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Pairing Cheese & Porter

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Cheese and beer. Is there a pairing ever so raucously appreciated as this?

Yet the problem with cheese these days is that in the effort to make it all the more appreciated we've been putting up on far too high a pedestal. In the way that effete food snobs sip and gurgle wines before demurely spiting into sterling buckets it seems that so many foodies are becoming rather bourgeoisie about every slice of Stilton that comes their way.

You know who I speak of. The types who serve it on a bone china plate with sticks of celery as dessert. They wax on about what sort of port to pair it with and tut-tut over whether the cheese was aged long enough.

Not that there's anything wrong with Stilton and celery as dessert at a fine dinner. (I do it myself, in fact.) Cheese, however, is a social beast; as much as it loves candlelight and specialty cast knives it also digs a party with your wildest friends. It craves a pint and can tell a good joke. Cheese can simultaneously be attentive and the star at your table.

This St. Patrick's day when you serve the beer -- and just so we're completely clear, when I talk about beer on St. Patrick's day I mean a good porter -- bring out the cheese plate. There's no need to fuss about it and serve it on chilled marble, but these cheeses will compliment your beer, and the beer the cheeses. It'll be a nibble to marvel over for a moment before going to the bar with your buds.

And don't worry about the cheese. It won't mind.

Now, cheesemakers have known the importance of pairing cheese with beer and as an excuse to take a nip during the working hours have crafted many wonderful cheeses that incorporate it -- be it during through pressing of the curds or washing the cheeses in a boozy bath.

Stout Cow, a farmstead cheese crafted by Pedrozo Dairy in Northern California is one of my personal favorites for pairing with beer. The cheese is soaked in Sierra Nevada stout (a local beer crafted in Chico, California). The resulting cheese is one that's a little bit fruity at first, but then gives way to yeasty flavors of baked bread and chocolate notes before a resounding stout-heavy finish.

For a cheese that's visually striking and flavorful look no further than the marbled appearance of Cahill's Irish Porter Cheese made by Cahill's Cheese, a producer in Ireland. The brown wax hides a tangy and muscular cheddar tucked in at all sides with porter. The result is brassy and malty. Expect notes of chocolate and caramel.

Kerrygold, another Irish dairy producer (and a large one at that), produces a cheese called Dubliner with Irish Stout. The endearingly St. Patrick's green wax rind makes it easy to identify this particular cheese. Their classic Dubliner recipe -- already a sharp cheese on its own -- is swirled with Irish stout. The result is a cheese that has a slightly softer body that most cheddars and a twinge of bitterness in each bite. Even better, this cheese is widely available and can even be found outside the specialty markets and in some everyday supermarkets.

Another cheddar to consider is Redwood Hill Smoked Goat Cheddar. There's no beer in the production but this cheese is an attention-seeking cheddar that's been heavily smoked to provide a rustic flavor.

A few blues can take a turn with the blackest of porters. The key is to find one without too much bite and lots of cream. Cashel Blue is one of the creamiest and most delightful blues out there. Hailing from the South Tipperary county in Ireland and named after the Rock of Cashel this is one of the most regionally appropriate blues for St. Patty's Day. The fat in the cream cuts through the bitter brew and a well-controlled blue bite gives it enough chutzpah to wake you if your're too mowed to get home from a party that night.

A smarmy wedge of Stilton or Dolcelatte will do you well, too. If you want to go American then look no further than Shaft's Blue Vein Cheese, which has a certain piquancy that sterner blue cheese buffs may love.

Any good triple cream cheese will make for a jaunty pairing. Cowgirl Creamery's St. Pat is the traditional Cowgirl Creamery triple cream recipe wrapped in nettle leaves. You'll find the cheese has a mellow vegetal flavor reminiscent of artichokes and asparagus. Other classic triple creams are Epoisses and Brillat-Savarin, and both should be readily available at any good cheese shop. (If not, take names and bust heads because something has gone horribly wrong.)

A good washed rind cheese won't steer you wrong, either. The meaty, beefy flavors of an oozy slice of Taleggio has the stamina to stand up to even the brassiest of stouts and IPAs. Nicasio Square, a cheese from the Nicasio Valley Cheese Company is similar to Taleggio, though perhaps a bit tamer in flavor (but just as rank with the stank).

Ardrahan, an Irish stinker, is a rather delicate cheese that has a buttery, meaty flavor. An epileptic orange rind is its call sign. It may be a bit more dainty than what one might expect in a washed rind cheese, but the perky tang will highlight the subtle spicy flavors in a stout beer.

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