The Battle of the Beverages: Cheese Wars III

Meeting glass to glass for the ultimate showdown at Supreme Bean in Eugene, two age-old beverages battled it out to take the cheese.

Five delectable artisan cheeses were paired with one beer and one wine at this event hosted by 16 Tons, the new owners of Supreme Bean, with all the proceeds going to benefit the Green Hill Humane Society. Showcasing the Eugene beer powerhouse Ninkasi Brewing Company against the small-production but not-to-be put in a corner, Brooks Winery out of Eola-Amity Hills – Cheese Wars III set up pairings for these two to throw their best punches.

Pairing for the wine side, Chris Williams of Brooks Winery.

Pairing for the beer side, Jamie Floyd of Ninkasi.

As a lover of wine, beer and cheese I knew this fight was going to be a tough one for the title of taste-bud king, but I was up for the challenge.

But look out beer, wine has long legs!

Cheese - we tasted clockwise around the plate

Cheese 1: Rogue Blue

A hand crafted raw cow’s milk blue veined cheese wrapped in Syrah grape leaves and aged up to a year in rooms simulated to be like ancient caves in Roquefort, France.

Brooks Winery Sweet P Riesling vs. Ninkasi Tricerahops

I started this tasting with the Tricerahops, a double IPA with an earthy, floral hop aroma. Paired with the cheese, the IPA zinged in my mouth eating at the saltiness of the cheese and washing out its creamy qualities while intensifying the woody nature of the blue. Overall the Tricerahops complemented well with the cheese like a burger with fries but numbed the flavors when consumed together.

With the wine however, the cheese transformed with the pairing. You know when you eat Kettle Corn, how the sweetness and saltiness contrast each other but in a way that doesn’t separate but combines to make the snack deliciously whole? Well that is what the wine shared with the cheese. The light sweet Riesling with bright acidity and juicy characteristics balanced the salty cheese smoothing it out to an almost sweet-cream consistency.

Battle 1 goes to Wine!

Cheese 2: Cypress Grove Purple Haze

Goatsmilk Chevre infused with lavender and fennel.

Runaway Red Pinot Noir 2010 vs. Imperiale Imperial Stout

Ninkasi's Imperiale (Jamie Floyd in background)

This battle was hard fought. Not only did both of these beverages pair excellently with the cheese but alone they were also outstanding.

The Runaway Red Pinot Noir, a red-fruit driven wine with medium acidity and a light balanced texture brought out the floral herby nature of the cheese. What I’d considered as more of a summer red, with its light body, I could imagine sitting out on the patio sipping this new-world wine and snacking on the soft chevre with the scent of a wildflower afternoon on the breeze.

The Imperiale on the other hand with its deep, malty and herby flavor exemplified a toasted, nut flavor completely different from the wine. The images of sunshine disappeared and the pairing instead took you to fall with a musky, woodsy flavor.

For me this pairing was a dead tie.

Cheese 3: Willamette Valley Horseradish Havarti

A buttery, laced with horseradish cow’s milk cheese.

Amycas White Blend 2009 vs. Sterling Pilsner

Unlike the last pairing, this couple did not do it for me. I loved the cheese though the texture was like cold rubber, but didn’t like the beer or the wine alone or with the cheese. Maybe if it was summer, I may have enjoyed the beer, but my palate is so tuned to rich, thick seasonal beers and deep red wines that the light, bubbly – almost sparkling wine like bubbles in the beer – just didn’t rock my boat. While the Amycas White, a blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Muscat, was dry with a harsh steel finish (and I typically like a touch of minerality to my wine).

With the cheese, neither really improved much in my book, but the beer pushed ahead with a slight lead.

This battle goes to the Pilsner.

Cheese 4: Cotswold

English, pasteurized, semi-soft cow’s milk.

Rastaban Pinot Noir 2008 vs Renewale

Oh, I could drink these two beverages all day. The Renewale, a winter seasonal Porter for Ninkasi tasted with a rich, bittersweet chocolate like those little cooking chocolate chip morsels mixed with a malty caramel cream sauce. With a dark but very drinkable flavor, Ninkasi knocked me out of the park with this brew that Jamie Floyd from Ninkasi described as the perfect combination of “balance and drinkability – the two key words for beer making.”

But then I tried the Pinot Noir. With a deep, red color between ruby and pomegranate, the Pinot Noir demonstrated flavors of blueberry and current with subtle resinous undertones. It was a bold wine with a nice finishing bite.

With the Cotswold, which tasted -as a girl at my table described- as a cheesy onion bagel, both the wine and beer held up to the challenge. With its rich, sweet texture the beer contrasted the onion to bring out softness in the cheese not previously tasted. The wine though with its big tannin structure and integrated flavors complemented the potent stringency of the cheese and combined extended the finish and flavor of both items.

Wine overall won this dead-heat.

Cheese 5: Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar

Aged, semi-hard, cow’s milk.

Terue Dry Muscat 2009 vs. Total Domination

Of course in true battle style, the last pairing of the night challenged my taste buds. In one corner, Total Domination – one of my favorite IPAs that I drink regularly – in the other corner a dry Muscat and stuck in the middle a flaky cheddar-esque cheese.

The IPA tasted just how I expected – nice and hoppy with a balanced floral and malt flavor with a touch of citrus. With the cheese, the IPA tasted well like Total Domination.

The Terue Dry Muscat, with an aromatic nose of peaches and stone fruit, smelled like a hot vacation to the Caribbean but tasted flat and too dry for my palate. This wine was too disconnected for me between the nose and flavors to balance my senses – plus I couldn’t help comparing the wine to sweet Muscats I have had in the past. Yet when paired with the cheese, the wine significantly improved. The acidity of the wine rounded out to taste almost like an off-dry white helping to reconnect the floral aroma with the taste.

Since the wine improved with the cheese, I give this fight to the Terue Dry Muscat – but I’d have a pint the Total Domination any day.

Recap:

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