My husband Paul is a huge Looney Tunes fan, and one of the cartoon quotes that gets tossed around quite often in our house comes from the Southern mouse who declares, “I love cheese, really I do.” Really, we do. So when I had the chance to attend a Wisconsin cheese and Great Lakes Beer pairing dinner sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and Chef Brandt Evans’ new restaurant, Pura Vida, I jumped at the chance. I was not disappointed!
Chef Evans’ new restaurant on Public Square in downtown Cleveland was a wonderful setting for the dinner, with two long tables set out for invited bloggers and dinner guests alike. Greeting us was an amazing array of cheese and accompaniments to get our palates warmed up for what was to come.
Among those present was Sid Cook of Carr Valley Cheese, the most award-winning cheesemaker in the United States. I had a few moments to chat with Sid at dinner, and I asked him outright, did he think cheese pairs best with wine or beer? I wasn’t surprised to hear his response.
“Really, it goes better with beer,” said Sid. “Think of a really nice beer/cheddar soup, that’s always good. If you look at how things grow–bacterias, flora, yeast–and what things grow in what areas–you’ll see that beer and cheese pair well together. The terroir of the land contributes to this. Wisconsin was a well-known hop-growing area for many years, and I love how hops and cheese complement each other.”
And so we dove into the meal, which was an amazing array of cheese and beer pairings that proved Sid’s point. First came a tray of three bite-sized grilled cheeses: aged one year, six years and 10 years–and paired with a slice of green apple on the first, bacon on another and prosciutto on the last. Each taste was more delicious than the last, and the sharpness of the Dortmunder Gold with the melty sandwiches was the perfect accompaniment.
The second course was barbecued duck confit nachos, served with Pura Vida queso, and a Great Lakes Rapid Red Ale. That was the finest tailgating combo I can possibly think of, if you happen to like nachos and beer. It was the first time I’d ever tried the Rapid Red, which can only be found on tap at the Great Lakes restaurant on rare occasions.
Next up was my favorite course, so warming and rich I know I moaned. Chef Evans’ house-made bratwurst stuffed with soft black garlic was served atop a creamy polenta, made even more creamy by the Carr Valley Airco Mixed Milk Cheese. This was topped with wild forged mushrooms in a silky veal stock and served with the Great Lakes Oktoberfest. This dish personified autumn. My photo looks a little pinkish–which was due to the changing overhead lighting in the restaurant. It made for great ambiance, but not-so-great picture taking!
The fourth course was a beef tongue and parsnip tartlet, served with topping of caraway brick cheese and a Burning River Pale Ale. Another nice fall pairing. The tongue had a bit of the taste and texture of corned beef, and the Burning River complemented the whole thing beautifully.
There was yet another course, and I was quite full. Still, I managed to taste a forkfull or two of the braised Wagyu Beef short rib served with crispy pig ears, kicked up with some amazing spices. The cheese on this dish finished it beautifully: the Carr Valley Ba Ba Blue Sheep’s Milk Cheese was my favorite of the evening. So cool and creamy next to those wonderful deep flavors of the meats. Pushing me completely over the edge was the combination of the Edmund Fitzgerald Porter. I could have cried it was so good.
I confess I didn’t finish my dessert–though it was a beautifully presented ice cream made with Bessie’s Blend Cheese, topped with a crisp cookie wafer and served with a potent little chocolate truffle– I just couldn’t manage more than a bite or two. It was delicious, but… Oof da. So stuffed.
I’m really looking forward to getting back to Pura Vida and seeing what Chef Evans’ day to day menu is like–I’m hearing great things about the ricotta pancakes served at breakfast, and the Sunday brunch. And the next time I’m looking for a good cheese to go with my beer, I will look no further than Wisconsin! I hope you’ll try a few of these beer/cheese pairings at home–you won’t be disappointed.