Several months ago, I participated in a honey-and-cheese pairing at Murray’s Cheese in Greenwich Village. Among the many miraculous marriages tickling my palate that evening, the great standout was Swiss Hoch Ybrig cheese drizzled with Connecticut buckwheat honey. On the tongue, the two blended together into an almost-dead-ringer for an old-fashioned butterscotch candy: butterscotchey, carameley, toasty and supersilky, but without any aftertaste of candy preservatives or too much sugar. So basically, something perfect. That was eight months ago and I can almost taste it still, if that tells you anything.
The cheese itself is in the Gruyere family so it’s dense and a little elastic to the bite but creamy as it melts, and it has the nutty, farm-ey flavors that come from aging (affinage). But this raw cow’s milk beauty is washed in white wine many times over the course of many months by a rock star. The rock star … I mean affineur … responsible for Hoch Ybrig is none other than Rolf Beeler. Google “Rolf Beeler” if you’re looking for a new hero.
The complement of buckwheat honey from Red Bee Apiary in Weston, Conn., was rich, velvety, nutty, molasses-dark and positively luscious. (If you’ve never had honey like this, then you probably have no idea what honey is capable of. Go out and get you some!)
The two different treats, each so unique, blended together into this incredible and oh-so-welcome new flavor. It was completely distinct from either the honey or the cheese, and stood alone as a new kind of yummy for me. What a perfect pairing!
What’s this about honey? I thought you said cheese and BEER.
Indeed. This weekend I attended another Murray’s pairing — a “standoff” actually. We tasted several cheeses, each with both a wine and a beer, then voted on the winning pairs. When I realized Hoch Ybrig cheese was on our plates again, I could barely wait to find out what we’d be tasting it with.
Amanda Crawford*, wine specialist at Christie’s Auction House, picked two stellar complements: Donnas Cuvee de Donnas and Arbois Savagnin Jacques Puffeney 2006. The Donnas, a red wine from the Alpine vineyards in the Val d’Aoste region of Italy was pleasantly crisp and light with a very clean grassy-fruity smell. It worked well with the cheese, but the flavors of the cheese lingered longer. The Savagnin, a white wine from the Jura, was impressive. We all thought it was sherry, because its aroma was superstrong and distinctly sherrylike, but its flavors turned out to be far less sweet and far less alcohol-ey. It’s a wine I’d definitely like to have again, even by itself. But it, too, made a great pair for Hoch Ybrig. (At least half the tasters voted the combo their fave.)
I was starting to think that anything could stand up to this fantabulous cheese, but then … sweet lord … then came the beer. The amazing beer. The combo of Hoch Ybrig and Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock doppelknocked my socks off!! Chris Munsey, the beer specialist at Murray’s said he chose it because, like the cheese, it comes from Bavaria and is aged for several months before we get to devour it. Of course, aging beer is a little uncommon, but this lager-style brew simply takes longer to develop its full, dark, smoky-sweet intensity. It didn’t turn the cheese into butterscotch candy, but it did turn it into a little bit of Bavarian heaven.
– Look for Hoch Ybrig cheese in stores with a great cheese selection, or order directly from Murray’s through their online shop.
– Look for the beer and wines in specialty shops. (Warning: The wines will not be easy to find.)
– Discover more awesome pairing ideas in The Pairing Zone.
– Watch great beers being made and tasted at Beer America TV.
– Rate your favorite beers and find new ones to try at RateBeer.com.