A strong cheese calls for a strong beer, and vice versa. And in my opinion (what are blogs for?), there is no pairing so consummate and satisfying as barleywine and Stilton. Yes, old Cheddar with an IPA is always a tangy treat, goat cheeses and fruit lambics tend to make very cute couples, and of course, malty brown ales fit Gruyere like a well-tailored three-piece suit. But there’s nothing like barleywine and Stilton. The salty sourness of the cheese pulls out a plush red carpet of sweet fruit and brandy notes in the beer, which returns the favor by making the cheese seem more creamy, mellow, and smooth. The taste feels like your cousin’s really perfect wedding. Or maybe it’s more like when two friends of yours who have been flirting for years finally hook up. Or the best version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” imaginable (I’m thinking Astrud Gilberto and Lionel Richie). You can almost hear both beer and cheese whisper you complete me from inside your mouth. It’s beautiful.
But I don’t want to oversell it. Just try it for yourself. I recommend the barleywines that Sprecher and Anchor and Nøgne put out, which are more American than British in style, but not murderously bitter and boozy like some American barleywines (Rogue and Sierra Nevada, I’m looking in your direction).
Anyway, I wanted to make a risotto celebrating this pairing… but I couldn’t find any Stilton at Aeon on Sunday. I substituted Gorgonzola and Cheddar, which worked well, and for the beer I chose Daisen G Beer‘s 2006 barleywine, which at almost two years old was quite malty and sweet – perfect for cooking. Also, I meant to use pearl barley in place of some of the rice but I forgot. Oh well. It was still damn tasty.
Barleywine and Gorgonzola Risotto
about 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
3/4 apple, peeled and diced
1/4 teaspoon ground bay leaf
about 1/3 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
about 1 cup short-grain rice (up to 1/2 cup can be replaced with pearl barley)
about 1/8 pound bacon or pancetta, cut into small cubes
about 5 cups beef stock
2 tablespoons malt vinegar
1/2 cup English-style barleywine
1/3 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded
olive oil, for sautéing
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
- Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add bacon and sauté to render fat until it begins to lightly brown.
- Add onions, garlic, fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Sauté until onions are soft and translucent.
- Increase heat and add rice. Stirring often, toast rice until it turns white and opaque.
- Add vinegar and reduce heat to medium. Cook off vinegar, then add a ladleful of stock and cook, stirring often. When most of the liquid has evaporated or been absorbed, add more stock and continue stirring. Repeat this step several times until rice has nearly finished cooking.
- About ten minutes into cooking, stir in walnuts.
- Once rice is almost al dente, add ground bay leaf and barleywine, increase heat and cook off liquid.
- Add cheeses and stir until completely melted.
- Finally, add apples and combine well. Serve with additional freshly ground black pepper.