Three-years-young Pure Project Brewing has a lot going on. In addition to frequent can releases and expansion at its Miramar Brewery Igniter facility, its green team is working to open satellite tasting rooms in Bankers Hill and Carlsbad. Even with all those irons in the fire, they stoked that blaze with a new poker last month, releasing a first-of-its-kind collaboration for the constantly colluding interest, a beer-infused cow’s milk cheese.
The origins of this collab trace to San Francisco’s Fancy Food Show. While attending the event, Robert Graff, cheese monger and “professor of cheese” for San Diego’s Venissimo Cheese, ran into Leigh Harding, the national accounts manager for Vermont’s famed Jasper Hill Creamery. Graff invited Harding and her colleagues to come to San Diego for a cheese expo — taking place this Sunday at BRICK in Liberty Station — that includes a beer pairing component. Aware of Jasper Hill’s stellar reputation, and wanting to make sure they were teamed with a top-notch beer partner, Graff asked an associate at local bottle shop Bottlecraft for a recommendation on an “exciting brewery.” Pure Project was his answer.
After some quick introductions, creatives from Pure Project and Jasper Hill got to work deciding the best way to bring their individual expertise and offerings together. In the end, the brewery tapped a one-off creation, while the cheesemakers leaned on one of their staples, Willoughby, a buttery cheese made from milk derived from two farmers located within 15 miles of the creamery.
“Willoughby is a washed-rind cheese, meaning part of the process of this style of cheese is to wash it in a liquid during aging,” explains Graff. “It can be anything from brine to wine, whey or spirits. For this one, we did beer. We weren’t the first to think of this, but it was fun to put a San Diego twist on the concept.”
During conceptual discussions, the collaborators determined they wanted to use a fruited sour beer. Head brewer Winslow Sawyer and his crew landed on Everything Gold May Stay, an exotic take on a Flanders-style sour ale. Typically red or brown in color, this version is “golden,” made from Pilsner malt, unmalted wheat and oats, and fermented with mixed culture blends from Pure Project as well as collaborating Watsonville, California startup Fruition Brewing. Aging in oak barrels with three types of raspberries (red, gold and double gold) gives it a lovely magenta color.
“I loved the beer. It was very tart and effervescent, which I imagined would be a nice complement to a rich, gooey, savory cheese like Willoughby,” says Zoe Brickley, director of development, sales and marketing for Jasper Farm. “Barrel-aged notes often find interesting aromatic affinity with the buttery, creamy aromas in cheese. When young, Willoughby tastes of sweet cream and apricots with a yeasty, floral aroma. As it ripens, a subtle earthiness becomes more pronounced and a savory, porcini-mushroom and leek character develops.”
The thought was to introduce contrasting flavors, but there was no way to tell exactly how the finished cheese would come out. “Really, you don’t know exactly what will happen. The process is just that…a process. It’s about experimentation, trial and error.” That process saw the cheese get brushed with Everything Gold May Stay nine times within a two-week time period.
So how did it turn out? While descriptors vary from person to person, all involved are very pleased with the finished product. Graff Says he gets notes of onion, beer broth and grass, while Jasper Hill’s sensory team picked up notes of peanuts to go with Willoughby’s traditional peat, roast beef and onion aromas. Then there’s the detailed account from Pure Project beertender Chris Legiuzamon, turned in shortly after tasting Everything Gold May Stay and Willoughby together.
“Separate, these two are incredible, yet when paired with each other, they truly complete one another,” says Legiuzamon. “The umami rich aroma of the cheese lends notes of truffles, wet hay and freshly-cut herbs, and the gooey, semisweet interior is begging to be balanced. The beer’s bright acidity not only cuts the fat, but the freshly-picked raspberry flavors and cracker-like malt backbone of the golden Flanders-style ale brings you back to summer bliss memories of cheese and berries in the backyard.”
He wasn’t the only member of the Pure Project team who loved the cheese. It has one of the business’ founders enthusiastic to spin the wheel of cheese a second time.
“We would love to work with Jasper Hill and create some different variations with some of their other amazing cheeses. Maybe make it an annual thing if they are into it,” said Pure Project co-founder Mat Robar shortly before heading to the cheese expo that birthed Willoughby. “That said, I love cheese from all over the world: Holland, France, Switzerland, England and more. So I’m excited to meet people from some other creameries, in person.”