Beer and cheese together at last

[attach]2734[/attach]In September, Toronto hosted two very special events. During the Toronto Film Festival, the world’s largest film festival, the downtown core was inundated with celebrities and stargazers.

Accommodating stars like Kevin Kline cheerfully waved to the audience awaiting his arrival at the red carpet, while his co-star, Robert Redford, ungraciously stalked into the tent without even a glance at his waiting fans. But the presence of such glitterati turned Toronto into Hollywood North and made every visit downtown exciting.

At the end of the month, the first Toronto Beer Week drew its own share of glitterati. A celebration of the perfect marriage, that of hop and grain, beer week involved more than 45 venues and 15 breweries. In essence, beer week was a recognition that Toronto, like many other major cities in North America, is home to some extraordinary craft breweries. And the growth of the gastropub on the dining scene has added fine local and international brews to menus that stretch beyond deep fried everything.

Would you believe beer is the world’s oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverage? As with tea, it was probably first brewed in China, though references can be found in ancient Babylonian and Sumerian texts. Beer comes third, after water and tea, in total beverage consumption. Curiously, it was monasteries that often made innovations to the brewing process, such as the addition of hops. Monks were great consumers of beer, probably because water was usually not potable. This could explain the often-rotund figures with which monks are often portrayed!

If you missed Toronto Beer Week, fear not, the city’s gastropubs feature events throughout the year with tastings and lectures by the likes of Brew Master, Bill White. For example, The Monk’s Table in Summerhill features a tasting menu every Monday with each course paired with an appropriate brew. Check online at Bar Towel News or the Great Canadian Beer Blog for what’s happening around town.

Why not host your own beer tasting? Create a selection of interesting beers from different breweries — venture into Canadian craft brews or do a classic Europeans tour. Taste them as you would wine. Roll the beer around your palate and look for nuances. Beer drinkers have a lexicon of flavours similar to oenophiles. They talk about chocolate, biscuit, caramel, and fruit flavours; they compare bitterness and malt with the same finesse that wine lovers talk of acidity and balance.

Try it yourself. Get the flavour profiles of the beers but don’t look at them until you’ve tasted them yourselves; then compare.

One of the best pairings with beer is cheese.

As with beer, you don’t have to go far to find great cheese. Visit a cheesemonger like Afrim Pristine at The Cheese Boutique and ask for advice about pairing your brews with some great Ontario cheese.

You can just serve wedges with complements like nuts, dried apricots, figs or dates, crackers, fresh baguette, fresh fruit – basically anything that you fancy. Or try this recipe that Afrim Pristine recently shared with members of the Canadian Cheese Society. As the film festival had our city hopping, it seemed apropos to offer you a great recipe inspired by a great star.

“The concept of this cheese dish came when the actor, Dustin Hoffman, came into the store two years ago,” explained Pristine. “We used the Comfort Cream produced at Upper Canada Cheese Company in Niagara, which we ripen in a humid environment for 30 days. … Dustin Hoffman went crazy for it, absolutely freaked out.” Since then, this has become a signature dish at The Cheese Boutique. “It’s incredibly simple but the flavours marry so well together.”

The Cheese Boutique’s Comfort Cream Sandwich Created for Dustin Hoffman

A wedge of Upper Canada Cheese Comfort Cream

Shaved fresh black Italian truffles

Truffle honey – about one tablespoon or to taste

1 tablespoon crushed Spanish Marcona almonds

Freshly toasted baguette

Butterfly the Comfort Cream and sprinkle shaved fresh black Italian truffles on one half of the cheese. Then drizzle fresh truffle honey to add more earthiness and more sweetness. Put the two half cheeses back together, almost making a sandwich.

Cover the top of the Comfort Cream with crushed Spanish Marcona almonds to add texture and nutty flavour to the cheese. Serve with freshly toasted baguette.