We tried to make this an homage to Maryland in honor of the greater Baltimore-Washington region's most successful pro football franchise, but I accidentally ran into a Steelers-loving cheesemaker who just happens to live and work in Maryland.
The cheese: FireFly was founded in 2002, and head cheesemaker Matt Cedro came aboard in 2003, although Buche Noir was developed by the farm's owner. It's a goat log that's brushed with vegetable ash--"incinerated vegetables," said Andrea Cedro, director of sales and Matt's wife. It has the same white, bloomy rind that you see in Bries and Camemberts, a good sign that the cheese ripens from the outside in and gets progressively softer and runnier as it ages. The ash also gives the cheese what Matt calls a spicy or peppery flavor that becomes more pronounced with age.
FireFly ages the cheese for about three weeks and then ships it out, with a shelf life of 30 or 40 additional days. Beyond that, "it's creamed all the way through and it's just too strong--hot and spicy and just overpowering," Matt said. ("Creamed all the way through" is an excellent all-purpose description, btw.) Even before that point, some people might find the cheese a bit too much; "it's the one where you really, really like it or you don't like; it's not an in-between kind of flavor," Matt said.
He doesn't really think of it as a beer cheese--more a Cabernet or a heavy Merlot--but it's FireFly's most robust cheese and I think it'll do just fine. FireFly makes about 5,000 pounds of Buche Noir a year, the cheese won a silver medal at the World Cheese Awards and a bronze from the American Cheese Society last summer, and it's available at lots of specialty food stores in the D.C. area.
And as mentioned above, Matt was raised in Pittsburgh and is a diehard Steelers fan in an area populated by Ravens and Redskins people, probably including Ravens fans in those ridiculous purple camouflage hats. But he's open to Ravens fans sampling some Buche Noir this weekend; "cheese knows no boundaries," he said.
(By the way, Matt heard about Your Artisanal Cheese and Craft Beer Tailgating Picks of the Week at the Maryland Wine Festival last weekend, which is just great.)
The Beer. Resident Beer Expert Hoppy Jeff Wells writes:
When looking at an industry as small, creative and versatile as the craft brewing world one must recognize the pioneers. It is quite shocking to most that it was illegal in the state of Maryland to operate a brewpub until 1987. (Brewpubs are restaurants that also act as a brewery.) The man largely responsible for the change in this legislation is the founder of Clipper City Brewing Company: Hugh Sisson.
After the rapid growth of Maryland's first brewpub, Sisson's, Hugh founded Clipper City in 1995 and fast gained a
reputation as one of the Baltimore area's finest craft brewers. In 2005, Clipper City launched a line of "Extraordinary" beers under the Heavy Seas label. These beers are part of the American Craft Brewing movement of "Extreme" beers. "Extreme" beers could be called the opposite of mass-produced lager beers. Rather than a flavorless, colorless beer lacking character, "extreme" beers are full of flavor, use abundant amounts of hops and/or malts, and are much higher in alcohol content.
Clipper City's Heavy Seas Small Craft Warning is an "Extreme" version of a German-style Pilsner. (They call it an Uber Pils.) Small Craft is seductively smooth with a golden hue color, a rich, malty flavor, and a solid finish of noble hops. This powerful, complex beer weighs in at 7.5% alcohol by volume.