Our second cheese in the American Artisanal Cheese series is Beecher's No Woman. Named for the Bob Marley song "No Woman, No Cry" it's a great riff on a traditional Jamaican style of cooking called "Jerk", an intensely flavored, spicy, hot dish typically made with chicken or pork. It’s a nice tribute to the island and the song.
Traditionally, Jerk was made using a special spice rub on chicken or pork, then cooking the meat by smoking it over aromatic woods. Today, most Jerk is made by simply marinating the meat in a jerk seasoning mix, or using a jerk spice rub. The foundation of jerk seasoning falls on three spices: allspice, thyme, and scotch bonnet peppers. Living in Miami (which has some great Jamaican restaurants) and having traveled to Jamaica, I can attest to the fact that good Jerk will light your fire! Over the years, the ingredients in jerk have expanded to include quite a range of herbs and spices, but most include the three core ingredients.
The cheese is 3-month old version of Beecher’s Flagship; it starts out like any cheddar cheese, but when the curds are salted, a mix of Jamaican jerk spice is also added; the cheddared curds are then pressed into a hoop form for aging. This resulting cheese looks quite a bit like granite – quite artistic as well as delicious.
No Woman maintains the flavor and character of Beecher’s Flagship cheese. The aroma is interesting; the cheese is there, but it’s not the main player. There’s butter and cream in the background, but the main aroma is cloves and allspice. It’s a subtle, exotic nose.
In the mouth, the texture is a little dry. At first, the flavor slightly fruity and spicy, but as the cheese begins to melt, the flavors of the jerk start to come through in little bursts. Initially, it’s spice. Citrus notes pop out, then allspice, cloves, a slight herbal note, and a slow, subtle burn. It’s quite tasty.
In Jerk Chicken, the fat of the meat combines with the spice of the jerk to create a very rich mouthfeel that’s laden with the spices of the seasoning and the flavor of the meat. That same effect happens here, as the fattiness of the cheese balances the spice of the jerk, creating a good mouth feel and a very long, spicy, finish. I don’t think that Beecher’s used scotch bonnet here, unless it’s a tiny, tiny bit, since the heat profile of a scotch bonnet doesn’t seem to be there. It’s hot, but not unpleasantly so.
This is definitely a beer cheese. It worked very well with Corona, which – given that it’s got almost no flavor – didn’t clash with flavor of the cheese at all. The two paired nicely, with the beer offsetting the spice and fat of the cheese, and the cheese bringing out some citrus notes in the beer.
The second beer pairing was with Old Speckled Hen, an English Ale. That did not work well at all. The beer has some bitter notes, and the beer and the cheese really clashed. It seems that the natural sweetness of the cheese and the spices really clashed with the bitter notes of this ale.
The third and fourth pairings worked very well. First was Brasserie de Rocs is a Belgian ale with rich, caramel notes, and more sweetness that the Old Speckled Hen. The spices in the cheese became more intense (not the heat), and the beer became more flavorful. It really complimented the cheese.
I then tried the cheese with one of my favorite beers, Tilburg’s Dutch Ale. This is also a dark, rich brew, with chocolate and caramel notes. It’s not as heavy as the Belgian beer, but still maintains a rich mouthfeel. With the cheese, it brought out the cheese notes; the spice was still there, but the beer muted them a bit. The finish became spicier, as the beer faded away, the spicy notes of the cheese emerged. It was rather pleasant.
As a last test, I decided to try the cheese with Heron Hill’s 2008 Finger Lakes Riesling. This also worked. The alcohol level of the wine is at 12%, higher than a German style, and it’s not as full-bodied. The spices of the cheese were amplified, and the pairing took on a bit of a lemony flavor. The pairing worked well.
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