Down South

November has taken me down South to the Gulf Shore and Georgia where I attended 2 festivals. Land of the shrimp, fried green tomatoes and grits.  First to the ‘Real LA’ as the locals say – Lower Alabama with beautiful white powdery beaches and glorious sunshine for the Hangout Oyster Fest. After hosting a Goose Island beer dinner at Union restaurant in Mobile, the real home of the Mardi Grass, the festival started with a craft beer and music event at the Hangout beach restaurant and bar.  A great event mixing up live music from various bands with a wide range of American craft beers, allowing me to dish up the beer and food magic show combining Sriracha hot sauce, lemon-lime and blue dressing with 4 Goose Island beers. The Oyster Fest the next day completed the weekend with various competitions around the pearly goodness from the sea served up by local and celebrity chefs.

M & GuitarBesides doing a presentation around craft beers on stage I got to announce one of the local bands and to top my rock ‘n roll experience I gave away a signed electric guitar for a local charity, supported by all the performing bands and the Goose Island brewery.

Then over to Georgia to attend the Savannah Food and Wine Festival with a wide range of activities in and around the beautiful historical city on the banks of the mighty river. Starting with a tap takeover with Goose Island beers early in the week; the festival itself started with a Celebrity Chef Tour organized by the James Beard Foundation offering great food and wine pairings at the Mansion House Hotel at Forsyth Park.

Next day the festivities crossed to the other side of the river at the Westin Hotel with a Grand Tasting and a BBQ fest with the Grand Cochon bringing together the best grill and pit masters with Beer, Bourbon and BBQ; what’s not to love. Despite the cold breeze it was a warm evening set the tone for the rest of the festival.

M & ladiesNext morning even before the crack of dawn it was back to the Mansion House hotel to do some breakfast TV to promote the festival and the Best of Belgium beers where I had the pleasure and honor to meet culinary TV legend Nathalie Dupree who had more than 300 TV shows and wrote many books about Southern cooking.

After a quick breakfast and a couple more hours of sleep it was over to the Convention Center to prepare for my first demo with my dear friend and Food Network Star Linkie Marais, to showcase beer and grilled food pairings on the sunny banks of the river with the skyline of Savannah as our back drop before taking the ferry to the River Street event. The great turn out felt like the locals coming together to share the best of food and drinks as a precursor to the holidays in the coming months. The icy cold wind couldn’t dampen the warm and friendly spirit of the people from the South which carried on late into the night resulting I’m sure in one or more difficult wake ups for my culinary colleagues.

The festival culminated in the Taste of Savannah spread out over two of the beautiful squares surrounded by historical buildings reflecting the rich history of this great city. In between commuting between the VIP lounge and our popular beer garden I brought the beer and food magic to town with a packed fun session for beer, cheese and chocolate.

Through both festivals I discovered the Southern hospitality, great food and friendly welcoming people with a new state and a new city I can add to my travel résumé.  Great experiences which I definitely would like to repeat but I’ll be making sure that I have some more free time on future visits to explore and enjoy

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Beer and cheese make one full circle

When I was drafting this blog my first thought for the opening line was “Beer and cheese go together like chalk and cheese” but that’s completely wrong. They go together so well that actually the only way to describe their relationship is as a circle of complementary experience. Both originate from the farm and go through a fermentation process to be transformed into something beautiful and desirable. It is the pure nature of both products which make them so compatible and great to pair with. Although many people believe you should have wine with cheese (and I’m not disputing that many cheeses do work well with wine), in many cases wine covers up the flavor of the cheese while all you want is for the cheese to shine and unlock all its glory. Beer, with its natural carbonation and ingredients, will help you to cleanse your palate and/or cut through richer textures and flavors followed by bringing out the underlying flavors of the cheese you sometimes didn’t know where there in the first place.

But before we explore which beers go well with which cheeses I want to explain the full circle statement above. To make beer brewers use mainly barley because besides many other brewing related reasons the grain has a husk. To make the beer the malted grain is ground up to release the flour and then mixed with hot water in a process called mashing. After this the hot wort, which is the sugary liquid from which beer is made is drained using the husk or spent grain as a natural filter. This ‘spent grain’ rich in protein is not thrown away (Heaven forbid!) and is sold or given to farmers who feed it to their cows. Cows produce milk and milk is used to make cheese and it makes a full circle as beer and cheese are just heavenly. It just may be the perfect example we have of recycling.

Pairing cheese doesn’t have to be complicated and is based on a common sense approach and lots of trial and error. Hence I spend half of my life drinking and eating on behalf of you. You are welcome! Above all you want to enhance the experience and find that balance of flavors so you can taste the beer and the cheese. There are a few things to look at which will help you to create exciting pairings:

–      the sensory characteristics of both the beer and the cheese ranging from appearance, aroma, texture and flavor

–      Find out what the regional fit is as the old adage “ if it grows together it will work together” still stands

–      Check out the ingredients of both the beer and the cheese which can work with similarities or contrasting elements to create a great flavor experience. Sometimes beer is even used to make the cheese so …

–      How the beer or cheese was made or prepared … could be smoked, matured, grilled, melted … is also a good indicator for pairings

And last but not least what effect do you want to achieve by pairing the beer with the cheese which can be cleansing, cutting, uplifting, smoothing out, tone down, refresh …

Here is a simple experiment to try for yourself. Pour a good, crisp Lager beer and get some semi-hard cheese. Have a sip of your beer first, as beer and food pairing is always beer – food – beer, to cleanse the palate and then have some of the cheese. This cheese will coat your palate so you need something to cleanse your palate and bring out the gorgeous cheese flavor. Now have another sip of your beer and you will feel the natural carbonation in tandem with the hops literally clear your palate and then you will taste the cheese at the back and at the sides of your mouth. By magic this cheese flavor will come through the front making you want more beer and more cheese.

The simplest and also the most popular beer pairing in my home country is just simply a bowl of cubes of semi-hard cheeses like Cheddar, Gouda or Manchego to name a few with some celery salt and a good mustard to keeps us going whilst enjoying a good beer when we go out. Besides this we also do cheese platters to a full blown beer and cheese dinner with a wide variety of beers and cheeses. Did you know that Belgium has more than 600 different cheeses? Not that you can get them outside Belgium and its neighboring countries.

A good way of getting the most of your beer and cheese pairing is to work your way up in terms of intensity of beers and cheese and finish either with a great full bodied beer and an intense extra mature cheese or with something light and refreshing to cleanse the palate.

beer and cheese flowchartEvery country in the world has beer and cheese so the sky is the limit; an open road of culinary adventure and sensory exploration. I found a great visualization of pairings on http://www.redenvelope.com/blog/beer-and-cheese-pairing-guide-infographic, which will help you on your way to beer and cheese heaven.

Have fun!

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There is something great in the cheese state of Wisconsin

Every Fall I feel the call and like some lone goose migrate to a little place in Wisconsin called Kohler.

Kohler's big cheese?

It is with fond familiarity that I make the scenic trek from Milwaukee through the rolling landscape of the cheese country, past Belgium (the city; not the country I originate from) towards a picture perfect town, built around the factory of the world famous bathroom fittings.

I know a warm welcome and great hospitality await me here during the Food & Wine experience which is held at the American Club. As soon as I see the color display of the leaves, the pumpkin-autumn vegetables and flower arrangements and smell the smokiness of the roaring wood fire in the lobby I know that good times are ahead.

It’s here I have the privilege to spread the word and passion about beer and food, sharing the stage with culinary celebrity excellence including Stephanie Izzard, Graham Elliott and the ever dashing Geoffrey Zakarian, not forgetting all the other talent covering every aspect of great food and wine, beer, spirits …  I almost feel guilty calling this a job hosting a lunch at the Club, sharing beer and food with old and new friends in our festival beer café, and finishing day one in the Kohler design center where all of us display the best of the best of food and drinks amongst the best of the best of the bathrooms and fittings – all in front of the famous Wall of China, (a walled mural display of toilet bowls).

There is only one way to top this and that is the Wisconsin-way…by indulging late into the night in the local delicacy of deep fried cheese curds with cheese dip and beer.

Day two starts with another tasting in the beer café, building up to the big event for me on stage. How can you not like showing,  in front of more than 250 people, the Best of Belgium;  to celebrate culinary craftsmanship by women in our show called ‘The Butcher, The Baker and moi, The Belgian Beer Maker’ with both the executive chef and the chief pastry chef of the Kohler resort.

In the evening I get to relax at the Feast of the Talent dinner in the company of the Kohler family, celebrity chefs and the best wine makers; who share a great culinary delight of food and wines, with an exciting menu and pairings. It’s almost my own private dining party where I get to host a table with old and new found friends, to delight them with introductions to the cooking and wine talent in the room, guided tours of the working kitchen with a glutton of culinary ecstasy.

But all good things need to come to an end and it is after a brunch on Sunday,  where I served classic cocktails with a beer and cider twist, that this goose has to leave for warmer climes and say goodbye to my friendly, comfortable autumn stopover with probably the best hotel bathroom in the world.  Onwards, as duty calls, to do it all over again via St. Louis for a beer wholesaler conference, to the Gulf Shore for an oyster festival and then to the Savannah Food and Wine festival.
Love this time of the year when I get to indulge in sunshine, food and drinks on tap, sharing my passion whilst basking in the warm glow of friendship and hospitality.

See you next year Kohler, Wisconsin.

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