Rauchbier Cheese

Like Mike Reis, educator and beer writer at Serious Eats, discusses in Smoked Beers: Your Secret Weapon for Beer Pairing, I detested my first sip of rauchbiere (smoked beer). And my second. And my fifth.

Smoked beer, made with smoked rather than toasted barley malt, is a force. Some of it tastes as light as the breeze wafting by on spring day after a neighbor lights a bbq. Some taste like they have been vigorously stirred with a just-charred stick. And others unabashedly flaunt their resemblance to a late-night camp fire pit that’s just been doused with a bucket of water before folks retire to their tents.

That is to say that it has quite a presence. Beer used to all be made this way. Prior to the days of electricity, propane, or coal, all barley was cooked (and inadvertently, smoked) over open flames, so it all had a smoky note to it. Now people make smoked beer as a nod to those days, or because they genuinely like the flavor. Admittedly, that “genuinely like the flavor” part is hard for some to grasp. Because my first and second sip of it made me think more “ashtray” than “artisan” or “lost art,” I can understand why. But now, my friends, I’m a believer. And a drinker.

Rauchbier (1 of 1)

I like smoked beer. Especially with triple-creme cheese. 

A few months after my fifth unappreciated taste of the smoked one, I picked up a rauchbiere that pleased me. Though I wasn’t sure I would finish a second bottle, I sensed skill in the subtle smoky application, and definitely finished the first bottle. Then I saw Reis’s article Smoked Beers: Your Secret Weapon for Beer Pairing in which he talked about how anyone could grow to love a smoked beer with the right food pairing. And what my friends, is the right food pairing? Cheese! Always, cheese!

Because he suggested pairing rauchbiere with heavy, smoky foods, grill-ables, or rich, sweet foods like pie, I thought, hey, maybe a triple creme would work. It’s in-your-face rich, sweet, and, I thought, might be able to stand up to the ferocity that is a smoked beer.


So when teaching a “Perfect Pairings” class at The Cheese School of San Francisco, I decided to test this theory. Reis helped me select the lightly smoked beauty above, because, well, I had no idea what I was doing. The Schlenkerla It’s a lightly smoked, wheat, marzen beer.

The class loved the pairing. Not all of them liked the rauchbiere immediately on its own, but even those that didn’t liked it with the triple creme. I guess 75% butterfat helps make even the smokiest of ( delicious) medicine go down. And those whose favorite style of cheese wasn’t a triple liked the buttery wheel better with the beer. Together they tasted like… smoky ice cream, which I can tell you, is pretty darn impressive.

The triple we chose that day was Brillat Savarin. Creme fraiche is added the whole milk when the cheese is made, hence amping up the butterfat factor to a velvety 75%. Other triples I’d turn to are: Nancy’s Camembert, Delice de Bourgogne, Mt Tam, Kunik, or… do you have any ideas for this pairing? 

Next time you’re heading to a bbq, think of picking up a couple rauchebieres for your party. One to try with the grill-ables, and another, to serve with a creamy cheese for a triple-whammy pairing.

{ 1 comment }

Breaking it Down: 80 Pounds of Parmesan

by kirstin on July 2, 2014

Parm1 (1 of 1) Did you ever waltz by a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano in a cheese or Italian goods shop and wander how they’d cut that huge, eighty pound wheel into tiny little chunks so you could take it home and grate it? As far as you knew, the FDA didn’t allow chain saws in food establishments. Or maybe you never even realized Parm was such a sizable wheel since you bought it in small pieces. It was like that for me for a long while- kind of like the tuna fish equation. If you never saw the original fish’s glorious hundred or so pounds, you’d never guess that what fit into that itty bitty canned disc came from a finned animal that could knock you, and your lifeboat, over in the water.

Well, my friends, someone’s got to break down this huge beauty. It’s done with daggers. The Sunday before last I co-taught the Ultimate Pairing class with Juliana Uruburu from Oakland’s Pasta Shop at the Cheese School’s Three Day Intensive course. When I heard that if I arrived a little early, I could witness the famed Parm break-down, I hoped on Bart as quickly as I could and stationed myself in front of that huge wheel of cheese above. Though I worked in cheese shops before, I had never been around on the day that The Wheel was broken down- something I sorely regretted.

Parm8 (1 of 1) To soothe my regrets and to satisfy our Parm curiosities, here is a step-by-step photo break-down of Parmigiano Reggiano, being broken down by Juliana and the Three-Day Cheese Intensive Student Crew. Please, any cheesemongers who do this every month, every week, every Tuesday, feel free to comment any hints of the trade in the comment section! We’d love to learn more about your big wheel skills. Step 1: Score. Using that cheese dagger shown above, score a straight line all around the center of the wheel. This cheese belt will help to guide you as you dig in.

Parm2 (1 of 1)Keep in mind: As shown by Juliana, use your whole body when you dig in with the daggers and break down any wheel of cheese. Cheesemongers can easily injure themselves if they only really on their hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders to provide the muscle. Breaking down a big wheel of cheese should be a whole body work-out.

Parm3 (1 of 1)Step 2: The first attack. You go in first with the thinnest, longest dagger blade (in case  you’re wondering whether Juliana carries her own blades wrapped in linen around with her, she does. Don’t mess with this woman) to create the initial fracture. Wiggle it around a little.

Parm4 (1 of 1)Step 3: Keeping the first blade in, reference where you earlier to scored to decide where to put the next knife. Juliana likes the next blade inserted to be shorter and wider. Not sure how other cheesemongers prefer their next hit.

Parm5 (1 of 1)Step 4: Dig in. Insert that blade, and push it down all the way. More wiggling is encouraged. After you wedge the dagger in, push the handle away from you so the blade is helping to form a bigger crevice in the Parm.

Parm6 (1 of 1)Step 5: Repeat: Insert, wiggle, pull, push away.

Parm7 (1 of 1) Step 6: Drag: Now get in there and round the edge. Pull that third dagger towards you and the bottom of the wheel that’s resting on the table. Put your knees into it! Sometimes cheesemongers use much more than just three blades.

Parm8 (1 of 1) Step 7: Flip that wheel over and repeat. Dagger the other side and score again if need be. The point is to wedge a crevice into the cheese that will eventually part the cheese in two. Step 8: Failed to get a pic of this (sorry guys), but after both the top and bottoms are sufficiently daggered as shown, above, pull the wheel to the edge of the table and repeat Step 6 on the side of the cheese until you reach the very bottom of the wheel that rests on the table. By this point, you’ve formed a crevice on that extends throughout the entire cheese. Now you have a wedge that… breaks the wheel in two!

Parm9 (1 of 1)Step 8: Enjoy. Have you ever smelled a freshly cut wheel of Parm? Heaven. Even more heavenly? Tasting a fresh flake from that wheel.  This is your reward.

A little advice: make friends with your local cheesemonger and ask to be there when they cut their next wheel of Parm. Some do it away from the main cheesemongering area, but many shops like to do it in front of customers so they can appreciate the glory. If your shop does it publicly, make sure to pay a visit one day when they’re daggering so you can buy a chunk fresh from the wheel. It’s a life changing sensory experience.


Apricot Quickles – Quick-pickling in the name of cheese

June 24, 2014

There’s always something important I seem to forget to do when jamming- sanitize the ladle, buy a funnel so that the jam doesn’t drip over the lip of the jar, mix the calcium with the water, or stir the pectin in with the fruit in the beginning so that there aren’t huge chunks floating around […]

6 comments Read the full article →

Artisan Cheese Industry Damning: FDA Says No to Wooden Cheese Boards

June 10, 2014

Someone asked me on twitter yesterday how many artisan cheesemakers age their cheese on wooden boards and would be affected by the recent FDA mandate that wooden board are unsanitary, and therefore banned from the aging room. Let’s just say this- all the artisan producers that I’ve visited (50-60) throughout my cheese days who make semi-soft to […]

4 comments Read the full article →

Chèvre Chaud: A tale of hot, toasted cheese & French salads

June 3, 2014

The first time I went to Paris was with my ex-husband. We weren’t married yet, that happened about a year after he slipped a ring on my finger in a park that June in Paris. Then, we were still just dating and it was our first trip to Europe. Perhaps fueled by us stopping at cafes every […]

3 comments Read the full article →

Valley Ford’s Estero Gold Reserve, Ridge-Style

May 28, 2014

A break-out star at Ridge winery’s Montebello tastings this past weekend? The 2000? The 1998? Sure, sure, the Montebellos were mighty tasty, and the Petit Verdot charmed a few who didn’t know of the grape’s finesse, but on the cheese end, Valley Ford’s Estero Gold Reserve earned a gold star. Every year, Ridge winery has a […]

0 comments Read the full article →