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As a study break treat, tonight BWB and I went over to St. James Cheese Company for one of their cheese classes.  This class was beer and cheese, as the title of the post suggests, and we had a great time!  There was a special guest from Bayou Teche Brewery, plus the owner of St. James Cheese Co. as a last-minute substitution after a special guest was unable to attend.  I can only imagine that the guest would have been unbelievable, because Richard Sutton was fantastic!  I think some of the pontificating got to be too much for BWB, but I really enjoyed it.  Beer and cheese really aren’t his thing.

There were 6 cheeses with accompanying beers.  Due to last-minute changes (I think), they didn’t have time to make up the spiffy informational sheets they usually hand out with these classes.  I took lots of notes, though, and thought I’d record them here.  The plate of cheeses was neatly arranged and placed in front of us with the instruction that we should start with the cheese at 12 o’clock and work our way clockwise from there.

Pairing #1:  Pont L’eveques with Fuller’s London Pride

A cow’s milk cheese from Normandy, soft, with a mild but nice flavor.  They called this a “washed rind version of a brie”, which is an apt description.  Apparently once upon a time this cheese used to be much stinkier, but due to changes in the cheese industry, it has morphed into the current, milder version.  A neat tip we were given: this should be a springy, leathery cheese; if it’s runny or has a bread-crumby rind, it’s probably old.  Fancy!  I have in my notes that BWB started to make sad face in the midst of this discussion — he wanted to eat the rest of the cheese on the plate!

Pairing #2: Paesanella with Orval Trappist Ale

The St. James guys said this was a brand new cheese from Northern Italy.  It was quite tasty!  We were told it was similar in process to a taleggio, and after he said that I could definitely see the resemblance.  This pairing was one of the ones which worked best for me — I wasn’t very keen on the beer, but the cheese cut some of what I didn’t care for.  The Paesanella was one of our favorite cheeses of the evening.

Pairing #3: Tomme Pur Brebeis with LA 31

A Basque sheep’s cheese.  This was a harder cheese, although as the cheese wiz (heh) said, it isn’t as hard as parmesan “or the other graters”.  This cheese came with some very interesting stories about the name, the production, and the aging process, but I can’t possibly do them justice here.  You’ll have to ask me some time, or take a St. James class on your own.   This pairing was also where Mr. Knott stepped in to speak about Bayou Teche, and the story he told about his company was delightful.  Again, I can’t possibly do it justice in this space, but the net result is a brewery trying to make beer to match Louisiana cooking.  I can’t wait to try more, with the food it’s intended for.  If you get a chance, give LA 31 or another Bayou Teche beer a try.

Pairing #4: Bloomsday with Dead Guy Ale

This cheese is a raw cow’s milk cheese, made from fancy Jersey cows. Apparently Jersey cows don’t produce as much, but their milk is much more rich.  The cheese was airier than #3, although it was definitely still firm.  It was less compact, and fell apart a bit in my mouth.  It was a nice little cheese.  I don’t care for Dead Guy all that much, but I appreciated the pairing nonetheless.  Also, apparently the Rogue brewery is an awesome place to visit, and highly recommended as a stop on a tour of Oregon!

Pairing #5: Livarot with La Fin du Monde

I liked the Livarot quite a bit, but then I have a thing for stinky cheeses.  It’s a washed-rind cow’s milk cheese from Normandy, and our tour guides pointed out that this cheese “grew up with beer” — Normandy is more of a beer region than one for wine!  I really, really don’t care for La Fin du Monde (REALLY), but again, I could appreciate the pairing despite the fact that it was a nasty yeasty Belgian triple not my favorite kind of beer.  (Ahem.)

Pairing #6: Idiazabal with Meantime London Porter

I have to admit that after the long parade of Belgians, I wasn’t overly optimistic that the last beer would be one I’d, um, properly appreciate.  Imagine my delight when this dark, rich liquid appeared in my glass!  When BWB tasted it, his eyebrows shot up, “Coffee!”  Yes, coffee-caramel-chocolate!  This was definitely our favorite pairing, and our favorite beer of the evening.  The cheese is a smoked sheep cheese, which is only funny because I don’t usually like sheep’s milk cheeses much at all.  The smoke is very subtle, the texture of the cheese is dense but somehow still flaky, and all in all it was just really good.  The porter was delicious — I’m definitely going to have to keep an eye out for both of these again!

All in all, it was a wonderful evening.  I have so many notes, and what I’ve mentioned here barely scratches the surface.  I cannot recommend these cheese classes highly enough — this is my second one, and I hope there will be many more to come.  Even when I don’t care for a particular wine, beer, or cheese, I gain an appreciation for it through their explanations of why they chose it.  I love that we have a cheese shop staffed by such knowledgeable people who are genuinely interested and even excited about their products.  St. James Cheese Co. is definitely on my list of things that make New Orleans special — check it out if you ever have the opportunity.

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