I guess the monks in the Middle Ages knew something that many of us are just starting to figure out: beer and cheese taste great together.
Back in the day, artisan monks brewed beer and made cheese in monasteries for their communities. Typically washed rind cheeses are bathed in saltwater brine; the washing helps break down the curd from the outside. It’s fun to imagine the day the monks discovered that they could use beer to wash the rinds of cheese during the aging process to influence the texture, aroma, and flavour of the cheese.
Flash-forward to today, to a small cheese plant near Woodstock Ontario, where the next chapter in the history of beer washed-rind cheese is being written.
There, 30-year-old Shep Ysselstein, of Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese (located on his family’s third-generation dairy farm nestled in the rolling hills of Gunn’s Hill Rd. in Oxford County, Ontario — the Dairy Capital of Canada), has been working over the past few months to create a cheese using Vankleek Hill’s beloved brew, Beau’s.
Ysselstein admits most small-scale cheesmakers don’t bother with washed-rind varieties because the process is laborious; it’s all done by hand. “We wash it every day and keep it moist so that more bacteria grows and the cheese gets more of the beer flavour.”
For Steve Beauchesne, Beau’s co-founder, the partnership is an opportunity to help more people make the connection. “Not enough people are onto the beer and cheese pairing yet and it’s one of the most exciting things about beer right now.”
The test batch began with Gunn’s Hill Oxford’s Harvest cheese, a semi-soft mild and creamy cheese washed with Beau’s Bog Water. For the next batch, Ysselstein switched to Beaver River, Beau’s award-winning IPA, described by Beauchesne as a relatively bitter beer with a nice caramel malty backbone and hop aroma. “Shep wanted a beer with a bold enough character — the flavours need to be bold enough to transfer over.” The idea is that Ysselstein will work with each of Beau’s seasonal beers — Festivale in the summer, for instance — creating a truly seasonal cheese.
Georgs Kolesnikovs, the engine behind what has become the largest cheese show in Canada — The Great Canadian Cheese Festival — says this is big news in the world of artisan cheesemaking: it’s the first collaboration between an Ontario cheesemaker and an Ontario beer maker. He is delighted that the yet-to-be-named cheese will be unveiled at the festival on June 1 and 2.
The cheese will then be released at Farm Boy stores across the city in conjunction with craft beer week (June 16th), but the first place to get a taste will be at the Cheese Festival in Picton.
Kolesnikovs can’t help himself from gushing about the young cheesemaker who “came out of nowhere” and is already winning awards for his Alpine-style cheese. He recently took top honours in the firm cheese category in the annual Dairy Farmers of Canada Canadian Cheese Grand Prix.
Ysselstein has only been at it for a year and a half. He took cheesemaking classes at the University of Guelph and then the University of Vermont before going to upstate New York to work at a small cheese factory for three months. From there was given the opportunity to make cheese in Switzerland using techniques passed down for centuries, where cows are sent from the valley up into the mountains and milked morning and night.
Now, running his own artisan cheese plant, he is freed from the task of milking (the milk comes from his parents’ farm, where cows roam outside in the summertime) to concentrate on making great cheese. He appears to genuinely love it. The fact that he has to bring beer to work every day now is just a bonus.
Details: The yet-to-be named Beau’s beer washed cheese will be available for sampling at the third annual The Great Canadian Cheese Festival: June 1 and 2; 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Crystal Palace at the Picton Fairgrounds in Picton, Ontario, in the heart of Prince Edward County.
Tickets: Tickets can be purchased in advance online. Cost is $40 for a one day pass; $55 for a two-day pass.