Don Bauder 7:01 a.m., June 19
Nowadays, beer is frequently paired with everything from chocolate to cigars. One local spot that was ahead of the suds-pairing curve is O’Brien’s Pub. The venerable Kearny Mesa craft beer bar has been holding beer and cheese pairing events since 2006 in conjunction with the fromage experts behind Taste Cheese. They’ve been well attended affairs that have yielded hop, malt and dairy fat match-ups to remember. Yet none have been as memorable as Sunday’s event, the first conducted as a fundraiser and the first to be held in memorial.
The subject of the cheese-driven tribute was George Palmer, Taste’s co-owner, who passed away earlier this year, but not before leaving an indelible impression on O’Brien’s owner Tom Nickel, who teamed up with Taste’s Mary Palmer for this event to celebrate some of George’s favorite cheeses, foods and pairings from the past five years. That line-up included well-known varieties such as cave-aged Gruyere and Parmegiano-Reggiano, the latter of which matched up seamlessly with Firestone-Walker unfiltered Double Barrel Ale and was simply yet exquisitely enhanced by a drop of sweet, woody grand cru aged balsamic vinegar (of course, it didn’t hurt that the Parm was served just six days from the cut). Then there were more exotic selections, including Torta la Serena, a raw Spanish sheep’s milk cheese made with cardoon thistle, and Epoisses, a Burgundian triple cream cheese with a rind washed in Marc de Bourgogne grape brandy.
One pairing George and Tom were particularly proud of—Montgomery Cheddar with North Coast Old Stock Ale—rang as true on this occasion as it did at the duo’s first pairing back in ’06. The cheese had 18 months of age on it and a restrained level of sharpness that allowed it to sync up nicely with its two-year-old barleywine counterpart and serve as a fitting full circle homage for the evening.
Also on hand and involved was Peter Zien, owner of AleSmith and an artisanal cheese maker, who shared information on the two of his beers to make the menu (Anvil ESB and Old Numbskull Barleywine) and his regret about not getting to share a commercial cheese from his upcoming CheeseSmith operation with George. Tom’s wife and pub co-owner Lindsey Nickel contributed a perfectly fried chutney-laced camembert that oozed from its wonderfully crisped shell, and GM Tyson Blake added a dose of decadence via a crostini topped with a bold pairing all its own—pungent English Stilton blue cheese and “birthday bacon” (sweet and smoky beer-glazed pork belly, a celebratory staple of the pub).
In the end, the cheeses, beers and their intermingling were superb, but it was the sizable helping of emotion and heartfelt respect for a departed but in no way forgotten friend that put the event over the top. Another plus—the event raised roughly $3,000 for the American Liver Foundation. For news on future tasting events, refer to the pub’s website. O’Brien’s is located at 4646 Convoy Street. Taste Cheese can be found at the Little Italy Mercato Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Hillcrest Farmer's Market Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the North Park Farmer's Market Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
English Stilton, a slab of beer-glazed pork belly and a wafer thin slice of Asian pear made for a sweet, salty, smoky highlight of Sunday's beer and cheese pairing at O'Brien's Pub.
One of Taste Cheese's late owner George Palmer's favorite foods, butter-seared perogis, took the pairing beyond straight cheese samples.
Taste Cheese's Mary Palmer reflects on the life, times, preferences and methodology of the night's honoree.