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Monday, April 27, 2009

Leslieville Cheese and Fine Food - Beer & Cheese Tasting

I found myself standing outside Queen Street East’s Leslieville Cheese Market and Fine Foods boutique last Thursday night, watching the crowd gathered inside sampling on some cheese while washing it down with some samples of beer. I was very early for the second of the two scheduled tastings, and seeing all the people crammed into the small artisanal storefront was encouraging for the session ahead.

Before I begin, I must admit that with all the beer events I attend, I’ve never been involved in, or participated in, a cheese and beer tasting. Cheese is something that I absolutely love to experiment with, problem is I never really pay to much attention to what I’m tasting. Whenever I head to a shop for cheese, I’ll grab something new, share it with others, and two months later I’ll forget its name, or where it was from. Also, I’ll admit that I don’t know that much about the cheese making process, or exactly how to properly taste it. I’m curious about all the varities, but so far I have yet to educate myself enough to be comfortable discussing its merits. I do know that cheese and beer go wonderfully together, and I’m trying to learn more about how to put together impressive pairings for get-together’s with friends and family. This tasting was a good first step in learning more.

When the first group left the store I crept in and had a good talk with Michael, the owner, and two other colourful staff members who told me I was in for a good time, with a bunch of terrific cheeses. Sam Corbeil, brewer with Mill Street and also a TAPS contributor, is the host of these tastings, and previous discussions with him had me very interested in attending. Corbeil is a great guy with loads of knowledge in both beer and cheese (so it now seems), and he was a terrific host.

Shortly after 8:30, with the last of the paying attendees arriving, Corbeil got things under way with a brief welcome, introduced himself, and explained how the tasting would flow.

This particular tasting was focused on the Germans. Well, German beer, not cheese. Corbeil explained the Reinheitsgebot to the crowd, and then cracked open the nights first beer: Weihenstephaner Hefe-Weissbier. This was paired with weisswurst sausage, not cheese, and it was terrific.

The next round belonged to Mill Street's newly re-formulated Pilsner (not German style, but Czech and last of the test batches) that was matched up with an Ontario produced Black River 4 year old cheddar. Corbeil decided on this pairing due to the sharp bitterness and dryness of the new pilsner that would match nicely with the strong dry flavour of the cheddar. The carbonation of the beer helped to cleanse the palate in between bites, setting up your mouth for another dose of the cheese.

Round three featured Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel with a beautiful slice of Petit Basque, a soft, French sheep's milk cheese aged for 2 months. The dunkel poured a nice cola brown with a small ring of tan head and it was all malt on the nose. The cheese had barnyard-like taste, possessing earthly flavours that went very well with the maltiness of the dunkel. Many people liked this pairing the best.

Up next we tasted a Swiss Cave Aged Gruyere that had a nuttiness quality to it that matched well with the beer Corbeil selected - Weltenburger Kloster Asam Bock. The doppelbock was a great beer with this cheese as the big malty body cut through the creamy texture of the Gruyere. This was my pairing of the night...until I saw what came next.

Schneider and Sohn Aventinue Eisbock paired with a Blue Cheese Stuffed Chocolate Truffle covered in crushed walnuts - amazing. The chocolate truffle was perfect with the eisbock, cutting through the high alcohol and worked well with the big malt and dried fruit profile of the beer. The unique taste coming from the sample glass was easily matched by the blue cheese centre, taming the beast inside.

Throughout the night Corbeil talked about the pairings: why they work, what other beers might go nicely with the cheese selection, and how to impress your guests at the next cheese party. The staff were great the entire night; throwing out some humourous jabs at some Molson employees in attendance (all in good fun), offered individuals more samples of the wicked cheeses, and answering all the questions about the products available in the small store, which you should visit if you have yet to do so.

All in all it was a great night. I really felt like I learned something and I look forward to experimenting a little more on my own. But this time I'll remember what I tasted. Brian Morin and Stephen Beaumont's new beerbistro cookbook is a great start with its nicely laid out charts featuring a number of pairing recommendations by the two highly skilled authors.

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