See, you really want cooler weather before you break out the great beers and cheeses. We in the specialty foods industry used to always lick our proverbial chops as the weather cooled and we could break out the good stuff. Plus people just seem more willing to open their wallets for high-end food products in October and November.
Anyhow, your cheese this week is Winchester (Calif.) Sharp Gouda from Southern California. It's aged a minimum of six months, and it's one of those great, caramel-y pleasures that makes you feel like you're eating candy or brownies and not fermented curd. It poses an extreme risk for those who tend towards over-consumption.
The official description: "Slightly moist with robust and complex flavor profiles."
Winchester General Manager Lee Fletcher's description: "Particularly the Sharp has almost a nutty flavor, almost like drinking a real good, dry Chardonnay. That really wonderful, satisfying flavor. I'm a type A personality, and it takes me down a notch; I love putting it in my mouth and just lingering with the flavor."
Incidentally, I caught Lee on the day that Jules Wesselink, who founded the cheese making operation 10 years ago, was stepping down. He just turned 78, meaning Frank Robinson could probably go several more years in the bigs. Jules learned how to make his cheese in Holland, and the Sharp Gouda won a World Cheese Award bronze medal this summer. Wolfgang Puck has featured some Winchester products on his programs, using them in paninis, French onion soup and fondue. Fletcher recommends trying the Sharp Gouda on a cheeseburger and promises that it melts beautifully.
Now I usually like to conclude my cheese segments with some football notes from my guest expert person, and the people at Winchester insisted that Lee was the right person to talk to me about football. Lee, too, swears that she's a very loyal football fan, that she spends all day Sunday watching the games. Her favorite team? The New York Jets. Plus the St. Louis Rams. Oh yeah, plus the Washington Redskins.
Dan: "Are you just saying that to suck up to my readership?"
Lee: "Yes, that's right."
Now to the beer, Victory Brewing's Festbier . Hoppy Jeff writes:
Held in Munich, Germany's Oktoberfest has grown into the world's largest party: 16 days, more than five million attendees consuming in excess of 6 million liters of beer (approximately 705,882 cases). The celebration ends on the first Sunday of October and usually begins 16 days prior. It seems fitting to celebrate the season with an American craft beer that is pays respect to its German heritage.
The majority of American craft breweries specialize in Ales. Ales are fermented at warmer temperatures, so that their yeasts eat away the sugars at the top of the brewing kettle. These fermentation methods generally result in fuller-bodied brews that have fruity characteristics. To Lager (or in German, "to store") a beer is to ferment the beer at colder temperatures, for longer periods of time, which causes the yeast to sink to the bottom of the
kettle and to "bottom ferment." Lager beers are generally crisper and cleaner, and their flavors are not as pronounced as their Ale counterparts. This complicated Lagering method of brewing is also harder to control and leaves less room to correct mistakes.
One of the country's greatest Lager producers is a mere two-and-a-half hour drive from the Nation's capital. Located in Downingtown, Pa., Victory Brewing Company has stayed true to its Pennsylvania Dutch heritage
and specializes in German-style beers. Founded in 1996 [same year as Winchester Cheese Company] by childhood friends Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet, Victory has become one of the nation's fastest growing craft breweries. Victory "Festbier" is a rich amber lager produced in the tradition of Oktoberfest. The smooth malt character has hints of caramel and vanilla and the finish leaves a slight taste of hops for balance. This fine brew is delicious on its own or is the ultimate accompaniment to traditional German cuisine.