The words “wine and cheese” don’t just reference food, they conjure images of a certain set of people, of high-class gatherings full of sophisticated palates sampling specially designed pairings. Beer and cheese, however, have other ideas attached to them. Crowded pubs and pool halls, dips and spreads and guilty pleasures. That said, the case for beer as the superior choice for accompanying cheese is easily made – and Hillsborough’s third annual “Curds & Crafts” event proved that particular point in spectacular fashion.
Held at the Cloth Mill in Hillsborough, close by the Eno River, this year’s Curds & Crafts event featured 16 cheesemakers, 12 breweries, and a few surprises from other local edible artisans, such as Lady Edison Fancy Hams of Chapel Hill and Lusty Monk Mustard out of Candler, NC. Warm light and wood floors paired just as well with accordion-heavy Ivory Boys tunes as craft beers did with artisan cheeses.
Raleigh’s own Trophy Brewing and Lonerider Brewing Co. made strong showings with their respective “Yard of the Month” and “Hoppy Ki Yay” beers, and Ponysaurus brought along their fan-favorite farmhouse ale “Bière De Garde.” Standout cheeses at Curds and Crafts included the Roco – a surprisingly smooth and creamy buffalo cheese from Fading D Farm in Salisbury – and the overwhelmingly soft, mild, savory Buttercup from English Farmstead, found in Marion. The Accidental Baker, of Hillsborough, was a pleasant surprise offering fantastically flavored and textured crackers for those looking for a way to convey cheese to their mouth in a sophisticated fashion.
“I haven’t been to one of these before,” said North Carolina native Alyssa Carlyle, “But I’m loving what I’ve tasted so far. It’s amazing how much they’ve packed into this beautiful old mill!”
Beer and cheese are both products of fermentation, the process that produces alcohol when brewing beer and acid when aging cheese. Over the centuries, the regional methods that create these products have explored countless different avenues of color, taste and texture – but more culturally recent mass-market efforts to appeal to as many people as possible while retaining maximum profit have left us with the same old familiar tastes in the form of Anheuser-Busch beer and Kraft cheese, among others.
The natural response to mass production is bespoke products, wares made with experience and love on a small, personal-feeling scale. The makers of craft beer and artisan cheese are easier seen as people, and the flexibility afforded to a smaller operation allows for greater creativity and more risk. Archaic brewing styles, interesting ingredients, and custom touches make the current biergarden the place to be, with new styles and brewers arriving faster than most of us can drink.
Cheese, like beer, is changeable. It takes on different forms, new flavors and textures arising as a result of culinary chemistry. Both foods are a marriage of art and science, with final products representing an exhausting process of experimentation, trial-and-error, and eventual success.
“It’s easy to be a nerd, maybe kind of a snob, about this stuff,” said self-professed “beer nerd” Erik Boles. “But, truth is, I couldn’t brew a beer on my own without the help of a bunch of people on a forum somewhere … I wouldn’t even know where to start with cheese.”