Friday, June 22, 2007

St George, with Beer Bread, by George

So, the fine folks over at Fork and Bottle have organized an blog-athon of cheese-pairing -- only my favorite topic of all time. Needless to say, my Omnivore and I are feeling quite thrilled to jump into the fray with some experimental pairings for the Matos Family's St. George, a Portuguese style farmstead cheese.

We've eaten this cheese --pounds and pounds of it by now-- on various occasions. Usually we keep a wedge around the house because it melts beautifully, is delicious for sandwiches, also great just for straight snacking when you're in need of a little boost, but is refined enough to add to a pretty cheese platter too. It's semi-hard, and has some Cheddar-y elements, though it's not as dry as traditional Cheddars. The Matos Family, who named the cheese after the island of Sao Jorge in the Azores where they grew up, have been making this cow's milk cheese since 1979.

We picked up this chunk at the Cowgirl Creamery shop at the Ferry Building. I was on a different cheese-buying mission, but as usual, got distracted...

So, given the Cheddar flavor elements of the cheese, I thought we'd try out some ales. I'm not a beer-drinker, mind you. Generally, when presented with a beer, I scrunch up my nose and squint my eyes and pour it down my throat trying not to let it actually touch my tongue.

However, I like to think I'm open-minded, and you just never know. A local ale might be made much tastier when paired with cheese.

To be sure that beer got a fair shake, however, I summoned my Omnivore.

"Ale at 9:30 in the morning?" quoth he, holding his face very straight. "Uh-huh. You know I'm not twenty anymore..."

"Just a sip," I said in a wheedling voice. "Good. Now try this."

  • Old Stock Ale (From North Coast Brewing Co., Fort Bragg) - Not so good. I thought the caramel and nutty aromas of the Old Stock might bring something new to the St. George, but in the end it overwhelmed the cheese. While this is a fascinating beer with a fantastic color and flavor, it needs a stronger stinkier cheese that will fight back.
  • Anchor Steam (A San Francisco Treat)- Neutral. Anchor Steam is one of those "plays well with others" choices and here it worked fine, but didn't really enhance anything flavorwise.
So a strikeout on beers, but as my Omnivore pointed out, St. George may be reminiscent of Cheddar, but it's not a Cheddar.

Well, given that, some of the other accompaniments that I had thunk up were looking unlikely.

We often have a bit of mustard on the plate when we dress up a charcuterie platter, and so it seemed like a natural addition to have some Dijon. Maille is what we have around the fridge, and there's some leftovers from the booty I brought back for my Omnivore from Paris.

  • Au Cassis de Dijon - Not so good. I love this mustard, which has an infusion of cassis, but isn't too sweet. Unfortunately the cassis interfered with the tanginess of the cheese.
  • Straight Dijon - Neutral to Good pairing. We were a little split on this one. I liked how the spiciness of the Dijon sharpens the flavor of the cheese, but my Omnivore didn't think it brought much to the party.
  • Caramelized Onions - Neutral. I wanted to try some things we don't usually put with cheeses, and this was a shot in the dark. I thought maybe the sweetness of the caramel plus a slightly darker element might change the cheese a bit, but in fact, the sweetness obscured the flavor a little. It didn't clash, but it wasn't great either. Still, in a different situation, I could see making a French Onion Soup with deeply caramelized onions and mix of shredded St George plus a sharper cheese on top -- nice and crusty.
  • Toasted Pecans - Great Pairing. Yes, it's that old standby, toasted pecans, but they're a common addition to cheese plates because, you know what? They really work.
I'm bummed, however, that the beer thing didn't work out, and wondering what else we have in the house to drink with the cheese.

I start rooting through the liquor cabinet. My Omnivore and I are such big drinkers. Our cabinet is filled with bottles of rum, vodka, Cuarenta y Tres, Sherry, Port, Madeira -- each missing say, exactly half a cup, or 1/3 of a cup of its contents. Each bottle might stay that way for months or at least until the next recipe that calls for 1/2 a cup of Madeira.

I extract the tawny port and some fino sherry. Why not? It's all an experiment.

  • Fino Sherry - Bad pairing. "Wicked nasty" was how my Omnivore described it, before swiftly downing some fizzy water and scraping his tongue with his teeth to try to get the taste off of it. Bizarre metallic flavor that just kept on going. Do not try this at home.
  • Dow's Tawny Port - Great Pairing. Again, guess what? Tradition works. Port goes with cheese. Port=Portuguese perhaps? Regardless, the Port fine-tuned the flavors, and brought the St. George into sharper focus. A bite of St. George with a pecan and a sip of port? Delish.
Even so, now I'm feeling a little disappointed. I was looking for something a bit more fun and I'm not quite ready to give up on the beer yet. I have one more trick up my sleeve:

Beer bread

3 cups self-rising flour
3 cups all purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Add and mix:
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 (12-ounce) bottle of beer (I used the Anchor Steam)

Pour over top:
1/4 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Lightly grease or spray a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan

Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Pour into prepared loaf pan. Pour melted butter over the top and bake for 50 minutes.

Every so often I am guilty of not reading the recipe carefully enough. The last time I made this bread it had been a while since I'd baked it and I accidentally mixed the butter into the batter. It didn't make the bread taste bad (how could it?) but if you pour the butter over the top after the batter is in the pan, you'll get a wonderful crispy, crunchy crust that tastes great.


Now this is what I was looking for. The heartiness of this bread really brings out the flavor of the cheese. And the crispy crunch crust offers a nice contrast of textures with the pliability of the cheese. Top it with the toasted pecans and it's terrific and makes a yummy meal in itself.

Next up? Red Hawk pairings. Stay tuned...

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