Friday, March 11, 2011

Blue Cheese and Barley Wine

There are few things I love more than planning a spontaneous cheese party, so that was my gift to myself last Saturday. It was the first day of spring break, and there was my tenure to celebrate. So off I went to Rittenhouse Square on a mission to buy any blue cheese that called my name.
Most people think all blue cheese tastes the same. But you know and I know that’s not true. Some taste mushroomy and mild, while others pop your eyes out with a peppery hook on the finish. The common thread is salt. Most blues taste like tears.
What alleviates tears? Sweet stuff.
That’s why blue cheese calls for port or sherry. Over the summer, a homebrewer suggested I try blue cheese with barley wine. I wrote it down, then looked it up. High in alcohol. The cognac of the beer world. Intriguing.
On Saturday, I picked up four barley wines at my local beer joint and trotted home to match sorrow and joy, blue veins and barley malt.
Here is what we tasted, cheese-wise:
Cremifacto Verde Capra
Rogue River Blue
Bleu de Basque
Colston Bassett Stilton
Blaue Geiss
Now for the Barley wines:
Blithering Idiot (Weyerbecher Brewing)
Insanity (Weyerbecher Brewing)
Cereal Killer (Arcadia Brewing)
Horn Dog (Flying Dog)
Our cheeses ranged from mild and creamy (Cremifacto) to sharp and clayey (Blaue Geiss) with a mellow sheep’s milk blue (Bleu de Basque) and a traditional British wallop-packer (Stilton) thrown in.
Not all of the barley wines worked with blue cheese, but we found a few favorites. And as the night wore on, the conversation grew livelier and livelier. You can guess why. "Blithering Idiot" and "Insanity" are apt names for these beers – they’re not for the lily-livered.
Blithering Idiot was deemed “O Negative.” It worked well with every blue in the house. Pairing it with Rogue River Blue, a grapey leaf-wrapped blue, earned yelps of “A stunning combo!” and “These were made for each other!”
Cereal Killer, which really did smell like Honeynut Cheerios, made a happy marriage with Cremifacto. Creamy meets creamy, go figure.
Horn Dog loved Blaue Geiss. The heavy grapefruit and honey sweetness of this beer pattered along perfectly with this dense, fudgy cheese -- even with its peppery head butt at the end.
Insanity paired off with feisty Stilton, no surprise. Insanity also spent the night with Rogue River. Two magical mates, very flexible.
And that left Bleu de Basque. With its curious flavor combination of mutton and grass, mixed with a hint of coconut (I kid you not – I made cheesemonger Dan Black confirm this tasting), this Spanish sheep’s milk blue couldn’t find a match, although Blithering Idiot worked okay.
Stick around for more of the Blue Cheese Invitational. In the coming days, I’ll unpack these cheeses, blue by blue. As for Saturday night's guests, special thanks to my blue-cheese guinea pigs: Meat Man Mike, Andre of Canada, and April Lindner whose new book, Jane, makes a perfect accompaniment to strong cheese.


  1. I love these posts. Blues and barley wine. I love Blithering Idiot.

  2. Rogue River Blue, Oh My GOSH that stuff is Heavenly!!!

  3. Stilton and barleywine is my absolute favorite food combo ever. I've found that the maltier end of the barleywine spectrum works best. The so-called English style (as opposed to the mega hoppy American style), which Blithering Idiot is. Also, give them a year or two in the cellar to taper off the hops and round out the sweetness, you might find some even more delicious pairings.

  4. Thnaks, Jesse, this is really helpful. I've read that you can age barleywines, but I don't have any experience with that, so it's great to get your feedback.