Saisons are one of the harder styles to pin down to any definite specifications since they didn’t really have any to begin with. They were brewed by farm workers rather than professional brewers and, as such, the recipe consisted of whatever they had access to. Belonging to the family of Farmhouse Ales, Saisons; which is the French word for “season” were brewed in southern Belgium during the cooler months because the poor guys were still waiting for the invention of refrigeration. The story goes that Saisons had three purposes – first, to keep the more senior farm workers employed with things to do (i.e. make beer) when it was cold and farming was pretty quiet; second, to brew refreshing beer for the workers in the summer months and third to produce spent grain that the animals would happily munch away on. Generally speaking they are well carbonated, hoppy, dry and complex with different herbs and spices being incorporated into the mix.
This post was inspired by a fellow beer lover asking me on the girl+beer Facebook page for some cheese and Saison matching ideas and after tinkering around in my beer-adled mind, I came up with three suggestions:
The question played on my mind for a few days to the point where I just had to try it for myself. I’ve done a little Saison and cheese matching whilst hosting beer events at Five Bar (Perth) but not in depth and it’s not the sort of beer style you tend to have rolling around the fridge. However, since I just happened to have a bottle of Temple Saison chilled and ready to be consumed it seemed like the beer and cheese gods had spoken.
After work I went to the local IGA and stared at the fridge, my options were a bit limited so I couldn’t get all the matches I had suggested, but that’s what I get for shopping outside normal working hours. I walked away with Harvey Vintage Cheddar, Mainland Camembert and some Hindmarsh Valley Chevre.
The camembert, a soft cow’s milk cheese, was a lovely match in that the texture was soft, creamy and almost stuck to the tongue for the saison to wash over and bubble on top of. I’ve always loved camembert and especially the rind; it’s a very specific taste; earthy and almost like raw mushrooms. It’s texturally interesting with a distinctive flavour, much like saisons with their unique Belgian yeast flavours that are best described as, well, Belgian yeast flavours reflecting that same earthiness and complexity as camembert.
The chevre was an interesting match; it is a South Australian goat’s milk cheese that’s soft and almost hints at falling apart but it doesn’t (what a cheeky cheese!). It was a little sharp, a little bittersweet and overall has softer flavours than the Vintage Cheddar and Camembert; the dry wheat like characters in the Saison were similarly soft but distinctive. Perhaps this was more a case of soft, earthy and herbal flavours meeting together.
I think I enjoyed the Vintage Cheddar the most, its texture was ever so slight crumbly and left a thick coating on the tongue which the Saison grabbed hold of. That’s the beautiful thing about beer and cheese matching, the carbonation of the beer and the bitterness from the hops are great for cutting through cheese and opening up flavours. Sharp and fruity, rich and dry, I had initially worried the Vintage Cheddar would be too much for the Saison but I had underestimated this powerful but subtle Belgian ale. It has great hop character in terms of fruity aromas and flavours rather than any strong bitterness and this plays nicely with rich creamy cheddar.
As a style, Saisons touch on all the things I love about beer with interesting heritage, a mind-blowing match with food and when I’ve done tastings of it with people who’ve never tried it before, and never heard about it, they instantly fall in love. It seems to transcend the words “actually I’m not really a beer person” and it’s always fun to turn a sentence like that completely on its head.