beer the way Canadians did in the 1860s.

Black Creek Pioneer Village opened its own traditional brewery in June 2009. The beers are made as they would have been in the mid-nineteenth century. They are not carbonated, and are served at room temperature directly from the oak barrels in which they are aged. We sampled three of Black Creek’s beers: a brown ale, a porter ale, and an India Pale Ale.

Though initially I was repulsed by the warm, flat beer, my tastebuds gradually became accustomed to the style, and I grew to appreciate the simplicity of the traditional brews and the purity of their taste. The porter ale, a dark beer with notes of coffee and chocolate, was my favourite of Black Creek’s offerings.

After finishing our samples, we were finally introduced to the evening’s cheese selection. Rogers had come with five pairings: four Ontario cheeses matched with Ontario craft beers, and one Quebec cheese and beer pairing.

Julia explained there are different ways of creating a pairing. You can pair by the ‘weight’ of the two (such as a heavy-tasting beer with a strong cheese), by common flavours and aromas, or by regional and historical commonalities.

The first pairing was a Stracchino from Quality Cheese matched with Mill Street Brewery’s Lemon Tea Ale.  The two worked nicely together, as the bread flavours present in the wheat beer paired well with the yeasty, tangy Italian-style cheese.

Our second selection included Niagara Gold, a Guernsey cow milk tome made by Upper Canada Cheese Company, and Black Oak Saison Ale. As the name would suggest, Saison is a seasonal beer, brewed at the close of the traditional brewing season, in March. It’s a refreshing beer with flavours of citrus and spice. The Niagara Gold, a savoury, buttery cheese, paired well with it, muting some of the stronger spice notes in the beer.

We then reached the Quebec pairing of Chevre Noir, a goat’s milk cheddar, with Rose d’Hibiscus, a flavoured wheat beer crafted by the Dieu du Ciel microbrewery. The attractive rose-coloured beer is sweet on the nose but has an acidic taste which comes from the hibiscus flowers added during the brewing process. The pairing was suggested by the brewer himself, and the man clearly knows his cheese as well as his beer. The tangy Chevre Noir was powerful enough to stand up to the strong-flavoured brew.

Tasting companion: In truth, my brother Mike.

My tasting companion’s favourite pairing was the fourth, Jensen Cheese’s 3-year cheddar with Railway City Brewery’s Dead Elephant India Pale Ale. It was a bold pairing; the 6.8 % ale had strong flavours of grapefruit and hops that were complemented by the zesty, creamy cheddar. My tasting companion had nothing but praise for the pair, and he wondered aloud where he could buy each.

The final match was my favourite: Ewenity Dairy’s Brebette sheep’s milk cheese and Black Creek’s own porter ale. The fresh-tasting, bloomy rind cheese had a velvety texture. Rogers served it with a homemade fig and dark chocolate jam. The porter paired perfectly with the cheese and the sweet spread. Beer often pairs better with desserts and sweets than wine, further proof of the beverage’s versatility.

As the evening wound down, the last of the cheese was eaten while Julia chatted with her students. Meanwhile, my tasting companion, never one to be shy, requested a second glass of the Railway City IPA, and as he savoured his brew, he vowed to create his own pairings at home.

—Phoebe Powell

Phoebe Powell, a roving reporter for, last wrote about a Canadian grilled-cheese throw-down.

Good cheese hunting: Day 11, kicking back in Montreal

Lest you think we’re slacking off in the good cheese hunt, here’s a look at what’s in our portable cheese bin at the moment, clockwise starting from the upper left:

For the next few days, as we get down to serious sight-seeing in Montreal, we might drop out of sight as far as the blog goes. Besides, we need to munch our way through the cheeses shown above. After all, the cheese hunt will start again with a bang when we hit Warwick on Thursday for Festival des Fromages de Warwick.

Tonight, it was bistro night in our suite at Holiday Inn Express in downtown Montreal. A few mouthfuls of a rich smoked salmon, a chunk of Balderson 3-year, a chunk of the great Celtic Blue, and a chunk of unsalted butter with the fresh baguette. The vin rouge was a no-name from France that we found at the neighbourhood IGA for under $10.

A final note: During a visit to Dairy Farmers of Canada, it was most encouraging to learn how DFC promotes Canadian cheese in so many different ways.

Getting to know goat’s-milk cheese with Julia

Julia Rogers offers a sampling of goat cheese to her class at Leslieville Cheese Market.

A great way to become familiar with any type of cheese is to spend an evening discussing its history, production, and taste while nibbling on prime examples. This I learned while attending Julia Rogers’ Night School for Cheese Fans class on goat cheese which she delivered to a packed house of 20 at the Leslieville Cheese Market (East) on Thursday.

While I would classify myself as a cheese fan, I am more likely to show my appreciation by devouring large amounts of the stuff than by carefully contemplating the smell, taste and texture of a cheese. Julia taught me the error of my ways as we ate our way through five goat cheeses and discussed each one individually.

Learning the history and the specifics of the cheesemaking process helped to build an appreciation for the cheese that went beyond the pleasure of eating it. I was impressed to learn goat cheese made its way to France in the eighth century, and was produced at almost all family farms. It seems everyone had a goat or two kicking around the farm, and families took advantage of this by churning out their own cheeses.

As a cheese-tasting neophyte, I benefited greatly from the guidance of an expert. Julia suggested subtle undertones that could be detected in each cheese, and encouraged students to concentrate while tasting, in order to discover delicate flavours on their own. Her expertise was also helpful in suggesting suitable wine and beer pairings for each cheese, as well as dishes that could be improved by the addition of a goat’s-milk cheese.

I was amazed to discover how much cheese appreciation has in common with wine tasting. Where I would normally pop a piece of cheese into my mouth without much thought, Julia insisted I give attention to the nose, texture and acidity of each goat cheese. This certainly helped to enhance my enjoyment of the cheese.

We sampled cheeses from France, Holland and Canada, and I am pleased to say my favourite was Chevre Noir from Chesterville, Quebec, an 18-month-old tangy cheese. I was surprised to learn it was a goat’s-milk cheddar. Before the class, I hadn’t realized goat’s milk could be used in a variety of cheese types, including cheddar and blue.

The history of goat cheese in Quebec was interesting to learn, mainly because it is such a short history. Goat cheese production didn’t take off in the region until the early 1980s. Prior to that, goat’s milk was primarily produced for hospitals, where it was fed to premature babies whose underdeveloped digestive systems were better able to process the small fat molecules present in goat’s milk.

When the tasting was complete and the wine had run dry, many students hung around to ask Julia their cheese-related questions. My tasting companion and I chose to press ourselves through the crowd to the cheese counter, where we took advantage of the 10-per cent-discount offered to attendees by snapping up three goat cheeses. And a new batch of goat cheese lovers was born.

—Phoebe Powell

Phoebe Powell recently returned to Toronto after traveling for three months across Asia where she found few opportunities to sample cheese.