Sunday, March 04, 2007

Beer and Food

Fri 2 Mar 2007

Harvey Nicks is perhaps not the first place you'd think of heading for a beer and food matching masterclass. Indeed, when I mentioned this concept to various friends the response was that I'd be given a packet of nuts to go with real ale and a packet of pork scratchings to go with lager. Ho, ho, ho.

The class was hosted by Richard Fox and covered a bit of beer history and some principles of food and beer matching, before moving on to four specific examples.

The tables were all set with four glasses, tasting mats and pencils and paper for our tasting notes. Initially, I was quite disappointed to see that we would be tasting four beers with which I am quite familiar (as Andy pointed out, I'm not the average beer drinker), but in hindsight, I am actually quite glad they were beers with which I was familiar, as this gave me more of an opportunity to concentrate on the food matching aspect.

Richard began the evening with an overview of the history of beer. He is clearly a man who is both passionate and knowledgeable about his subject. His presentation was well prepared, coherent, informative and entertaining, and I was quite disappointed that I'd made the decision not to take notes. That aside, I did make notes when we moved on to the beer and food matching part of the evening. Richard made a quick overview of the principles of food and beer matching before moving on to the specific examples.

The first beer was Schneider Weisse from Germany (the handout said it's Austrian, but a good explore of the English language section of the website suggests Germany). We had the dark wheat beer (hefeweizen), which apparently undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle, so it has a good yeast sediment. This was paired with an Asian prawn noodle dish. The citrus on the palate of the beer was really picked up and accentuated by the food and we both thought this was a great combination. It's also quite a novel one - after all, German food is not known for its lightweight and spicy, citrus flavours! Richard made the point that the beer goes very well with laksa and I can imagine it would (and it's a combination I'm keen to try out soon).

Our next combination was a little more intuitive: Sam Smiths Organic Best Ale with a cheese tart. The cheese tart contained stilton and was topped with some caramelised onions, so the combination was basically a posh ploughman's lunch! Being an ale, the beer had fewer bubbles than the Schneider Weisse, but still enough to cut through the rich pastry/egg/cheese mix of the tart. It was a very hoppy beer and this went well with the onions.

The third beer was, for me, the winning one. Disclaimer: it would be because I love Belgian beer. This was Orval, served with pork collar rillettes, on crostini, with a pineapple pickle. This is another relatively intuitive match: pork with Belgian beer. However, with a rich but delicate dish like rillettes I think most of us would reach for a bottle of wine before we'd consider a beer. I didn't think this was the best food and beer match of the evening, but I think a large part of that was coloured by the fact that I would so readily head for wine. The combination did make me think that beer and pork products are a combination that is seriously under represented. I think you could do all sorts of wonderful things with sausages, redolent with fennel and juniper, and served with Belgian wheat beers.

We rounded the evening off with Liefmans Kriekbier matched with a chocolate ganache truffle. The truffle was STUNNING (it was like chocolate flavoured butter ... mmm). Unfortunately, I just cannot get into lambic/gueuze beers, especially not fruit ones. The beer was overwhelmingly sweet and tasted not dissimilar to cough medicine. My tasting notes read 'yucky' and indicate that the truffle was 'totally spoilt by the nasty beer'. Again, I suspect some preconceptions were at the table with me - I apologise for not being able to bring an objective assessment of this beer!

Both Andy and I thought that the Schneider Weisse and noodle combination was the star of the evening. This is definitely an area where I'll be doing some experimenting. When choosing our worst combination I insisted we not include the chocolate/kriekbier. This left Andy with the Sam Smith's and cheese and onion tart (I think this might have something to do with the fact he doesn't like ale!) and my choice was the Orval and pork.

One big shame was that the evening started rather late and it meant that Richard Fox really had to rush his presentation. He started off at a really good, relaxed and chatty pace, but really had to put his foot down as we went through the tasting. This was a shame as I, at least, would have welcomed some more time and the opportunity for discussion. It also meant that there wasn't really any time for questions. Richard did make the time to walk around and chat to everyone afterwards, which was great - but a more open question and answer session would have been a good addition to the evening.

If you get the opportunity to hear Richard Fox speak, I recommend it - you will almost certainly learn something and have a few preconceptions challenged.

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Blogger Leigh said...

hey - i missed this night due to previous commitments - so thanks for putting a good round-up on here! sounds great, i especially like the idea of Pork and Orval! Will try - thanks!

7:56 am  
Blogger Alex said...

That's a shame you missed it - I did hear one of the HN staff say that they try to do a beer tasting once a year so it sounds like you might have to wait another 12 months!

1:15 pm  

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