By 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon I was pretty convinced that I had in fact died and gone to heaven. If you missed out on the 2nd Annual Beer & Cheese Tasting at Vignola in Portland yesterday, I’m really quite sorry and it really is in your best interest not to let that happen again next year. The event featured 15 different Belgian and Belgian-style beers; most from Belgium — obviously — but some from the UK, Italy, Germany and right here in Maine.

The Beers:

Of the 15 beers present, I was able to taste 9 of them – I won’t bore you with a list that long but rest assured that none of them were bad (and some I’d say are new favorites). The one that stuck out to me the most, how ever, was the Chouffe Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel. This was an amazing IPA – one with complexity and flavor beyond the typical U.S. Hops Race which dominates domestic IPAs (and often tends to turn me off; but maybe that’s just me). The Chouffe, on the other hand, was extremely smooth and creamy with an even and full body. There is still the bitter, Tannic and citrus notes of the style, but they were more balanced and subtle, much to my delight. For anyone local who wants to give this one a try, I know they have bottles of this beer at Downeast Beverage on Commercial Street in the Old Port.

The Cheeses:

On the other side of the room from the beers, there were 18 different kinds of cheeses – 3 “Bleus” (pictured), 3 Soft Cheeses, 3 Goat’s Milk Cheeses, 3 Hard Cheeses, 3 Cow’s Milk Cheeses & 3 Sheep’s Milk cheeses from all over the world (again, including Maine). I eventually lost count but I’m pretty sure that I ran the gammet on the cheese counter, tasting all 18 varieties and eating really more cheese than I had previously thought humanly possible; but DAMN was it delicious.

Again, I won’t bore you with details of each individual cheese but some of the highlights included: A Fleur Verte, Provence (a soft cheese) from France, which was covered in tarragon, thyme & red peppercorns (pictured). It had a very nimble and fluffy texture and virtually melted in my mouth; a chedder made in Maine which had been aged for 5 years; a cow’s milk cheese from England which was coated in hops leaves, giving it a slightly herbaceous aroma and flavor (this one, probably needless to say, paired incredibly well with the beers); and lastly, a cheese from France called Abondance. This spring-fed cheese had an enormous presence and was intensely fruity and nutty. But best of all, only 100 wheels of it are made a year, and the hunk we got cuts of yesterday is the only piece of this cheese in the North East at the moment.

In Conclusion:

Again, as you can probably tell – if you missed this event, I’m truly sorry. And I hope — for your sake & mine — that Vignola will host it again next year. If you can’t wait that long, there are a few more beer & food events in Maine coming right up, and Vignola announced yesterday that Rob from Allagash Brewing will be on hand the evening of February 6th to spread the gospel about Belgian-style beers (more details to come).

[tags]beer & cheese, beer, cheese, Portland, Maine, Vignola[/tags]


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