Let's Talk Farmhouse Ale
Farmhouse ales could well jostle for top spot in the cheese pairing world in our minds (we admit to a particular soft spot for Lambics too, as you probably know…). Their vastly reaching variations and sub-styles make them versatile, ever changing and always exciting.
Saisons are a fantastic example, falling under this umbrella of farmhouse ales. A rich history and focus on terroir has led many modern breweries to adopt this style and make it their own.
Originating in the French speaking region of Belgium - Wallonia - Saison is the namesake of the ‘Seasonaire’ farm workers who would have been watered and partly paid in the stuff. Needless to say, brewing beer back in the middle ages would have been a slightly more touch-and-go affair…
Sanitation and refrigeration are two key factors in creating a ‘clean’ beer - or in other words, a beer which ends up how the brewer intended - without surprises!
Without either of these, the results would have been far less predictable. Warm fermentation combined with open vessels or contaminated equipment would have created the perfect environment for wild yeasts, bacterias and other funky flavour giving compounds.
These elements may be considered ‘off-flavours’ in some brewing practices, although they are celebrated and necessary in others (think wild ales, Flemish reds and Lambics). Brettanomyces is one such often present wild yeast, which creates fruity, funky and earthy notes - as well as a tart edge from one of its by-products acetic acid.
To mask these unintended quirks, land-owners would look to their natural habitat. Hedgerow herbs, local fruit skins and spices would be added to the resulting beer, balancing out any overriding tartness or funk. Voila - a refreshing, fruity, spicy brew!
Thirst quenching farmhouse beers such as this would have refreshed the seasonal farm workers, but they’re just as good at a balmy summer’s picnic…
Take advantage of the plethora of herbal, spicy notes with this style and have them with food.
Cheese lends itself particularly well for a few reasons...
Summer grazing herds will pick up the quality of the land, producing beautifully grassy, herbal, luscious milk. Marachel, a Swiss Alpine cheese, is a fantastic example of this. Or try some Rollright - custardy curd wrapped in woody spruce bark… Flavours which will marry harmoniously with those in a farmhouse ale.
Saisons also tend to have a dry, crisp quality, and a lively carbonation. This will work wonders to balance out the creamy, fattiness of cheese - allowing you to go between the two with a refreshed palate.
Next time we’ll look at these creamier white bloomy rinded cheeses, and some perfect summers day drinks pairings.