“I am looking forward to opening up a new world of flavour for guests of Café Belge, with cheeses and taste combinations that they may never have experienced before. Sour, dry and re-fermented beer cut through the fat in cheese, making it lighter, cleansing the pallet and allowing the taste-buds to work harder, which means the whole taste experience is enhanced.” Frederic Van Tricht – Affineur.
If you are like me, I’m sure you are familiar with Wine and Cheese pairing and with Wine being paired to restaurant menus, usually with a knowledgeable sommelier recommending wines to drink with each course of the meal and spending time explaining why the match works, it’s a great way to explore new wine and also a great social part of a dinner. About six months ago, I was surprised to have the starter paired with beer, whilst the rest of the menu was paired with wines. The beer worked well, and was an interesting match and if my memory is correct, I was served beer which was brewed in Burton on Trent, only 20 miles away from my house in Stafford in the UK.
I was intrigued to receive an invite from Cafe Belge to a Beer & Cheese pairing recently hosted by Affineur Frederic Van Tricht. The Van Tricht family is widely credited with inventing ‘affinage’ in Belgium, the process of ageing and maturing cheese to perfection. The legacy started over 41 years ago in Antwerp, when Pieter Van Tricht (Frederic’s grandfather) opened a delicatessen specialising in mature cheese, sourcing and ageing cheeses from artisanal producers all over Europe. Fast forward to the present day and Van Tricht supplies the majority of Michelin-starred restaurants in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Ireland with cheese, as well as exporting to Maldives, Philippines and the United States, and in 2010 was voted Europe’s best Affineur by The Wall Street Journal.
A key philosophy of Frederic and his father Michel, author of best-selling book “Beer & Cheese: 50 delicious combinations” is the pairing of cheese with beer, which they believe is a far better match than its traditional pairing companion; wine, which they say, can overpower the taste of cheese.
Bringing his innovative pairings to Dubai for the first time, Frederic Van Tricht took a small group of us through his pairings during which he shared with us both the tasting notes of the beer and cheese along with some interesting stories behind the heritage of the beer. His passion of all things cheese come through in particular its clear that the family business is a true love for him and his knowledge about the cheese, the milk, the ageing process etc was incredible and inspiring.
At the start of the evening when I was checking out the cheese we were going to taste Frederic noticed that I pulled a face at blue ‘stinky’ cheese saying that I couldn’t eat it, and promised me that I would enjoy the cheese he had selected along with the beer pairing later in the evening, somewhat sceptical I agreed to see where the evening took us and to try if I could.
The pairing started off with a light beer and light cheese and ended with the stronger tasting beer and the ‘stinky’ blue cheese, which I tasted and surprise, surprise enjoyed so Frederic was right after all !! To give you an idea of the information we had I’ve copied pairings 1 and 7 below.
My favourite pairing was the third one which was Duvel & Comte Fort St Antoine which reminded us of Kashkaval cheese which we can buy here very easily. Frederic explained that Comte Fort St Antoine is always made from summer milk when the cows are feeding on meadows and eating herbs, grass and flowers as this is what makes the taste of the cheese so special.
Pairing 1: Hoegaarden & Belgian Farm Cheese
Hoegaarden is made from a blend of wheat and barley, as opposed to just barley like most beers. Wheat makes very light beers and contributes delicate clove-like aromas. It is also brewed with curacao orange peel and coriander which makes this already light drop all the more herbal and refreshing.
This organic unpasteurized cow’s milk farm cheese from West Flanders is reminiscent of Camembert but has a milder taste. It is made using vegetable rennet, is very mild, and has low salt content and an edible white mold bloom. It takes just two weeks of maturation to develop its full taste.
Pairing 7: Bell-Vue Kriek & Bio Bleu Belge
Kriek is a Belgian specialty beer that has survived the test of time. The base is Lambic beer, which endures a spontaneous fermentation, free of controlled yeast additions. The yeast used exists naturally in the environment and can cause any number of weird or wonderful characters in the beer. Many years ago when this was the only way to make beer, and a great way to sanitize drinking water, people would add fruit to make it more palatable. To make a lambic beer into kriek, fresh morillo cheeries are added.
Bell-Vue Kriek is notably sweet and refreshing with notes of cooking spices and, of course, cherries. Bio Bleu was created at the request of Van Tricht, and was inspired by the Pas De Bleu. It is a zesty blue cheese made from organic raw cow’s milk from the Ypres region. The Penicillium Roqueforti mould aids in making a blue cheese that is creamy. After two months’ ripening, the cheese is wrapped in aluminium foil to slow down the mould’s growth and limit further development of the crust.
After the tasting, we stayed for dinner with live jazz music to entertain us, and some fabulous wine. Having grazed on plenty of cheese at the pairing, I choose something meaty and really enjoyed the Filet Americaine – hand cut steak tartar the meat was tasty and rich with just the right level of fat to bind it and to add the taste (sinful but worth it) it was beautifully presented and the egg yolk was simply amazing, and definitely worth a return trip for.
Thanks to Cafe Belge and Frederic Van Tricht for enlightening me on the art of beer and cheese and to Frederic in particular for guiding me through to eating the ‘stinky’ blue cheese I never thought I would.