“This beer is a great pairing with mozzarella,” states Riccardo confidently.
I look back at him in confusion. Since when has anything paired well with mozzarella?
I have always believed that it is nigh-on impossible to find a good wine pairings for high-cream cheeses, like mozzarella, burrata or Brillat-Savarin. Washed-rind cheeses, such as Époisses or Munster, are not much better but can have the edge taken off with a beer.
(Sidenote: I still think back longingly to a fantastic cheese and beer pairing at the restaurant Les Brigittines in Brussels. They put a really very pungent local washed rind cheese with the superbly sour Cantillon Gueuze.)
Didn’t destiny decide that mozzarella’s life partners were to be a ripe tomato, a glug of olive oil and maybe a scattering of basil?
My brain returns to Planet Earth for a moment – and to this clearly crazy Italian telling me that you can put beer with buffalo…
A few weeks later, I was in the area of Tortona, right on the border of Piedmont and Lombardy, visiting Walter Massa (also part of Italy Road Trip Summer 2015) and decided to pop by and pay a quick visit…
.. a quick visit which turned into practically the whole day!
I lost count of the hours I spent in Riccardo’s kitchen; he was such fantastic company. We talked about Bruce Springsteen, the English Civil War and the battle of Waterloo. We made several trips to the cellar to pick up more beers. He’s a home-brewer who, despite considerable pressure to stay in the family business, turned professional.
The brewery is a decent-sized, converted warehouse, just over the road from Riccardo’s house. Nowadays, he works with his brother and they make a total of around 30 beers, but many of them are highly seasonal.
It seems that they make a couple of base beers (Runa and Demon Hunter) from which they will experiment with new variations. e.g. Magiuster made using fragole di Tortona and Garbagnina using Bella di Garbagna cherries.
They mainly use German hops for bittering… but there is an English style Strong Ale with East Kent Goldings and an APA made with Cascade, Amarillo and Chinook.
They use a local water source. For Riccardo, this is very important as he is convinced this provides a sense of terroir for the beer… a idea that many in the wine world are quick to dismiss.
The Montegioco Brewery opened in 2005. I felt incredibly honoured that Riccardo chose to open one of his very last bottles of La Mummia 2006. It’s a lambic beer aged in what were previously Barbera barrels from Walter Massa and then bottled in 2008.
I don’t think there was anything available that I didn’t taste. I tried the whole gamut from his basic blonde “Runa”, to an American Pale Ale, a doppio malto, a barley wine… and even his own sparkling wine from early-harvest Timorasso grapes!
All at the same time, Riccardo was feeding me local specialities; “I don’t like to cook but I like to play in the kitchen,” he claims modestly. It is during this part of the conversation that he makes his bold food pairing suggestions.
Back in Paris, I invite a few friends to come taste these beers and give their feedback on the possible pairings.
My favourite pairing was with Riccardo’s Mac Runa beer. (Bottle of 33cl, weighing in at 6.6% ABV, Lot Number 18/15.) The malted barley has also been peated, which gives the beer a delicious, smokey twang, much like a whisky from Islay. The name Mac is a tip of the hat to its Scottish inspiration.
Not filtered, not pasteurised, re-fermentation in the bottle over a four month period; I really liked this beer. The peat is very present on the nose and again at the end, where it lightens what otherwise might have been a heavy finish. On the mid-palate, I picked up notes of caramel, honey and, later, pepper. The peat does not over-dominate.
Bernardo rightly suggests that this would make a delicious pairing for our smoked mozzarella. Boy, he was not wrong. It was a match made in heaven!