I have this theory; it’s simple and it’s yet to be proved wrong: Orval is the perfect food beer. It’s got enough body to support even the richest foods, yet it’s still remarkably light; it’s got enough alcohol to power through strong flavours without demolishing them; it has a savoury depth to it which aligns it towards the dinner table; it has a bite of hops at the end which is peppery and palate cleansing without leaving an over-bitter taste; and it has that little hint of sourness, a suggestion of lemon, which adds a great lift to any combo. Those beer-superpowers mean that Orval can work with almost anything.
I’ve FABPOW’d it before with a paella, which is one of my summer favourites, but with the Orval cheese it was something altogether more delicious.
Weakened by after-effects of the day before but slowly being restored to full vitality by the power-up qualities of a few more beers, we arrive at North Bar, Leeds, on Orval Day (everyday should be Orval Day). We order a bottle each and some bread and cheese. My aged Orval was bottled on my 25th birthday so I got all giddy with the excitement of seeing my birthday written down on something I love (why does this happen? Even seeing my birthday as the best before date on a pack of biscuits is enough to make me buy them, even if I don’t want them). We try a side-by-side with the young and old, the young being bottled in August, and the difference is astonishing; I’d never had a bottle as young as the comparator but it was completely different, lacking the peppery bite and missing that unique spritz of lemony brett – I’ll stick to mine being about a year old. Then the cheese arrived next to a huge hunk of very fresh bread, the sort that rustles and crunches as you break it, depositing its crust over your lap. The cheese is creamy and mild but packs an enormous depth of flavour. A mouthful of that followed by one of the beer and it was like the two were hugging on the tongue at the joy of being reunited; something about the two together just worked unequivocally, both with their depth of flavour, the bite in the beer tempered by the richness of the cheese, the boost of the dry hop and the lift of the wild yeast lifting the flavour off the tongue and getting it ready for another greedy mouthful.
I might have been hungover, I might have still been drunk, I might have been over-excited because of the birthday bottling, I might have just been really hungry, I might have been swayed by the sight of everyone in the bar drinking from the bowling pin-shaped bottles, but that was a seriously good lunch. If you can find Orval cheese then buy it and eat it with a bottle of Orval – delicious!
Beer and cheese is regularly talked about with so many great pairings, but this was a new one to me – anyone had any new and brilliant (or terrible – give us a warning so we don’t make the same mistake!) cheese and beer moments?