Contrary to what this column's name implies, I don't really know much about cheese. I've attended enough cocktail parties to ascertain that rind-encapsulated cheeses are better than individually wrapped slices, but the rest is something of a question mark.
I'm surprised that I haven't explored it much, because artisanal cheese has a lot in common with craft beer. Its enjoyment is usually accompanied by the confident identification of imperceptible flavors. Its descriptions tend to be flowery and heavily reliant on niche terminology (see "goaty" and "piquant"). Most importantly, it lends those who consume it a smug sense of superiority over the poor, ignorant schlubs who still thoughtlessly buy corporate cheese at supermarkets (can you even imagine?!). Fancy cheese and my inner egotist are a match made in Heaven.
All kidding aside, the news that Venissimo, an institution among cheese and charcuterie fanciers in Mission Hills, was opening an outpost within Bottlecraft (3007 University Ave. in North Park) had me pretty excited. Venissimo isn't the first retail outlet to combine such offerings, but it has cultivated an outstanding reputation for knowing how to bring them together with its many pairing seminars over the years. If anyone could teach me how to quickly feign expertise on the matching of beer and cheese, it would be Venissimo.
Venissimo is open for business in Bottlecraft, but its full potential is forthcoming. For example, the plan is to offer beer and cheese sampler flights, an idea so fun and novel that it's necessarily being gated by government approval. Those flights will have some set suggestions, but Venissimo president and "Cheese Wiz" Gina Frieze wants consumers to be able to open with either a favorite beer or cheese and experience a flight in either direction. "It's really all about education and getting people excited and stoked about cheese with beer," she shared.
Frieze saw fit to begin my education straightaway by thrusting sips of beer and skewered nibbles of cheese toward me. I'm not a fast learner, but I am a fast eater, which is almost as good in this context.
Her pairing of a 4-year-aged gouda and Lost Abbey Red Barn illustrated not only the power of contrasting flavor profiles but also the importance of choosing constituents similar in intensity. The potent, almost butterscotch-like notes of the gouda played nicely with the fruity sweetness of the beer, but were handily countered by the bright, tangy finish. 7/10, would nosh again
We also explored the opposite edge of the intensity spectrum in pairing Bottlecraft's third-anniversary German Chocolate Cake Imperial Milk Stout and Délice de Bourgogne Triple-Cream Brie, a tasting as opulent as the incredibly lengthy names suggest. The silken, briny cheese practically frosts the chocolate cake notes, which is awesome considering how foul the standard coconut topping on said cakes looks. In fact, calling that brie "creamy" doesn't do it full service. It might actually inhabit a new state of matter between liquid and solid. I've had delicious cheese before, but none with the potential to upend the classical models of brie physics. 10/10, would sell family for more
This venture between Venissimo and Bottlecraft collides two craft worlds and elevates them both. You don't have to be snobby to appreciate that. It's more fun if you are, though.