Gastropub, "a high end restaurant and bar serving food and beer." For so many years we have been
working on wine and food pairings, but let's take a step back in time and look at what came first; beer and cheese. They are such a natural pairing. They both start with the land; barley, wheat and grass, dairy cows are often fed the grains leftover from making beer - those are happy cows. Both are fermented and aged. They both cover a wide spectrum from light and floral to rich and robust.
The idea of the Gastropub starts in the name of a pub. Pub is short for public house a location that anyone could eat in England. Traditional foods served were basic cold meals that you would enjoy with your pint or two of beer. A ploughman’s lunch would have been made up of a chunk of cheese (usually a dry harder cheese), sliced cold roasted meats, pickles and bread. Gastro pubs are a way for chefs to return to basic fare with a flair. Often updating roasted meats for charcuterie and changing cheeses to pair with appropriate beers. We have just recently added our own Gastropub Station to our menu, featuring charcuterie, cheeses, house made pickles and more; a great set of pairings with either beer or wine.
If you are putting together your own pairings, Sonoma County is the perfect place for a lot of local products. Not only do we have fantastic array of local cheeses, but craft breweries are popping up all around. And we’re seeing the start of local artisan meats too.
If you are in the mood for a lighter fresh or soft cheese like a chèvre or brie try looking at Petaluma’s Hen House Saison. With fresh touches of grass and lemon the combination with both cheeses would be a great summer time pairing. Try Marin French Cheese’s petite brie or Cypress Groves Humboldt Fog.
The aged and harder cheese are a classic pairing. Dryer cheeses tend to have saltier, richer flavors accented with nuttiness and a high fat quantity. With bolder flavors you should look towards a fuller beer with accents of cleansing hops, American Ipas, porters and dark ales work well. Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale (the first one they ever brewed) has strong malty notes with a sweetness from the hops. I would recommend Matos St George, a local Portuguese style cheese with cheddar accents and a buttery flavor. Another favorite would be Estero Gold Reserve from Valley Ford Cheese Company. This has been a favorite of mine from the time that I could only get it at the farmers market. Aged for 18 months it has a crumbly butter texture.
Blue cheese will take things in a very different direction. A local favorite Point Reyes original blue has a strong punch and blends well with a touch of sweetness. On our cheese board I love to pair it with a bit of fig jam. Try 101 North’s Naughty Aud Imperial Stout, with accents of bourbon and vanilla. If you want to try something different try Dempsey’s’ Barley Wine, sherry flavors and touches of dried fruit would pair beautifully.
For those that say go big or go home I would look toward the washed rind cheeses. Stinky cheeses go with stinky brews. Nicasio Square from Nicasio Valley Cheese Company is a washed rind cheese done in the Taleggio style, soft and creamy with a golden orange rind; it will hold up well against beers from Shady Oak Barrel House; they specialize in sours and artisanal ales.
To round out your plate I would add such things as salamis and other meats. I recently had the pleasure of a tasting with Framani out of Berkley. For a simple flavorful addition think of their rosemary ham sliced thinly; very lean with a clean finish and pungent rosemary. To add a bit of spice add in Salame Calabrese with touches of chili and fennel from the south of Italy. Also, look for Zoe’s Meats, who started in Petaluma, whose products can be found in local markets. And don’t forget Thistle Meats in downtown Petaluma
For some final flair on the board we are making our own pickles in house from seasonal fruits and vegetables like persimmons and apples and carrots, cauliflower and cucumber. Easy to do at home, or to find at the market.
Don’t forget to add your favorite crusty bread to finish out the meal.