Before planning your vacation itinerary, I highly recommend consulting at least two local sommeliers. While my husband was booking accommodations in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island early this August, I was scheduling cheese and craft beer pit stops inspired by Heather Rankin, owner of Halifax's Obladee Wine Bar and East Coast beer and wine writer Craig Pinhey. Thanks to their local expertise, I discovered a couple of cheese makers I hadn't known about and enjoyed such a variety of East Coast brews I felt like I was on a beer-cation. (Sorry wine. I'll be back.) The cheese didn't complain one bit. Below are a few favourite pairings that made me forget about seafood – for a little while.
Ran-Cher Acres Chèvre
Paired with Garrison Raspberry Wheat Ale
Located in Aylesford, N.S., this family goat farm overlooks the Annapolis Valley. Their farmstead chèvre is rich and dense with bright flavours and a gentle tang. Owners and cheese makers Randy and Cheryl Hiltz (and daughter Sarah) have been milking goats and making cheese for 30 years. They can be found at the Halifax Seaport Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings (along with their other goat milk products).
This cheese is soft, fresh and luscious. A swish of the mildly fruity, effervescent beer is the perfect follow up to its creamy texture. Both cheese and beer are light tasting, and the slight sweetness of the beer is well matched to the chèvre's clean, crisp flavours.
Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar
Paired with Iron Horse Brown Ale
A cheese-lover cannot hit Charlottetown and miss seeing the wooden shelves upon which rows of award-winning Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar are being ripened in COWS Creamery's aging room. The recipe for Canada's first clothbound cheddar has its roots in the Orkney Islands north of Scotland and the milk for the cheese comes from the small farms on PEI.
This particular cheese and beer pairing (suggested by Ms. Rankin and Mr. Pinhey) was at the top of my to-do list after Ms. Rankin likened it to a "Caramilk Bar." The combo of the beer's dark chocolate and roasted nut notes matched with the toffee flavours of the creamy, aged cheddar lived up to its promise.
Old Growler Gouda, That Dutchman's Farm
Paired with Propeller IPA
We spent an hour wandering the groomed trails overlooking the Bay of Fundy on That Dutchman's Farm in Upper Economy, N.S. before we stopped in for some cheese. I was seeking something powerful to match one of our fave Nova Scotia brews, the Propeller IPA. "Not for the faint of heart" reads its label and it is indeed hoppy and bitter (but very well balanced). Old Growler aged Gouda seemed like a match that would be just as fierce. The cheese is smooth and robust with caramel notes and crunchy crystals throughout. The full-bodied beer with its citrus notes and hoppy finish resulted in a perfect conclusion complementing the long, sweet notes of the Gouda.
Caora Caise, Wandering Shepherd Cheese
Paired with Garrison Tall Ship Amber Ale
Caora Caise ("Sheep Cheese" in Gaelic) caught my eye splashed on the front page of Nova Scotia's Chronicle Herald. The whole 4.5 kg wheel was being hoisted by Chef Jill Davie as part of Cape Breton's Right Some Good local food festival. Its photo-worthy, pale white rind develops naturally on this raw milk, semi-firm cheese.
Wandering Shepherd Cheese opened in 2011 as the first commercial sheep's cheese producer in Nova Scotia. Cheese maker Ron Muise, who was once a chef, is experimenting with various cheese styles (including Gorm Ailig, a Roquefort style sheep's milk blue he plans to release at Christmas).
Pair this Ossau-Iraty style cheese with Tall Ship Amber Ale, a clean and crisp beer with a rich malty sweetness that complements the creamy complexity and sweet, nutty finish of a mountain style cheese like the Caora Caise.
Sue Riedl blogs about cheese and other edibles at cheeseandtoast.com.