There’s nothing like feeding a crowd 10 beer, cheese and chocolate samples to really get people in a good mood.

On Saturday, Mark Knoebl, of Sand Creek Brewing Company, and I teamed up for the second year in a row to lead a Beer, Cheese & Chocolate pairing at the Kickapoo Country Fair, an annual shindig at the Organic Valley headquarters in LaFarge. About 10,000 people interested in local and sustainable agriculture gather every year to hear a myriad of speakers, shop a mini tent city, listen to soulful music and eat amazing local foods.

This year’s keynote speakers were Temple Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University, renown for her ability to work with animals and who has changed the entire landscape of livestock handling and welfare. She spoke at 11 a.m. to a full-house tent. Sunday’s keynote speaker was Michael Perry — one of my very favorite authors — you absolutely must read his new book, “Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting”.

But when crowds weren’t busy listening to famous authors and amazing music acts like Corey Hart and Miles Nielsen, they were hanging out in the Kitchen Tent, eating cheese, drinking beer, and pretending to listen to Mark and me talk about the story of each beer and cheese.

I’ll be brutally honest here and tell you that Kitchen Tent Organizer Bjorn Bergman and Mark Knoebl pretty much do all the work for this yearly session. Bjorn organizes the volunteers, does all the set-up, and Mark determines all the pairings, orders the beers, goes around and picks up the cheeses, and selects the chocolate and crackers.
I basically just show up, cut some cheese, drink some beer, and talk for a few minutes about each cheese. It’s a pretty good gig. This year, I didn’t even have to cut the Limburger – I somehow managed to outsource that job to Missy at Organic Valley. She cut 10 bricks of the stinky cheese by herself. Outside in a tent. In July. In 85-degree weather. This woman deserves a medal.

Sand Creek is making some exceptional beers, and Mark really does a nice job of pairing them expertly with Wisconsin cheeses. Here are a few of my favorites:

Sand Creek’s One Planet Ale, paired with Organic Valley Muenster Cheese. One Planet Ale is a multi-grain beer made with Wisconsin-grown barley, wheat, oats and rye. Locally produced honey is added to enhance the flavor profile. It’s a smooth beer that appeals to just about everyone, and pairs really well with any mild cheese, especially Organic Valley’s Muenster, which has just the right salt content.

Sand Creek’s English Special Ale, paired with Carr Valley Applewood Smoked Cheddar. This ale boasts a roasty, toasty flavor, and is red-brown in color. It’s handcrafted from select roasted barleys. The smoky notes really pick up the smoky notes of Carr Valley’s Applewood Smoked Cheddar, one of those cheeses that I consider to be a gateway drug of specialty cheeses. You take one bite and you can’t stop eating.
Sand Creek’s Oscar’s Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, paired with Limburger. I’ve never had a beer with chocolate and oatmeal in the name before, but this one was really good. A 2000 World Beer Cup Gold Medal winner, the smoothness of this beer nicely complimented the full-flavored Limburger. I had to reassure the crowd that Limburger’s bark is worse than its bite, and most people took the plunge and tried this pairing. It also helped it was the last pairing of the day, right before the Raisin Cookie Dough Truffle, and it always helps to bribe people with chocolate.

Thanks to the folks at Organic Valley and Mark (that’s him pictured at right) at Sand Creek Brewing Company for another fun year of beer & cheese tasting. Hope to see you all next year!

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