The weather is cooling and the pumpkin beers have been on store shelves for quite a while, so it’s time to move on and move up. We need something a little more intense for the cold nights and progressively cooler days. Something that can fill us up and keep us warm, but not too warm–yet. Luckily, there is a great pairing that serves as a functional middle-ground between keeping it light in the summer and piling on the layers of fall.
Cherry Grove is a 400-acre farm in Lawrenceville, NJ, which is just south of Princeton. The farm, built on the practices of diversified farming and sustainability, holds a wide range of animals–everything from pigs to chickens to lambs–but the real standouts are their dairy cattle. The cows take part in rotational grazing, which allows them a constant supply of fresh grass. And it’s this grass and other local plants that lend such high quality to the raw milk and give cheese makers Kelly Harding and Sam Kennedy great product with which to make their cheeses.
The most popular of these cheeses is the Toma, which is a traditional washed rind tomme style cheese. The wheels of cheese, which their website describes as “odorous,” are produced throughout the milking season (which produces a variety of flavors as the cows’ diet changes as the year progresses) and are then cave-aged for at least three months. The result is first apparent with an intensely funky rind–the website’s description is dead-on. And while the rind is said to be edible, unless you want a mouthful of grass, I’d stay away. Close to the edges, the cheese picks up much of the rind’s flavor: a funky, mushroom-like taste that has a hint of grass. The further you get from the rind, however, the lighter and more accessible the cheese becomes, and an interesting–if not surprising–fruity characteristic emerges.
Of the beers tasted with the cheese, Stoudt’s Triple emerged as the clear pairing partner. The beer’s slight fruitiness did well with that of the cheese, though both remained light in the beginning. As the flavor of the cheese became more intense towards the rind, though, the Triple picked up the pace as well and contributed spiciness and a definite alcohol heat that was able to keep the earthy qualities of the cheese from getting out of hand. The beer actually turned the grassy bits of cheese near the rind from something that tasted like, well, grass, to something that tasted exotic and lively. Like Lennon and McCartney, these are two elements that work great on their own, but when paired together they elevate the other past.