The Growler discovers superior food and beer pairings that feature Alemar’s Bent River Camembert cheese.
By Chef Dan Parker
Photography by Jamie Schumacher
In the upper Midwest the word “beer” in conjunction with the word “cheese” evokes ideas of a fondue-like soup—an amalgamation of lite beer and an indistinguishable yellow-colored cheese product adorned with popcorn. However, the ties between beer and cheese run far deeper than this Sconnie staple, and never has this been more evident than in today’s artisan food and craft beer movements. Much like our beloved craft brewers, artisans in every realm of the culinary world are handcrafting extraordinary goods, utilizing local ingredients and craft-driven techniques.
One such artisan producer is Alemar Cheese in Mankato, Minnesota. Located in an unassuming former pizzeria-turned-cheesery, Alemar produces some of the most exciting cheese in Minnesota. Former baker, now cheesemaker Keith Adams is virtually a one-man operation, crafting his cheeses with the care of a true artisan. His imprint is present in every step of production, from driving his old farm pickup to collect organic milk from Cedar Summit Farms (Minnesota’s only 100% grass-fed creamery), to hand-salting each wheel of soon-to-be Camembert.
Keith occasionally supplies fine-dining restaurants in the Twin Cities with a number of handcrafted dairy products; however, Alemar’s flagship and best-known cheese is their creamy and decadent Bent River Camembert. Named for a sharp crook in the Minnesota River located just a few hundred yards from their production facility, this Camembert-style cheese exhibits a rich, buttery profile that develops complexity of earth, sweet cream, and a tangy lactic note as it continues to ripen naturally from the outside in. Allowing the cheese to come to room temperature is key to capturing its delicately nuanced flavors and brilliance.
Traditional beer pairings for Camembert-style cheese find a ready home at the table with Bent River: saisons, bières de garde, fruit beers, gueuze, and some lambics just beg to get to know this cheese. And, while the locality of this cheese and its milk are what makes it uniquely delicious, Bent River lends itself to craft delights from all over the country, and the entire globe. Ommegang Hennepin, Saison Dupont, and Castelain Blond Bière de Garde are superb examples of how Bent River Camembert naturally romances beers exhibiting earthy flavors, lively carbonation, and beguiling depth. Domaine DuPage, a bière de garde from Two Brothers Brewing, offers a most harmonious pairing with this cheese. The rich caramel undertones and understated complexity of this beer balances both the earthiness and sweet grassy notes of Bent River Camembert.
Rather than directly complementing the flavors in Camembert, fruit beers and lambics offer a counter to the subtlety of the cheese, layering both sweet and tart notes on the palate to create varied and delightful taste sensations. Liefmans Cuvee Brut & Odell Friek each offer playful, fruity notes to the rich Bent River, while St. Louis Gueuze Fon Tradition’s tart barnyard flavors offer a sublime match with this cheese. Epic’s Sour Apple Saison combines the lively flavors of a fruit beer with the complexity of farmhouse ales to provide a thoughtful counterpart to Bent River.
For a local pairing, you can’t get any closer than Mankato Brewery located fewer than two miles from Alemar. Their Mankato Original Kölsch-style beer has a light grainy sweetness which rounds out the complexity of Bent River while the brisk carbonation helps cleanse the palate for the next eagerly awaited bite.
The union of craft beer and cheese is not solely confined to the dinner table, but can also be found in the creation of the cheese itself. Alemar’s new release is a beer wash-rinded Camembert named Good Thunder. The name comes from a small town in the Mankato area, and the beer used to create this unique cheese is from a local brewery in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Surly Bender is used to create the brine in which Good Thunder is carefully washed; a process Keith does by hand one piece at a time. Washing a cheese in this fashion is done to encourage the ripening process, and in this case, develops a colorful rind, slightly pungent aromas, and a creamy soft paste with mild, yet deeply intricate flavors.
Beer and cheese. The culinary promises of this duo are little explored and far from fully understood, but give both gourmand and beer geek equal reason to celebrate. And while a bowl of beer cheese soup may indeed have its time and place, I’d invite you to ditch the processed cheese and fizzy yellow beer and explore something with more depth of flavor. On your favorite crusty local bread combine slices of Bent River Camembert together with sliced apples and heritage bacon for a uniquely grown-up grilled cheese sandwich, and a proper homage to those who work to create these epicurean luxuries. Serve with a pint of your favorite craft beer & raise a toast to our local food artisans. Cheers!