I hope you have already eaten. If not, pull up a chair. Grab a napkin. You just might drool. This is the story of a fermentation dinner in celebration of two Philadelphia-area food artisans — a cheesemaking pioneer named Sue, and a brewer savant named Jean. I want you to meet them.
Sue Miller, a.k.a. Lady Birchrun, makes some of the tastiest washed-rind cheese in the hills of nearby Chester County. She uses raw milk and salt brine to produce two fine specimen, Fat Cat and Red Cat. The first is bacony, the latter mushroomy. If you taste them, you will purr.
Jena Broillet IV is not the king of a small country, but he could be. He is a twenty-something saison superstar who started brewing beer as a high-schooler in his parents’ garage (you know how those rural science projects get started). Brewer Broillet put himself through college by working at Weyerbacher and Iron Hill. Now, he plans to open his own brew cafe, Tired Hands, in the ‘burb of Ardmore. Beer geeks, revv your engines.
Together, Miller and Broillet have made fermentation magic by washing Red Cat cheese with Tired Hands beer to create a lucky little star they call “Proto-Cat” — soon to be christened “Tired Cat.” Cat lovers, you may start yourrr motors.
Here’s what happened when Chef Rob Sidor of Di Bruno’s catering department decided to create a special pairing using local ingredients involved in this fermentation project. Hint: it involves crumbs of calf tongue.
You’re looking at a wedge of Tired Cat with fried tomatillo ice cream, rolled in calf tongue crumbs and malt. Jean Briollet served this course with a glass of Vulpine, a “super saison” with hints of cedar, lemon, coconut, vanilla, and honey. I nearly wept. This might be the best saison and the best/weirdest/wildest cheese pairing I have ever eaten.
See aren’t you glad I told you to get a napkin?
I love when cheese sparks creativity. I’m not talking about the invention of the Cheez-It. I’m talking about collaborations and pairings that make people experience flavors and textures that have never existed before. Here’s another one. Ready?
You’re looking at fava bean gazpacho, served with a raw clam and crumbled Birchrun Blue Cheese. “I like to subvert people’s expecations,” Chef Rob told me. “Most people expect blue cheese as a final course. That’s why I served it first.”
Chef Rob served the gazpacho in wee tuna cans — they looked a little bit like, uhm, cat food cans, but then…this was a Fat Cat dinner, right?
For dessert: home-spun marshmallows made with D-2 syrup (it’s used in brewing), alongside graham cakes, apple, and Equinox. The latter is Sue Miller’s most approachable cheese, a baby Gruyere with a nutty halo.
Oh, Philadelphia, oh people of Pennsylvania, we are lucky to have so much culinary talent in our midst. Look for Birchun cheeses at local farmers’ markets. Prepare yourself for a new microbrew king. Ready yourself the next time cheesemonger Rich Morillo brainstorms a pairing dinner.
This kind of culinary skill and appreciation for the land — its plants and animals — are rare. Chef Rob Sidor deserves a standing ovation. Thanks to everyone for a wonderful evening. May there be many more pairings to come.
Birchrun Hills Farm Cheeses
- Proto Cat/Tired Cat: gutsy, robust, meaty, beautifully balanced
- Fat Cat: big and bacony, creamy, great stuffed into a morel mushroom
- Birchrun Blue: peppery, buttery, briny, with a hint of hops
- Equinox: sweet, nutty, musical, like a Gruyere understudy
Tired Hands Brew
- Farm Hands: a light, mellow Belgian with a golden glow
- Hop Hands: a glorious American Pale Ale; a floral-citrus see-saw
- Vulpine: a “super saison” w/ sublime honey roundness, vanilla-cedar-lemon afterglow
- Guillemot: dark, chocolaty porter-purr