Saxapahaw Synergy: A Beer & Cheese Pairing

Brewery: Haw River Farmhouse Ales
Beer: Mille Fleur Rustic Saison
ABV: 5.8%

Farm: Prodigal Farm
Cheese: Saxapahaw Blues
Style: milled blue; cow

On a sunny and cool afternoon in March I popped open the Mille Fleur Rustic Saison from Saxapahaw’s Haw River Farmhouse Ales. From the old-timey stubby-style brown bottle came the familiar yeasty aroma of a saison. The smell tapered off as I poured the light golden amber brew into a glass. Unsurprisingly the first sip had significant yeast and fruit notes, but neither was overpowering. In fact, as I made my way through the 16.9 fl oz pour, the beer proved to be noticeably balancedmild, not overly funky.

Yeast is the backbone of a quality saison. At Haw River Farmhouse Ales, they take their yeast seriously. In fact, they harvest their own wild yeast from their “very own backyard” in Saxapahaw. The folks at Haw River are also big proponents of supporting local, proudly incorporating ingredients from “farms and gardens within a hundred miles” of their brewery. The results of their homegrown brewing strategy are finely crafted beers, some with complex flavor profiles, others delightfully simple and accessible, like my beer of choice on that March day. [1]

Saisons are among my favorite styles of beer. I trend toward saisons generally because I love Belgian-style beer, and particularly yeast- and malt-driven flavors. While I often seek out funkier flavors in my beers, I was very pleased with the Mille Fleur. It’s easy to drink, balanced, and relaxing. And I chose the perfect day to try it…

On this particular afternoon in March, I had, earlier in the day, visited the Wine Authorities over on University Avenue for one of their frequently-offered free wine tastings. While I had originally gone to the store to restock my sake stash, I found myself, as usual, lurking over by the cheese section. My eyes were drawn to a local cheese called, “Saxapahaw Blues” from Prodigal Farm in Rougemont. As I was heading home to drink and review a Saxapahaw-produced beer, I figured I’d ride the wave of Saxapahaw inspiration and pair the beer with this very unique blue cheese. Man oh man, was that a good choice.

The “Saxapahaw Blues” is not your typical blue cheese. It had all the funk and stink of a creamy, delicious blue, but instead of the soft consistency and texture of a typical blue, like a Stilton, this cheese had a similar consistency and flavor base to what I would expect from a mild cheddar. Upon further investigation (I contacted Prodigal Farm for more information), I was informed that this cheese is in fact a “milled blue” meaning it is made in much the same way as cheddar, thus creating the similar texture and flavor base.

I was about halfway through the Mille Fleur when I decided to introduce the Saxapahaw Blues to my funk-wanting palate. While the beer had originally maintained an easy, balanced, low funk flavor, as soon as I ate a little piece of the Saxapahaw Blues, my next sip of beer was a completely different experience. All of a sudden it was all funk all the time, like the yeast in my saison had been abruptly woken from a slumber and made to run a marathon inside my mouth.

By the time I finished my beer, I had eaten a little more cheese than I should have, but it was well worth it. My spontaneous choice to spend an afternoon exploring Saxapahaw synergy turned out to be spot on. And while the Mille Fleur runs at $6.99/bottle at my favorite beer corner, Sam’s Quik Shop, it is a 16.9 fl oz (or 500ml) serving, and one that could (should) be shared with a friend on a slow Spring afternoon out in the sun.

Photo by Matia Guardabascio (The Editor).