Shout from the rooftops, it’s Good Beer Week! The much anticipated annual event offers hundreds of food and beer pairings, educational classes, tap take overs and more spread across the city. Without spoiling myself too much I attended Yes Please! An Evening of Beer and Cheese at Mr. Wolf in St. Kilda.
I’ll be honest though, I signed up for this event after one too many pints at an Irish pub in South Yarra based on the loose requirements of a cost under $50 and inclusion of cheese. It was advertised as pairing of Italian cheese and beer, and my expectations were low. I know nothing about the craft beer scene in Italy, and despite having an affinity for cheese, it’s strictly superficial. I was even less impressed initially with the 6 pm start, restricting any opportunity for dinner prior, and finally 30 minutes later we got our first sampling. Grouped at high tables seating 8, my friend and I joked with the strangers how the absence of dinner coupled with the aroma of pizza coming from the dining room was a ploy to direct us to eat in the restaurant post event.
But we were wrong. Despite a disorganized introduction from Will Studd, representative from Calendar Cheese, and what appeared to be animosity, although some suspected it was playful banter, with Leonardo Di Vincenzo from Birra Del Borgo, when our first platter was presented to the table we couldn’t believe our eyes. I’m not a fan of sharing at these types of events, portions can often be cheap and you end up politely giving the last piece to a stranger despite secretly wanting it for yourself. This was not the case however, the value for the cost was applauding.
We began with Mauri ‘Bontazola’ Gorgonzola Piccante Pasturo, Italy and Mauri “Bonta della Bonta’ Dolce Pasturo, Italy, both coupled with Birra Del Borgo ‘Reporter’. In simple terms, we tried two gorgonzola’s, the first being harder, more blue with an intensity in the flavour compared to the ‘dolce’ which was softer and smooth. They both were a great accompaniment to the tobacco porter, which we learned basically contained fermented tobacco, dipped into the brew like a giant tea bag to infuse the flavour.
The Mauri ‘Cave Ripened’ Tallegio Pasturo, Italy, is a cheese matured in caves in the Italian Alps, a very rare occurrence and the Mauri family being one of the only ones left doing so. The cool and humid environment allows for bacteria to grow on the outside, making the rind yeasty in flavour but edible once washed. It was so creamy, coupled with the imperial pilsner ‘My Antonia’. I loved the sweet beginning and the bitter aftertaste. This pairing was also my favourite of the day, but it was still a very hard decision. At this stage we reached the half-way point and I was already feeling my stomach stretch. All the sudden I began to regret my snarl remarks about minimal breadsticks at the start and skipping dinner.
A special guest appearance from Giorgio Cravero from Cravero cheese had the group educated about parmesan. The Cravero family of the mountains of northern Italy has been producing parmesan since 1855 and is now in its fifth generation. He told us that out of only 370 producers, 90% are just average. This is coming from a cheese predominately consumed only in Italy. While the cheese we tasted was aged 29 months, this is fairly old for a parmesan. Wrapped in foil so it didn’t oxidize, we were instructed to squeeze then taste, although for most of us the cheese was quite dense and resulted in nothing. Giorgio recommended parmesan goes great with a sparkling white wine, but I found the American pale ale, ‘ReAle’, really drinkable with its caramel malts offering a sweetness mixed with a spicy and bitter finish.
We finished with Il Forteto Pecorino Toscano DOP Stagionato Tuscany, Italy coupled with ‘ReAle Extra’, an IPA and Antica Formaggieria Pecorino Romano Lazio, Italy with ‘Hoppy Cat’ Cascadian dark ale. Pecorino Romano is claimed to be the original cheese, before parmesan. This is because pecorino comes from sheep, and sheep have come before cows. All pecorino’s are made in Sardinia, in southern Italy. They were both big and salty, like a gulp from the ocean with a bit of stink to it and the Hoppy Cat was much lighter in colour than expected, a dark ale rather than a black IPA.
I walked into Mr. Wolf hungry with small expectations in regards to the beer but waddled out with an appreciation for new cheese and hand on the back to Birra Del Borgo who make not only hip labels, but stellar beers.