Cheese and beer don’t just pair well, some cheesemakers are adding beer into their cheeses to make beer cheeses, using different varieties of beer. Cheesemakers across the US are partnering with local breweries to make new products for turophiles, cerevisaphiles, and everyone in between.
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Modesto, Californa-based Fiscalini got the idea of beer cheese from Purple Moo, their wine-soaked cheese. Laura Genasci, who runs the Fiscalini Farmstead with her brother Brian Fiscalini, says that it was such a success, that they wondered why they didn’t try making other cheeses with different liquors.
Their first beer cheese was “Hopscotch” which was made with cheddar and Scotch ale in 2009. It was well-received especially in foodservice since the cheese was great on burgers. It was helpful that a lot of brewery pubs opened up and it was a great addition to their food service.
Image Credit: Fiscalini Farmstead.
The Right Beer … And The Right Amount of Beer
However, not every liquor worked with cheese, as Genasci notes that “not everything sticks.” They tried various products and some paired terribly with the cheese. Finding the right balance is also a critical part of the process. Part of the challenge is getting the right ratio of cheese to beer; they’ve discovered their sweet spot is 2,000 gallons of milk to a keg and a half. They follow their recipe for farmhouse cheddar until the end when they add the salt, that’s when the beer gets added.
It’s important that the beer does not overpower the cheddar. For instance, she uses the example of Fiscalini’s spicy cheeses. But if you take a taste and it’s so hot you cannot take another taste, Genasci says, “we’ve kind of defeated the purpose. We want you to come back for more.”
While Hopscotch is their first beer cheese, they now make Craft Beer Cheddar, made with an Imperial Stout Ale Beer from local Dust Bowl Brewing Company since 2017. One of the challenges they faced was the original name was a bit confusing, many people did not quite know what they were getting. So, they changed the name to Craft Beer Cheddar, which was super successful for them. The cheese has been picked up by Walmart for their entertainment section.
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Tulip Tree Creamery
Indianapolis-based cheesemaker, Tulip Tree Creamery has also been making beer cheese for several years. Since 2016, they have worked with several local breweries instead of one to make their hops beer cheese including Big Lug Canteen, St. Joseph Brewery and Public House, and Guggman Haus Brewing Co.
Image Credit: Tulip Tree Creamery.
A Networking Opportunity
Fons Smits, head cheesemaker at Tulip Tree, explains that they were making a cheese that had such a nice flavor profile and nice consistency he believed it could pair with beer. Plus, breweries were opening up nearby and they started thinking it would be a way of connecting Tulip Tree’s products with breweries.
The result is a new product with local ingredients as well as a networking opportunity with a local beverage business. They have also worked with breweries outside of their area on some batches.
Like Fiscalini, cheese has to be the focus no matter what is added to it. They use a double cream wheel for their base and then add flavor that builds on the taste: “something which carries that flavor, but doesn’t overpower the other one,” Smits explains. They do prefer strong beers for the cheeses like porters or stouts.
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Rotating Breweries & Seasonal Cheeses
However, since they are small cheese producers, they cannot carry all the beer cheeses from all partner breweries at once. They’ll rotate through the breweries, but each cheese label will specify the beer and brewery that was used in the cheese. They do have brewers approach them to make beer while distributors also approach them to make a batch from a certain brewery. There are also seasonal brews for Halloween and Christmas like pumpkin and chocolate.
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Washed Rind Cheese & Pub Cheese
Fons points out that there are several ways of making beer cheese. There’s adding it into the mix while the cheese is made (like Fiscalini). It can also be used as a wash for the rind, like Tulip Tree’s Foxglove, a double cream-washed rind cheese, where the cheese is washed in beer and special bacteria they’ve been making since 2015. They also have a spreadable pub cheese that also has Fonsdue, which is flavored with beer and mustard and best served warm. Read more about Tulip Tree Creamery.
Image Credit: Tulip Tree Creamery.
Caputo Brothers Creamery
For some cheesemakers, beer cheese is about embracing opportunities that you didn’t think you even wanted. Philadelphia-based Caputo Brothers work to make and promote Italian-style cheeses to customers in the United States. Beer cheese was the furthest thing on their minds, explains Rynn Caputo, owner of Caputo Brothers. But in 2014, they participated in a Samuel Adams Boston Lager competition for food/beverage artisans and Caputo won the grant. Soon after, Samuel Adams asked Caputo to make a beer cheese with their beers for a large event. Caputo agreed and then promptly forgot about it for a few years, says Caputo.
Image Credit: Caputo Brothers Creamery.
Supporting Local Dairies
Several years later, they were approached by their local grocery chain about making another beer cheese. Caputo recalls that was kinda offended at the query, since Caputo was all about making and promoting Italian cheeses. But when she realized that this could be an opportunity to save some local dairies, she swallowed her pride. At the time, there was a big dairy crisis in Pennsylvania.
So, they dusted off the recipe, connected with local brewery Tröegs Independent Brewing. They made Troegenator Beer Cheese in 2019, using a gouda-style base that’s washed in Troegenator Double Bock. And that was the beginning of the end. People liked it and the brewery asked for more.
Now Caputo has an entire section dedicated to beer cheeses and has managed to save two dairy farms. Caputo Brothers pays a premium for the milk instead of commodity prices. Caputo says, “what we want to do is create a sustainable economic environment. So instead of the milk price changing from month to month” and dairy farmers not knowing what the price will be or how much milk they’ll sell, Caputo contracts with them for a year, telling them how much they’ll buy and how much they’ll pay for the milk. “They can actually run their dairy farm like a business,” Caputo says.
Since then, Caputo Brothers has released several more beer cheeses including Troegenator Mad Elf Beer Cheese, Perpetual IPA Beer Cheese, Grand Cacao Beer Cheese, Cracked Elf, and more. Perpetual IPA Beer Cheese has very little beer in it; they run the milk through a cheesecloth that contains the hops, so it takes on the hops flavor. When they’ve pressed the curd, they spray the rind with beer. Caputo says, “It hurts your brain when you eat it because you’re like, ‘I don’t understand, am I drinking a beer or eating cheese?’”
Image Credit: Tröegs Independent Brewing.
Buying Local Brews
Not only does the beer cheese help dairy farms and Caputo, but it also helps the breweries, Caputo says. People expect that their local breweries to constantly make new things for them and it can be a challenge to come up with new flavors. So, offering Troegenator Beer Cheese or other beer cheeses is a way to give the audience a new product without making a new beer or derivation of a beer they already made. “It’s a way to extend the brand,” Caputo says.
As for the beer cheese trend, Caputo thinks that anything that can add value to milk and make the milk market more sustainable is great. “If beer cheese is the way to do it, awesome,” she says. Plus, she hopes that cheesemakers working with beer and other liquor companies might help leverage the liquor world’s expertise in marketing to the cheese world. Beers and liquors can have a cult following, why not cheese?
Caputo ultimately advises folks not to get too stuck in pride or being overwhelmed with creating the perfect cheese. The cheeses should be super approachable and tasty for the average consumer. Caputo recalls the real important question is whether the cheese is good. “That is what matters,” she says. Read our story on how beer saved a Pennsylvania creamery.
So go out and find your local beer cheeses (or order from these brands) and taste something delicious while supporting local cheesemakers and brewers.
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