Cheese on toast. Grilled cheese sandwiches. Welsh rarebit. These classic combinations of browned bread and creamy cheese can help explain why dark beers, characterized by toasty, sometimes burned notes, are traditionally paired with cheeses, especially soft, intensely flavored ones. But the world of beers, like that of cheeses, is immense, and the variety of delicious pairings endless. Curious to learn about some new possibilities? Come to Cheese: Our Master of Food courses on the subject will astonish and delight. In the meantime, let’s take a little tour around Italy—with a small diversion to England—to explore some unexpected but delicious pairings.
Lombardy – Heritage Bitto & O.G. 1085 from Birra del Carrobiolo, Monza
A symbol of Lombardy’s rich cheesemaking traditions, Bitto is a cheese with a long history and a remarkable aptitude for aging. Made only in the summer months, Presidium rules specify a minimum aging of 12 months, but some forms age for up to 10 years. Along with butter, buckwheat and Savoy cabbage, Bitto is an essential ingredient in the Valtellina’s flagship dish, pizzoccheri. The softness of master brewer Pietro Fontana’s trippel, O.G. 1085, with its sweet notes of cereals and honey, rich fragrance and easy drinkability despite a high alcohol content (9%), makes it the ideal pairing for this intensely flavorful cheese.
Piedmont – Montebore & Rat Weizen from Birrificio Montegioco, Montegioco
This unusual little wedding-cake-shaped cheese has an ancient history. Named after a village in the Curone Valley, according to legend the cheese was being used as a bribe as far back as the 12th century, when a rich citizen of Tortona sent 50 cheeses to a high-ranking prelate to plead for the promotion of his priest brother. The cheese is made from raw milk, a mix of 75% cow’s and 25% sheep’s, and can be sold fresh, semi-aged for 15 days or hard, for grating. The weizen made by Riccardo Franzosi is light and extremely easy to drink, thanks to its subtle acidity. The typical scents of banana and yellow fruit are quite restrained and pair excellently with the milky notes of the cheese.
Veneto – Aged Asiago and Audace from 32 Via dei Birrai, Pederobba
Up in the Altopiano dei Sette Comuni (the “plateau of the seven municipalities”) they know that the best cheese is made “north of the belltower,” in other words up in the mountains, using milk from cows that have grazed in the Alpine meadows. Just a dozen mountain dairies still make PDO aged Asiago from June to September only, aging it for at least 18 months. The cheese’s sweet, herbaceous, nutty notes are perfectly matched to the ripe yellow fruit and almonds found in Fabiano Toffoli’s Audace. The beer has an antique gold color and a soft scent, through which the high alcohol level (8.5%) becomes apparent. But thanks to a very dry finish, the beer is very pleasant to drink.
Campania – Agerola Fior di Latte & Lemon Ale from Karma, Alvignano
Fior di latte (a type of mozzarella) made in the Lattari mountains, in the province of Naples, has two special characteristics. The first is that cheesemakers use raw milk, some of it from prized Agerolese cows, the rest from Friesians. The second unusual feature is that the curd is stretched at night. Acidification, during which the curd acquires the bacterial flora that are indispensable for the product’s flavor, occurs naturally, and lasts for 12 hours, giving the cheese its unique character. Mario Cipriano, the master brewer at Karma, makes the most of the region’s local lemons in this refreshing blonde ale, a highly original Campanian reinterpretation of a British brewing tradition. Its distinctive citrus scents pair perfectly with the milky sweetness of the mozzarella.
United Kingdom – Traditional Stilton & Stout from Titanic Brewery, Stoke-on-Trent
A raw-milk blue cheese, known as “the king of cheeses,” Stilton is made in cylindrical molds that give it its characteristic elongated shape. During aging, the cheese is perforated to allow the characteristic blue mold to develop. The Bott brothers’ brewery produces one of the best interpretations of stout, with a light body and intense, bright notes of cacao, chocolate, coffee and toasted hazelnut, making the perfect pairing for the intensity, savoriness and creaminess of one of the flagships of British cheesemaking.
Want to discover more unusual and mouthwatering pairings? Come to Cheese, in Bra from September 20 to 23! See the program and book events at cheese.slowfood.it/en/