Beer & Cheese Pairing with Drakes: SF Beer Week, Here we Come!

DrakesBeerandCheese1* (1 of 1)On February 6th, the fun and fury that is SFBeer Week launches, and on Febuary 14th, Drake’s Brewery and I team up for beer and cheese pairing. The Drake’s team and I recently teamed up to do a very, very serious sensory perception tasting and evaluation of the possible beers and cheese we would join together to ensure that the tasting would be best possible examples of the duo together,. Photographic evidence follows.

What is SF Beer Week, you ask? Well, SF Beer Week is a time when breweries shower the San Francisco Bay Area with massive amounts of beer (we’re talking storms, not a light drizzle). It’s a time when people are thankful for public transit and designated drivers are celebrated in high form. This is the second year I’m teaming up with Drake’s Barrel House, and I’m honored to be pairing with one of the best craft breweries in California.

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As you can see from the photos above which reflect the state of the table prior to us even sitting down to taste, Drake’s and I were very thorough. We tasted about ten different cheeses with twelve different Drake’s brews (that’s at least 120 different blasts of flavor). We consulted with each other. We tasted again. We talked some more. We ate from a third to three-quarters of a pound of cheese each. We made pairing grids. We did all this t o find the perfect pairings for you (and maybe for us too).

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See the notes? Clear evidence of the scientific nature of our tasting.

The tasting will feature all domestic cheese (mainly Cali) paired to Drake’s beer (mainly seasonal, special releases)- six cheeses, five beers. Anderson Valley’s PennyRoyal makes an appearance, as does Silver Mountain Cheddar, 2015 Drake’s Hopocalypse, and Scarlet O’Bretta Flanders-style red sour ale. These aren’t cheeses or beers you always see around and some of the cheeses and beers served are only released seasonally.

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A cool bonus to the tasting besides that you get to eat delicious cheese and beer? It’s on Valentine’s Day afternoon, meaning, it’s a great way to start out the celebrations with your beer-loving honey, or, to create your own perfect pairing, cheese and beer style.

So, stop by if you’d like to join me in general beer and cheese revelry. I’d love to see you there. Tickets available here.

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Feb 14th, 2 pm, Drake’s Barrel House, San Leandro. And yes, there is a shuttle available from BART! 

The Cheese Bomb Hit San Francisco Last Week

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If anyone even slightly cheesy wasn’t as present on twitter as normal, behind their normal cheese case at the correct hour last week, or had a glazed over look on their face from consuming high quantities of fermented dairy or salted meats, blame either or all of the following: The Cheesemonger Invitational, The Good Awards, and The Fancy Food Show. And perhaps the beer and wine that tends to go along with it. It was, my friends, a big week, for which people came to San Francisco from as close as Los Angeles from as far away as England and Switzerland (or…. I’m guessing Swiss becasuse of the suspenders, shorts, yodeling, and large Alpine wheels he was carrying, but- could have been wrong).

The Thursday of last week was the Good Food Awards Gala, an awards event honoring organic, sustainable, food artisans. Sunday was the Invitational, which is one huge, strobe-light filled cheese party (ask my parents who stayed until the wee hours of eight pm, it’s true). Then Monday and Tuesday was the Fancy Food Show, packed with new cheeses, classic cheeses, anything and everything gluten-free or sprinkled with fleur de sel, and massive amounts of chocolate, also covered with fleur de sel.

These were some of my favorite parts of the tasty madness:

Stevie Burnich from Cheese Plus's perfect bite- featuring Tunworth.

Stevie Burnich from Cheese Plus’s perfect bite- featuring Tunworth.

1. The Cheesemongers Competing at The Cheesemonger Invitational

Not only did I get to meet the reigning champ of NYC’s CMI 2014, Emily Acosta, who is as charming and lovely as she is skilled at cutting with a cheese wire while someone wearing a cow costume yells at her, I got to talk to some of the other competitors too. They’re awesome. To compete, one has to take two days worth of tests, slice and wrap cheese in front of a thousand or so people, charm a crowd, and make “perfect bites” for more than a hundred people. And there’s more, my head is just too clouded with richness to remember it.

I also got to yell loudly when San Francisco’s competitors Eric Miller of Mission Cheese and Liz Cutler-Rubin from Bi-Rite represented! And there were folks from Cheese Plus, and The Pasta Shop, and… the Bay Area is skilled, ya’ll. The top photo is of Eric Miller’s “Perfect Bite,” which is a pairing a monger makes with one of their favorite cheeses. Miller’s bite was a fried egg breakfast sandwich created with Cowgirl Creamery’s Devil’s Gulch. Really. He fried all 120 mini eggs (quail?) himself for the samples.

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Alemar’s Bent River

2. The Cheesemakers

Mr. Andy Hatch of Uplands brought guests of the CMI a rare batch of Rush Creek Reserve. And up, it was the original recipe made with milk the way the cheese was intended -raw style! Had to chance to talk to him while digging into Rush with a spoon. Neal’s Yard Dairy brought Stacey Hedges out from Hampshire, England of Tunworth (if you haven’t already noticed my recent two-month trip to the Isles -more news, pics, writing forthcoming- I’m smitten by English cheesemakers, guys!). I  ate about a quarter of a wheel of her cheese at a sitting. Also present was the super nice Keith Adams of Alemar cheese, who just moved out to California to make cheddar. I could keep on adding fantastic cheesemakers to this list who made time to put up with my questions or whose goods I just ogled from afar, but I’ll stop here with the note: Blessed be the cheesemakers.

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3. Delicious New Cheeses

These events mean trying new delicious things! Here are a few that stuck out to me:

  • Tunworth, Neal’s Yard Dairy- buttery camembert with notes of meaty roasted cauliflower that oozes with the best of them. Now importing through NYD.
  • La Clare’s Martone, Wisconsin- goat and cow’s milk cheese dusted with ash and covered in a lightly wrinkled rind. Just hitting the market in full force, lively, sweet, and pictured above.


If you made it to the show, what did you try? What were your favorite bites and times? 

Twig Farm Mixed Drum Cheese: Goat & Cow’s Milk Beauty

TwigFarmTomme1 (1 of 1)Though often harder to find in California then the size/color/style of the thing you’re seeking in an Ikea store- anywhere, Twig Farm’s Mixed Drum cheese is one my favorite wheels around. Any of their cheeses charm, really, but the Mixed Drum is instantly seductive. I watch for its presence on my distributer lists like a wine geek watches for the latest unfiltered, amphora-aged wine release from Slovenia.

While writing my “It’s Not You, It’s Brie” book, I had a chance to visit the Twig Farm family in Vermont about ten miles from Middleton, in West Cornwall. Much like cheesemaker Michael Lee himself whose focus is intently on his goats and wheels since the responsibility for his ladies, farm, and making and aging the cheese falls solely on his and an assistant’s shoulders, the farm is busy yet quiet. It’s surrounded by a forest of tall, slim birch-like trees and oaks that shed acorns for goat snacks.

About nine miles away from Twig Farm is the Crawford Family, the makers of Vermont Ayr. When the Crawford’s Ayrshires are out grazing the field, Twig buys some of their rich milk and mixes it with about twenty percent of their own goat’s milk. Four to six month’s later (hence winter cheese releases after being aged), viola, Mixed Drum!

Twig Farm Mixed Drum Rind

Twig Farm Mixed Drum Rind

Mixed Drum is a wonderful collaboration between the two farms. Many of the flavors shout Crawford, and the shape, natural rind, and the splash of goat’s milk are all Twig.

The rich, earthy, melted butter, and lightly peanut notes of the cheese are reminiscent of those found in the Crawford’s Vermont Ayr. As is the silky texture provided by the high-butterfat content of their cows. The little lively punch? That’s the goat’s milk- keeping it real, keeping it fresh. The natural rind and squishy shape? That’s cheesemaker’s Micheal Lee’s touch- he keeps it real and fresh too. If the cheese wants to look like a Flintsone car wheel, so be it. It’s cute and delicious.

I loved this beauty with a light, un-oaked malolactic white like a white wine from the Savoie region, a Muscadet from the Loire, or a lightly oaked Marsanne or Roussanne. Wasn’t a big fan of the citrusy Sauv Blancs with this one.

If I were in an area that wasn’t experiencing record highs in January and wanted to try this cheese in another way besides au naturel, I’d take this, some semi-soft Alpine-type cheese, and melt them raclette style, on ham and potatoes. Or anything I could think of.

Happy Winter.



Because Times Square Shouldn’t Get all the Ball-Dropping Glory: New Year’s Eve Cheese Ball Recipes


Farmhouse cheddar cheese ball with pecans and bourbon

Cheese balls are not only a holiday rite of passage in America, they are a New Year’s Eve’s best friend. It’s true that that they’re known for the element of kitsch they bring to the Christmas table, as I explored in an article for NPR, but they really belong to the night. The night of New Year’s Eve, that is.

I know that some of you will be going to dinner parties or to dine at fabulous restaurants to ring in the New Year. It’s time to reconsider. It’s possible that you might want to drop that six-course menu and come join me at the hors d’oeuvres table, my friend. Cheese balls ring in the new year right.

They add a level of festivity unparalleled by a full meal. They’re easy to make and serve. They look fantastic next to a glass of bubbly. They start a party on their own. They bring out the sparkles in your eye shadow, dress, or eyes, and, if you go artisan with your balls, they make you look fancy. And if you don’t finish them, they’re perfect for that two am snack before going to bed (it’s just not right to go to bed hungry at the start of a new year).

If you choose to join me in artisan cheese ball revelry, here is one of my favorite recipes from an article I wrote for NPR. It’s the one my friend Rainbow likes to make or her NYE parties every year. If you want to be a baller and make your party even more festive by upping the ante, click on this link for two more recipes, farmhouse cheddar cheese balls with pecans and bourbon (pictured at top), or lemon cheesecake-balls for those with a sweet tooth.

Enjoy! And I hope your New Year starts off with a smile like the one on your guests faces when you serve these!

Blue cheese ball

Blue cheese ball

Blue Cheese Balls with Carmelized Balsamic Onions

It is hard to beat the classic blue cheese and caramelized balsamic onion pairing, but adding rosemary, cream cheese and cracker crumbs makes the experience even richer. Using a mix of sweet and strong blues, like Fourme d’Ambert and Rogue River Blue by Rogue River Creamery or Valdeon, caters to guests who may normally shy away from strong cheeses, but will also please aficionados who like their cheese spicy. If you wait to pat the balls with crumbs until serving, the balls will keep for up to 3 days.

Makes two 8-ounce cheese balls; serves 8 to 10

1 1/2 medium-sized yellow onions, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon canola oil

3 tablespoons water

2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon (fresh) tarragon, chopped

8 ounces cream cheese (farmer style, if possible), at room temperature

6 ounces crumbled blue cheese, at room temperature

6 whole-wheat crackers

Salt and pepper to taste

Begin cooking onions in oil in a medium-sized saute pan, over high heat for 5 minutes. Lower heat and cook on low for 20 minutes or longer, until onions are caramelized and sweet tasting. Add up to 3 tablespoons of water to onions when necessary to prevent burning and sticking throughout the cooking process. Add balsamic vinegar and tarragon, turn heat to medium, stir and cook for 2 more minutes. Let cool.

Stir cheeses together in a medium-sized bowl until few lumps remain. Add the onion mixture to the bowl and stir again. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Form the cheese into two round, evenly sized balls and wrap in wax-coated parchment paper. Refrigerate for at least three hours or overnight.

Crush crackers on a plate. Roll cheese balls one at a time in crumbs until the balls are well-coated. Refrigerate until ready to use.



Buttered Pecans (with Pepper): A Holiday Goat Cheese Charmer

Buttered Pepper Pecans

Buttered Pepper Pecans

If you’re reading, “It’s Not You, It’s Brie, ” I’m betting that many of you are thinking about your holiday cheese plates right about now. Perhaps because you got a little snacky last night while wrapping gifts (ahem…. like someone ) and ate all the Fiscalini Cheddar and now have to pick up more. Sometimes that just happens. Or maybe you’re like my housemate who caters fabulous events and is thinking of the best accouterments to serve with the cheese the hosts already have. Or, maybe you just want a little more inspiration to match the glowy feeling that’s been powered by your egg nog.

My holiday cheese plate inspiration came in the form of buttered pepper pecans and goat cheese this year.

I’m pretty much helpless when it comes to pecans. Roast them, butter them, candy them, grind them, toast them, whatever them, I’ll eat them. In fact, I’ll eat all of them. Hiding them is probably the best idea if you hear I might be stopping by.

So when I had a little extra Caña de Cabra hanging about my house, I decided to consider how my favorite nut would pair with it. Dashingly, it turns out. Caña de Cabra is a lemony, peppery Spanish bloomy-rinded goat cheese. It looks like Bucheron and has a texture that morphs between flaky chèvre and pure silk.

Buttered Pepper Pecans

The buttery flavor of the pecans (not to mention the butter flavor of the butter) brought out the cheese’s creamy texture. It also offered a little cushion for the Cabra’s lemony notes. The ground pepper topping the pecans matched the punchier spicier notes of the goat’s milk and the nut’s crunchy texture cozied right up to the cheese’s alternating velvety and flaky layers.

They’re… tasty, and completely worthy of holiday attention!

Other cheeses that would work well with the buttered pepper pecans would be anything lively and goaty. Some of my picks would be: Zingerman’s Lincoln Log, Bonne Bouche, Prodigal Hunkadora, Stawley or Timsbury from Somerset, or Bucheron.

The recipe follows- I’m off to go back some shortbread! Please say a little prayer to help me not eat all the dough before baking it. Happy Holidays!


Buttered Pepper Pecans

Serves 3-4

1/2 cup pecans, untoasted
1 tablespoon salted butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Bring a sautee pan to medium heat. Add the pecans and cook for about two minutes, shaking the pan periodically to evenly cook. Add the pat of butter to the pan and melt. Cook for two to four more minutes (I cook them at least four minutes for an extra crisp), shaking the pan every thirty seconds or so to flip the pecans. Add the salt and pepper and  stir.

Place a paper towel over a plate. Pour the pecans over the plate and let sit until just warm. Serve with cheese.

I hope you enjoy your holidays and


Cheese (and Wine) Club of the Month- Now Ships from California!

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This month, the “It’s Not You, It’s Brie” cheese club of the month heads west. That’s right, the cheese of the month club will now ship from my home state of California. Why the cheese move, you ask? Two reasons. It lets me access artisan cheese that I can only send from California, and, it’ll help me lower the cost. A lot. Shipping to my California friends will also be a lot more wallet-friendly, too. Plus,… I’m also adding on wine option for cheese and wine pairing fans.

If you think you might know a cheese lover who would appreciate the club for their holiday gift, please read on for club details. If the cheese lover is you, and you don’t care about the holidays except for increased cookie supply at the office, I feel you, cookie lover. You can read on, too.

As always, feel free to email me at if you have any questions.

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The Cheese Clubs

Every month, I’ll pick three of my favorite artisan cheeses from around the world for you. One of my selections will be as ripe and ready as soft heirloom tomatoes in late July, and the other two will hold happy in a fridge for a couple weeks. I’ll ship the cheese, my descriptions written in the lively style of my book and articles for LA Times and NPR from my favorite wine shop and cheese bar (Solano Cellars) to your home. After the club is shipped, members will also receive an email with one of my original recipes for one of the cheeses in the club, accompanied by photographs like those in this newsletter. This club could be the most delicious thing you’ve found greeting you once a month on your front porch… ever. See the pic of a recent recipe on top.

Option 1: The It’s Not You, It’s Brie Cheese Club

Includes around a pound of cheese, cheese descriptions, and after the club is shipped, a club email with the recipe. The single share option costs $37, plus shipping.

  • If you live in California, we’ll ship it to you UPS. Click here to buy the cheese club.
  • If you live anywhere else but California, we’ll ship it to you via Fed Ex 2-day. Click here to buy the cheese club.
  • The first club will ship in January and holiday giftees will receive welcome notes telling them when to expect their first gift shipment.

Option 2: The It’s Not You, It’s Brie Cheese & Wine Club

Includes around one pound of cheese, cheese descriptions, and the recipe. Plus… a bottle of wine worth $25 that Kirstin will expertly pair with one or more of the cheeses, with wine notes. The cheese and wine club totals $62, plus shipping.


A few more details….

  • Upon purchasing the club, Kirstin will email welcome notes to all member or club purchasers telling them when to except their first shipment. If you’d also like to purchase a signed copy of Kirstin’s book, click here.
  • Clubs will be shipped the second Tuesday of the month. The first club will ship in January and holiday giftees will receive welcome notes telling them when to except their first gift shipment.
  • Members can sign up to receive clubs every month, or every other month. There is a three-month club minimum and shoppers can sign up in 3-month increments. The shipping charges will be calculated for the first month on the website, and we’ll call you shortly after you sign up for your payment info for the next two clubs.


Disclosure: The cheese will be sourced and packed with the utmost care and experience and will arrive on your doorstep in optimal condition. Solano Cellars does not accept responsibility for the condition of the cheese after they leave the shop.