Beer and Cheese — Hafod

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.

If you think you know cheddar, try Hafod and think again. This cheese puts many other cheddars to shame — and I don’t just mean the crappy plastic supermarket ones. The name, which is pronounced havod, means summer pasture.

Sam Holden makes this cheese according to a recipe from the early 20th century. The method is a bit slower than others and uses lower temperatures. In a 2015 interview he explained how he wanted to make a cheese that was truly expressive of the land. Hafod is slightly more moist than Somerset cheddars, which are hard and sharp. It is more mellow, rich and earthy, with buttery complex flavours.

The best cheese preserves the qualities of the milk it was made with, and so March’s batch of Hafod cheddar — which takes 9–10 months to mature — is captured summer pasture. By last May and June, the Ayrshire herd at Bwlchwernen Fawr, Wales’ oldest organic dairy farm, would have been outside day and night, and so getting the food they love best and that makes the best milk: a herbal ley of clover, timothy, chicory and meadow fescue by day and permanent pasture meadows at night. The milk is unpasteurised, to retain its broad bandwidth of flavours, and long-lost gentle and slow Cheddar-making techniques from the early 20th century use a light touch to turn it into cheese. The cheese, which was wrapped in cloth and covered in lard, has matured over winter. Every batch has subtle differences, and March’s cheese has brighter, toppier, grassier flavours, reflecting the diet of the herd at the time it was made.

Lia Leendertz, 2019 Almanac

If you have nine minutes to spare you can see the cheese being made.

The Beers

I think this would work great with a classic English bitter or ESB. Go for something from a traditional, independent brewery if you can. A pale ale will also work well, perhaps something like Butty Bach from Wye Valley Brewery, which is not too far away from the farm where the cheese is made. American style pale ales and IPAs should also be good with this cheese.

If you fancy something a shade lighter for a Märzen or Oktoberfest. These traditional German lagers have a bit more malty body than the usual pilsners or helles beers, and still retain the crisp clean lager finish.

Or head in the other direction for something with a smidge more oomph than a regular bitter: try an amber or red ale. Five Points Hook Island Red is a good choice. It’s a hoppy beer with tropical and resinous pine notes, all underpinned by robust spicy peppery malts.

Porters, stouts and even barley wines should also work but personally I think they’re maybe starting to feel a bit heavy for this time of year, when everything else is light and fresh and opening up into renewed life and vigour.

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