"We have a lot of flavors to work with imparted from the grains, but also from the hops," said the 45-year-old beermaker, flavors like caramel, coffee, and chocolate that result from the roasting of the barley; grassy, tangy, and citrusy flavors from the hops; and banana and clove flavors, among others, imparted by certain yeasts. While wine can only contrast with cheese, Oliver continued, beer can contrast and complement.
"And beer has another weapon: carbonation – scrubbing bubbles," Oliver explained excitedly. "Cheese coats the tongue so you can't really taste the wine, but beer scrubs the tongue" leaving the palate clean and able to taste all the flavors of the beer and the cheese.
Oliver collaborated with Matt Jennings, co-owner of the Farmstead cheese shop and La Laiterie gastropub in Providence, and Dennis D'Amico of the University of Vermont to choose four Vermont cheeses to pair with four ales. Bonne Bouche, an ash-coated semisoft goat cheese from Vermont Butter & Cheese Company went with Local 1, a Belgian-style strong golden ale from Brooklyn Brewery; Ascutney Mountain, an alpine-style raw cow's milk cheese from Cobb Hill Cheese, with Old Brown Dog Ale, an English-style brown ale from Smuttynose Brewing in Portsmouth, N.H.; Brother Laurent, a cow's milk washed-rind French Muenster-style cheese from Green Mountain Blue Cheese, with Seigneuriale, a strong amber ale from Unibroue in Quebec; and Bayley Hazen Blue, a raw cow's milk blue cheese from Jasper Hill Farms, with Shakespeare Stout, an American stout from the Rogue brewery in Oregon.
As Oliver and Jennings described the characteristics of each cheese and beer, the cheese-centric crowd nibbled and sipped. Many heads could be seen nodding in appreciation, and many oohs and ahs drifted through the room. Later Jennings, who began his career as a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, made a trenchant statement about how beer and cheese work together: "It's really the only way to go," he said. "It's a much more natural fit ((than wine))."
Jane Sakovitz-Dale, editor of the Vermont Cheese Council newsletter, said that though she isn't a beer drinker, she thought the pairings worked well. Even more enthusiastic was Shane Feirstein, who used to work at Murray's cheese store in New York City and now has a shop that sells paper for wrapping cheese in Portland, Ore. "I was blown away," he said.
"What I liked was seeing how the bubbles mitigate the richness of the cheese," said Laura Werlin, an educator and author who has written a book about pairing wine and cheese. She thought the pairings were quite successful and said that she often tells classes she teaches, "We can think about pairings as hard as we want, but it comes down to one of two things: yum or yuck."
In the Emerald Ballroom, there were a whole lot of yums.
c. 2007 The Boston Globe