Washing cheeses with beer or wine is an old European technique dating back to the Middle Ages, when Trappist monks
washed their cheese with beer to help preserve the rind; the bonus discovery was that this process also enhanced the flavor.
As you’ll learn, the cheeses don’t take on a boozy flavor, but the ales impart notes of their flavor profile, which brings out subtle nuances in the cheese that you could not get from simply nibbling cheese and washing it down with beer. From Minnesota to New Zealand, cheesemakers around the globe are experimenting with this centuries-old technique to create a modern day crop of new and funky collaborations.
Good Thunder – Alemar Cheese Company + Surly Brewing Company
Cheesemaker Keith Adams of Alemar Cheese Company was interested in creating a Reblochon
-style cheese, and the more he looked into it, the more he was drawn to beer. He approached Minnesota craft beer company Surly Brewing Company
; after completing a few small test batches with three different beers, the winner was Surly Bender
, an oatmeal brown ale that achieved the funk-umami balance Keith was looking for.
With each batch of Good Thunder containing 480 pieces, it’s a lengthy labor of love: after a week in the cool, moist ripening room, each piece of cheese is hand washed with a cheese cloth soaked in the beer brine solution, then scrubbed with a very small, soft bristled brush in order to create more abrasions for the solution to soak in. So what does this do to the cheese? Keith describes it thusly, “The wash produces an alchemy of flavors between the beer and cheese. By combining them, you end up with something altogether different than, say, tasting the cheese unwashed and drinking the beer at the same time.” If you’re in NYC, you can find Good Thunder at Aldo Sohm Wine Bar
, where a full piece of the funky, supple cheese is baked and served with crusty bread and accompaniments.
Clawhammer Ale Washed Jack – Cascade Creamery + Icicle Brewing Company
First off – a shout out to cheesemonger Brian Gilbert of Beecher’s Seattle
for helping me to uncover this Washingtonian gem. As with many creameries, it’s all about the milk for Cascade Creamery
, a small operation located in Leavenworth, Washington. All of their milk is sourced from Pride and Joy Dairy
in Granger, Washington, where the pasture-raised herd is made up of a mix of Jersey, Guernsey, and Swiss Brown cows, breeds that produce milk that has nearly twice the fat content of other breeds. The added fat in the butter-colored milk translates to the creamery’s signature caramel-colored paste and complexly flavored Monterey Jack-style cheeses.
Foregoing the usual wine washed cheeses, Cheesemaker Bill Brownlee experimented with a few local ales before landing on an IPA, which imparted a hoppy flavor and softening effect on the rind. “That little bit of a stinky, skunky flavor profile on the rind combined with the paste of the aged jack, we thought [it] was great.” A few years ago, they started making it with – fittingly enough – Boot Jack IPA
from award-winning brewery Icicle Brewing Company
. When the wheels come out of the molds, they are held at room temperature for a few days to let the rinds toughen up a bit. They’re then moved to the cave to age, where they get a daily dip in a full vat of the amber-hued IPA, until the rind takes on an amber color and tacky texture. The wheels are aged for as long as possible – the longer the better.
While most of the added flavor is on the cheese’s chewy rind, the ale and hops flavors are clearly present in the buttery, semi firm paste. So how did such a lovely, soft cheese get such a hard-sounding name? Clawhammer pays homage to Bill’s grandfather, a dairy farmer who back in the day used the clawhammer branding iron to brand all of his stock. For a modern spin on weeknight dinner classics, try a pretzel-encrusted chicken breast with Clawhammer cheese sauce, or fold it into a cheese chowder soup.
The Bomb – Bohemian Creamery + Russian River Brewery
At her Sebastopol, California-based Bohemian Creamery
, Lisa Gottreich started making an Epoisses
-style cheese with brevibacterium linens (the particular type of mold introduced to the cheese in the aging process) but found that it ammoniated the cheese really quickly and the bacteria was difficult to control. One day she went to grab a beer with a friend at Russian River Brewery
, just ten minutes from the creamery, where the description of Consecration
beer caught her eye. It wasn’t necessarily one she would choose to drink, but she liked that the dark ale was aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels; this got her thinking about tannins and their enzymatic qualities relative to the cheesemaking process.
It turns out that tannins do the exact job she needs them to – helping to break down the rind and penetrate the paste to create the exceptionally goopy and pungent cheese known as The Bomb. Batches are only made in colder months, sprayed once every three days (up to five days in winter) and tented in a plastic sheet to increase the humidity and activate the enzymes.
Throughout the cheesemaking process, the subtle hop-meets-tannins flavor of the beer gets incorporated into the cheese, harmoniously blending with the flavors and cultures of the goat-sheep milk blend to create its signature stinky flavor. “It’s not for shy people, that’s for sure,” admits Lisa.
India Pale Airedale – Whitestone Cheese Co. + Scott’s Brewery
New Zealand’s Whitestone Cheese Co.
lays claim to the first – and thus far, only – beer washed cheese in the country. After enjoying a cold one with the owners of Scott’s Brewery, they decided that craft beer and cheese made a perfect match and set about finding a way to combine the two. After several trials, they landed on mild Motueka hops, which are also used in Scott’s Brewery’s Pale Ale.
The hops are mixed into the curds of their full-bodied, tangy Airedale cheese prior to pressing; over time, the bitterness of the hops mellows out and imparts subtle floral and fruit notes to the Airedale’s inherent creaminess. CEO Simon Berry likes to add it to a burger for a “real zing” and also recommends grating it over a hot baked potato for a piquant effect.
A Cheese Named Sue – Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy + Oskar Blues Brewery
Colorado’s Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy
prides itself on making quirky, funky goat’s milk cheeses, but to understand A Cheese Named Sue
, you have to know a little something about Oskar Blues Brewery’s G’Knight
. This Imperial Red IPA was brewed in tribute to Gordon Knight
, a Colorado craft beer pioneer, Vietnam vet and local hero who died in 2002 fighting a wild fire in the area. A Cheese Named Sue, washed in G’Knight, is named for his widow, Sue Knight, who used to work on Haystack’s farm; since Haystack gets all of their milk from the Colorado State Prison, it’s also a subtle nod to Johnny Cash.
During the washing process, the beer helps to cultivate the bacteria and develop a complex buttery-yet-floral flavor profile, boasting notes of hops and buttered toast and a barnyard-y aroma. So what should one drink with it? Director of Sales and Marketing John Scaggs says, “Try it with a nice, frosty Oskar Blues G’Knight – don’t overthink it. This cheese in particular also really loves floral IPAs.” Haystack hopes for more beer collaborations in the future – John is personally crushing on Left Hand Brewing
company whose ethos for small-batch, funky beers matches their own.
Raspberry BellaVitano – Sartori Cheese + Raspberry Tart Ale
At Sartori Cheese
, a Wisconsin-based fourth-generation family owned and operated dairy, Master Cheesemaker Mike Matucheski and his team have an award-winning beer washed cheese on their hands. To make their Raspberry BellaVitano, they take their aged fruity-nutty BellaVitano Gold cheese
, soak it in Raspberry Tart Ale from a local microbrewery (they don’t wash and tell!), and age it for another year. The ale’s fresh raspberry aroma comes through on the nose, which gives way to a jammy pineapple flavor upon tasting. The cheese’s light, sweet flavor is perfectly suited to pairing with Belgian sour beers, Riesling wine, or even stuffed into French toast
. How’s that for a boozy brunch idea?
Drunk Monk – Cato Corner Farm + Willimantic Brewing Co.
As their brine-washed Hooligan cheeses gained a devoted following among stinky cheese lovers, Cato Corner
began experimenting with other washes to expand their line-up. They started making a few wheels a month with a bottled Belgian-style beer, then looked to find a local Connecticut brewery to work with. The stars aligned with Willimantic Brewing
and Drunk Monk was christened.
Cheesemaker Heather Shepheard selects from Willimantic’s seasonal ales: red and brown ales in the spring and fall, Barleywine in the winter, and Saisons in summer. Despite their mischievous-sounding name, the Hooligan family of cheeses is the most delicate. Washing the young, soft cheeses with beer imparts some of the hoppy flavors, but most notably, it changes the surface ecology of the cheese – the mix of cultures that colonize the rind and the nutrients available to them. Since soft cheeses ripen from the outside in, the surface ecology really develops the cheese’s character – in this case, a pungent, ripe and righteous cheese, indeed. Heather’s go-to snack is a lightly toasted slice of seeded rye, smeared with Drunk Monk, then lightly smeared with habanero jam.
Naughty Nellie Ale Cheese – River Valley Cheese + Pike Brewery
River Valley Cheese
’s reputation precedes itself. During a fortuitous Saturday at the University District Farmer’s Market back in 2006, the owners of Pike Brewery
approached Cheesemaker Julie Steil and invited her to sample their beer and tasked her with the challenge of coming up with a cheese-beer collaboration.
Julie enlisted her beer-loving husband to help taste several different varieties of beer; both felt strongly about Pike Naughty Nellie ale
, both for its subtle malt character and cheeky name. Julie decided that using the ale in the curd washing process of their raw milk Tomme – following a semi-Gouda recipe – would make a phenomenal cheese (she was right). As Julie describes it, in Gouda, you literally wash the curds twice with the cheesemaker's well water – here she replaces the well water with the golden English-style ale, which gives their cheese a light barley flavor. Try it on top of burgers at your next cookout or add some to jazz up your weekday turkey sandwich.
L'Ottavio – Caseificio Fiandino + Local Dark Beer
Magnificent. This is the word Mario Flandino, Principal and family member of Italy’s Caseificio Fiandino
, uses to describe the flavor epiphany he experienced when pairing one of his own Piedmontese cheeses with cult Italian artisan beer maker Baladin
. He knew he had to find a way to combine the two, but the beer’s inherent bitterness threatened to overpower the cheese. “For this reason we decided to mix barley into the paste as it has notes of honey as well as a slight aroma and flavor of coffee, which combines so well with milk and cream,” Mario explained.
L’Ottavio is a raw cow’s milk cheese coagulated with thistle flower; it's now washed with a local dark beer, and both the barley and the beer are mixed into the beer, and then the cheese itself gets washed three separate times with beer and malt. Each side must properly dry before washing the other. In addition to imparting its signature toasted notes, the ground up malted barley is evident in the paste’s caramel-hued flecks; don’t forget to eat the rind along with it for maximum flavor. Fortunately, you can your hands on it state side
Hopyard Cheddar – Rogue Creamery + Rogue Ales
As their company names might imply, the guys at Rogue – Creamery
– have always done things a little differently and ahead of their time. The collaboration between the two happened organically, but in 2004 the timing felt especially right for taking beer and cheese pairings next level.
Rogue Creamery employed a rigorous Organoleptic tasting procedure (utilizing all of the senses) to find the ideal ales to incorporate directly into their handmade, hand-milled cheddar cheeses. Savory-sweet Chocolate Stout Cheddar
debuted in 2004, followed by toasty-buckwheat Morimoto Soba Ale Cheddar
in 2007. In 2009 they took things even further by working closely with Rogue Ales on the specific hops and making cheese with six different varieties before selecting Freedom Hops (grown on Chatoe Rogue Hop Farm
) to make their Hopyard Cheddar
. The cheddar curd is bathed with the beer in their traditional cheddar making process, a method that has been perfected (and closely guarded) over the last 80 years. The vat is then cut, the curds salted and rolled with hop blossom petals before being pressed into blocks and aged for six months. The hop petals in the IPA lend herbaceous aromas and delicate floral notes; combined with the buttery curd, it yields cheddar that tastes of sweet brown butter and hazelnuts. It's no wonder Rogue Creamery calls Hopyard “an IPA malted milk shake,” and no secret that it makes the most ridiculously good grilled cheese. Going Rogue never felt so right.