Beer and Cheese Pairings

On a recent evening, we challenged ourselves to put together a tasting comparison between California and Wisconsin cheeses and beers. We’re happy to share our pairings below.

1st course: Clock Shadow Creamery Maple Quark on whole grain rye toasts

Originating in Germany, this fresh, soft cheese tastes like a mix of soft goat cheese and ricotta. We served the Maple Syrup Quark on whole grain rye toasts, consistent with the German heritage and matched it with a traditional German brew, Ale Asylum’s Unshadowed. A Hefeweizen style brewed in Madison, Wisconsin, it was a very nice, bright, citrusy opening to the evening.

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2nd course: Cypress Grove Midnight Moon goat cheese and Columbus herb salami along with Sartori Limited Edition Extra-Aged Goat cheese and landjaeger dried sausage

Aged at least six months, an ivory-colored cheese with a lovely smooth texture, nutty and a slight caramel finish. Only after we selected this cheese did we discover it is made in Holland for Cypress Grove, which is based in California. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was a perfect example of this Dutch classic, with an extra bit of complexity from goat’s milk. We paired it with a traditional San Francisco salami with herbs. Our beer pairing was Ballast Point Calico, English Pale Ale brewed in San Diego, California. One of my personal favorite combinations of the evening.

We had a direct side-by-side comparison for this course, with Sartori’s Extra-Aged Goat. The aging has enhanced its caramel notes and created a dense, dry texture with some mild crystallization. We paired this with a traditional dried, European-style sausage from Wisconsin and a big, bold red ale. Lakefront Fixed Gear is a Red IPA brewed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the additional hops creates a lovely complement to the grassy flavors a goat cheese can bring to the party.


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3rd course: Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog goat cheese

In this Cypress Grove offering, we’re getting the tang of a goat cheese, similar to the flavors of buttermilk with floral and herbal overtones. As it matures,  the area closest to the rind gets softer and develops a more intense flavor, perfect for the big flavors in a classic West Coast IPA. We choose Lagunitas IPA, an India Pale Ale brewed in Petaluma, California. For some of the guests, these flavors were a bit too much, but together, these partners danced beautifully. The bitter hops of the IPA tamed the tang of the ripe goat cheese. Surprising…in the nicest way.

4th course: Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam with house-made California Golden Fig spread

A smooth and creamy triple-cream cheese made with organic milk, Mt Tam is firm, yet buttery with a mellow, earthy flavor. The mouth feel is luscious. We served it on almond thins with a house-made golden fig paste. We paired this with barley-wine flavors found in Ale Smith’s Grand Cru brewed in San Diego, California. Though they complemented each other well, a contrasting flavor may have brought more interest. A previous pairing with Cracked Wheat from New Glarus Brewing worked very well. The Grand Cru is a great, Belgian-style beer, but not our favorite pairing.

5th course: Hook’s Blue Paradise and Wisconsin Honeycomb

This is a double cream blue with a smooth, creamy texture that simply melts in your mouth. We doubled the decadence by adding a bit of honeycomb and then provided a perfect set of contrasting flavors in the big, malty, sour fruit beer – Serendipity from New Glarus Brewing in New Glarus, Wisconsin. We’ve done this combination before and it is a show-stopper, which is why we place it here to finish the evening.  The creamy rich flavors of the cheese are both accentuated and then washed away in the big tart flavors of the beer.

Overall, it was a successful evening and fun exploration of the many ways the flavors of cheeses and beers can dance together. We invite to make your own music.

In Praise of Pumpkins

Pumpkins are simply a uniquely identifiable type of winter squash, indigenous to America, and now a globally recognized symbol of autumn. The flavors of winter squash can vary from relatively bland to rich and buttery. They can also take on vegetal qualities similar to summer squashes, such as zucchini. Pureed or roasted, they provide a wonderful canvas for experimentation and are one of the few foods that we enjoy in America equally in savory and sweet preparations. In the spirit of experimentation, the following are few approaches we’ve enjoyed so far this autumn.

Pumpkin Squash Soup
Our garden provided an abundance of pumpkins, ripening into their characteristic oranges just as the weather turned cold. We decided to supplement the home-grown pumpkins with a couple winter squash varietals, Butternut and Golden Nugget from the Wisconsin Co-op.


After splitting the squash, we removed the seeds, and then oven-roasted them skin side up, adding a cup of water and ¼ cup of maple syrup to the roasting pan. When the squash were tender, they were allowed to cool and scraped out of the skins. In a large stock-pot, we combined the squash flesh with 2 cups of chicken broth, the pan liquids, and then pureed smooth with a hand blender. We added almond milk to add a bit of sweetness and achieve a lighter soup. Seasonings included a lovely mix from Penzey’s Spices called BBQ 3001, which includes paprika, mustard, ginger, cinnamon and other spices and then added an additional bit of smoked black pepper. We topped each bowl with candied pumpkin seeds, with the same seasonings, to add a bit of textural contrast. A rich and warming opening to a late season meal.


Pumpkin Pierogi
A recent lunch at La Merenda in Milwaukee, WI, featured a number of innovative small plate offerings. Chef Peter Sandroni has long done a wonderful job with the global fusion approach to small plate dining, and we applaud his efforts to showcase local farm products. A recent offering fits solidly in our description of Great Lakes Cuisine – an innovative adaptation of a local, ethnic tradition featuring local, seasonal products. Pierogis are a traditional Eastern European dish, brought to the Great Lakes region with the wave of immigrants in the late 1800s, typically made with a picture of potatoes, cabbage, and ground meats in an unleavened dough wrapped dumpling.


Chef Sandroni plays with the traditional fillings by featuring heirloom pumpkin puree with purple potatoes, kale, and cream cheese. The perfectly prepared dumplings were topped with Sartori SarVecchio parmesan, salted maple butter and sprinkled with dried cranberries, roasted pecans, and fried sage.

Pumpkin Cupcake
The pumpkins in the garden were the choice of my daughter, and the pumpkin cupcakes were hers as well. She baked dense, moist cupcakes and then topped them with a salted caramel butter cream frosting. The home-made caramel was just slightly over-cooked, which added just a hint of bitterness. It turned out to be a happy accident, the caramel added additional complexity and interest to a frosting that otherwise would have been too sweet. Just a few crystals of sea salt on top was the perfect touch.


Pumpkin Pancakes
A bit of leftover pumpkin puree made its way into pancakes the next morning for breakfast. We still had apple butter left from a previous harvest feast and combined 2 parts to 1 with the home-made caramel – Caramel Apple Butter. A perfect way to start an autumn week-end. A perfect example of Great Lakes Cuisine.