Monday, February 04, 2008

Chimay: Beer and Cheese

I gifted a bottle of the Chimay Blue Grande Réserve to Karl for Christams, and we decided to enjoy it this weekend by pairing it with the Chimay Grand Cru cheese, which we picked up from Giant Eagle (at $16.99/lb).

These products are very special because they are produced by Trappist monks in Belgium. Proceeds from sales of the three beers and four cheeses, all made on location at the monasteries, go to meet the needs of the monasteries and foundations involved, and also serve to sustain employment in the relevant regions. You do end up paying quite a bit more than you would for a Bud Light (a 750 mL bottle of Chimay Blue is about $15), but the quality is fantastic and well worth the occasional splurge.

The cheese, which I tasted first, smelled strongly of broccoli and sweaty, vinegar-y body odor: strange, but not exactly unexpected in a ripe cheese. It tasted delicious! It's very creamy (a semi-soft cheese), with some tangy funkiness. It doesn't coat the palate too strongly, which in my opinion makes for a great cheese to pair with wine or beer. The cheese also has a sweet, nutty element akin to toasted almonds.

The beer is a pretty classic Belgium, except that it tastes far more polished than most. Most Belgian beers tend to be sweet and caramelly, and the Chimay Blue is no exception. I usually don't enjoy sweet beers, and I therefore don't usually like Belgian beers, but the Chimay is very enjoyable even to my palate. There are dark, roasted malt flavors underlying the caramel and honey-like sweetness which bring a wonderful measure of balance to the table. The after-taste is almost floral and never degenerates into that sour taste that you often get with many beers: that, in my opinion, is a sign of a well-crafted beer.

When paired, I actually didn't find the cheese or the beer was enhanced. I generally don't enjoy my cheese paired with any beverage besides water, though, so I'm a bit of a tough sell on any cheese-pairing. Not many beverages can compete with the way a cheese tends to completely coat the mouth with its texture and flavors. The exception are highly carbonated or fairly acidic beverages with effervescence that cuts through that coating (e.g., sparking wine, acidic beers, etc.). Even then, it's important for the flavors to be complementary.

That doesn't happen with the Chimay Grand Cru and the Chimay Blue, in my opinion. The beer lacks any acidity, and its smooth sweetness merely runs over the cheese film on the palate without creating any sort of flavor combination.

Still, it was fun to try the beer and cheese together: that's what trying new things is all about! I certainly would recommend either the beer or the cheese to any beer or cheese enthusiast.