Cheese and Ale Tasting Anyone?

The cheese and ale tasting capped off our Slow Food activities in Waterford. Heading over to the Tower Hotel 45 minutes early, we took a seat in the front row, and fought every instinct not to preemptively devour the goodness placed in front of us – five seductive hunks of Irish cheeses, artfully displayed with a come hither leer. We agreed to be strong, under the watchful eye of the producers.

Both of us have an intrinsic draw to cheese: Nic as a cheesemonger, and Sarah, the cheesemaker. Our discussions about a new cheese make us as starry-eyed as if we were discussing a new love interest. This day we were not only graced with great cheeses and beers but also with an esteemed panel leading the event: Owen Bailey of Neal’s Yard Dairy, Oliver Hughes of  The Porterhouse, Kevin Sheridan from Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, as well as Cormac from Dungarvan Brewery and Anna Lévêque, an up-and-coming cheese maker who creates an ash-covered, fresh-ladled Triskel pyramid raw goat cheese, straight from heaven.

Neither of us are huge beer drinkers, but after enjoying our introduction to Dungarvan beers a few days prior, we were intrigued by another round of Irish beers. Coming from the Northwest, where microbrews are a dime a dozen, we were struck by the limited number of microbreweries in Ireland. One of the selections, an Oyster Stout, adds fresh oysters in the initial phase of brewing. Bizarre to wrap your head around, we agree, but the flavor imparted was so slight – a wee note of saltiness. This brew ended up being one of our favorites and beautifully paired with the Triskel goat cheese.

The other cheeses we sampled were a Knockanore smoked, raw cow’s milk naturally smoked in county Waterford, Knockdrinna Meadow, a sheep’s milk semi-hard from county Kilkenny, a Crozier, sheep’s milk blue from county Tipperary, and a beautiful Hegarty aged, cloth-bound cheddar from county Cork. Yes indeed, the Irish don’t mess around with their mastery of cheese.

With the panel discussing the quality of each pairing, and those of us in the peanut gallery loaded with questions, the hour flew by. There was much interest in the importance of restaurants paying as much care to their beer lists as they do their wine lists. We knew that if more people were given such a substantial opportunity to taste the unique flavors imparted with the pairings of foods, such as cheeses, and good beers, there would be no question of its place at the table.