Forget wine and cheese. Beer and cheese is where it’s at. This duo plays better in every way: there’s more affinity, there’s more balance, and there’s more nuance to the matches. Each month I choose one cheese that’s at its best and pair it with its ideal beers.
This month it’s Gorwydd Caerphilly. Caerphilly is a mould-ripened, aged cow’s milk cheese typically sold at three to four months. The style takes its name from a small town in south Wales. However much of it is actually made across the Severn in Somerset. Maybe farmers there have more spare milk to use up?
When Todd Trethowan left Neal’s Yard Dairy to set up his own cheesemaking business he initially moved back to Wales, but made the move to north Somerset in 2014 in search of the best milk from which to make the best cheese. Now, with his brother Maugan and sister-in-law Kim, another former Neal’s Yard Dairy cheesemonger, he makes Gorwydd. (Pronounced Gor-with; the ‘th’ like in thistle.)
For those of you curious about the process, here’s a six-minute video that shows Tom and his brother making the cheese.
Did you know cheese is seasonal too? It’s not as pronounced as with fruit and veg, but it’s obvious when you think about it. Cheese is a natural product, based on milk which is in turn based on what the livestock are eating.
There is a distinct difference between the summer and winter batches of […] Gorwydd Caerphilly. In the summer the cows graze pastures. The fresh grass takes on water and so the milk has a low fat content. This makes the curds fairly dry, crumbly and acidic, and the creamy layer that forms between the rind and the centre — the ‘breakdown’ — thin, producing a light, refreshing cheese. From around mid-October the cows are kept in a barn and fed a richer diet of silage and hay. The milk, produced for the winter needs of calves, is more calorific. The winter cheese is softer, plumper and creamier but still with that characteristic brittle Caerphilly texture and lactic flavour. The breakdown is more pronounced, and the flavour towards the mushroomy rind is savoury.Lia Leendertz, 2019 Almanac
So we’ve got this delicious cheese. What are we going to drink with it, you may ask?
The first style I’ll point you towards here is a Belgian pale ale. Something like a De Konink, or a De Ranke XX Bitter. These are moderately malty, moderately bitter, and come with a distinctive fruity Belgian yeast character that will echo the rustic, farmhouse nature of Gorwydd to a tee. If you fancy a Belgian pale ale with a slightly more hoppy, modern character look for Taras Boulba from Brasserie de la Senne.
You could take the farmhouse connection a step further and opt for a saison. Saison Dupont is the classic example of the style and never disappoints. Closer to home, Burning Sky’s Saison à la Provision is also a dependable slam-dunk of a beer. With a saison you also have some lemony acidity to the beer that will marry up particularly well with the flavours found in the cheese.
Next I’ll take the beer choices slightly darker, and slightly sweeter — but only slightly. A Bière de Garde would be great, if you can find one, but it’s not that easy here in the UK. You might have more luck looking for a Vienna lager, amber lager, or California common. These beers will have a touch more body to them and their sweet malt flavour will have a gently toasted edge to it that should make the cheese sing on your palate.
Cloudwater’s Vienna Lager should work well — and was my own personal choice to try with this cheese — but if you’re reading this some time after is was posted in January 2019 that might not be available any more. Anchor’s Steam Beer should also fit the bill here and is usually available year-round.
If you have the winter Caerphilly, with a bit more kick and depth to it, you could even go as far as matching this with a traditional English bitter or ESB. Fullers ESB is the go-to round my neck of the woods but you can also do well with offerings from Harvey’s (Sussex Best) and Adnams (Broadside).
Next month’s cheese is a goat’s cheese also from Somerset. With blood oranges reaching their peak I feel some sort of warm salty-acidic-nutty salad coming on. Check back to find out which beers I pair with that.
But before that I’d like to hear from you. Leave a comment below if you’ve tried any of the beers above with some Caerphilly cheese, or perhaps one that I didn’t mention. Let me know what worked and what didn’t!