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Your Artisanal Cheese and Craft Beer Tailgating or Bus Riding Picks of the Week

The theme is Delmarva, courtesy of Chapel's Country Creamery and Dogfish Head Brewery.

Holly Foster lives on a farm in Talbot County. About three and a half years ago, she took a week-long cheesemaking course at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, and when she returned home she started making cheese in her kitchen: ricotta, queso blanco, mozzarella, cheddar, whatever, one pound at a time. She'd give it to friends or family members for gifts, but it was just a monthly diversion from life as a stay-at-home mom.

But then her cheese started getting popular, and those friends and family members wanted to buy some for their friends and family members. Holly told her husband, a third-generation farmer named Eric, that she'd like to use her own milk, so one Christmas he bought her a dairy cow that they kept in their garage and milked for cheese and ice cream purposes. And then they thought, heck, let's run with this, and so they converted their hay and soybean and corn fields to grass fields for dairy cows, and Holly now works full-time as a cheesemaker, and now they have 50 Holsteins and 50 Jersey cows and produce something like 2,000 pounds of cheese a month at Chapel's Country Creamery. Their cheeses have been served at fancy-pants restaurants like 1789 and Poste, and they've been in talks with the amazing Murray's Cheese in New York.

One of Holly's fanciest cheeses is a white-mold soft-ripening raw-milk cave-aged number made from a French recipe. Someone once asked Holly if her business, which was named after her street (Chapel Road), was pronounced "Chappelle," like Dave. It wasn't, but she decided to name this cave-aged cheese Chapelle, since it sounded good. They age it for about two months, and it's usually eaten within four to six months, after which the flavor becomes super strong. It's usually served with red wine, and I've got a hunk for our Screaming Eagles Road Trip to the Meadowlands tomorrow.

But the reason I got into Holly's cheese was her Crab-Spice Cheddar, a raw-milk handmade cheddar seasoned with Old Bay. I've heard of plenty of gimmicky cheese flavorings: jalapenos and habaneros, dill and garlic and chives, beer and wine and so on, but I'd never heard of Old Bay. The idea came to Holly during a lunch with her husband on Kent Island, while she was trying to think of a signature Eastern Shore cheese.

"I wanted to corner the market in something," she said. "And it just dawned on me--I said, 'Oh my gosh every time we eat crabs or steamed shrimp we like to take a slice of extra sharp cheddar cheese and sprinkle Old Bay on it, our whole family's done that for years. Once I took that cheese course, I knew how to add things like that. I knew that it would work."

She puts about two pounds of Old Bay spices in every 850-pound batch of cheese. Before production started, some other folks started doing the same thing, and so there are other Old Bay-flavored cheeses from the Eastern Shore. But I've got Holly's, and I'll be bringing that on tomorrow's bus trip, too. Holly recommends grating the cheese over hot crab soup or crab dip, or over macaroni and cheese. She didn't mention eating it on a bus while riding to a soccer game.

(Chapel's Country Creamery cheeses, btw, are widely available on the Eastern Shore and elsewhere. You can also find them at Thursday's Farm Fresh Market, on 8th Street, between D and E.)

Holly wasn't sure what beer the Crab-Spice cheese would go with--her husband's a Bud Light guy--but resident beer expert and craftbrew veteran "Hoppy" Jeff Wells thought he'd try to pair it with a hoppy Brown Ale from Delmarva. He writes:

Quality and tradition, two words that seem to go hand in hand. In our post-industrial revolution world, we have slowly discovered that time usually results in quality. However, it can be argued that traditional thinking can sometimes restrict creativity. This has seemed to be the case for many brewers in Europe, who for generations
have produced some of the world's best beer but can only go so far in the creative realm. The Germans take their beer so seriously that they instituted a beer purity law in 1516, the Reinheitsgebot. This law specifies
that beer can only be made with four ingredients: barley malt, hops, yeast, and water (a provision was later added that also allowed wheat).

When applied to the most frequently produced style of beer in Germany, Lager, this law is not only justified but another source of pride for German brewers. (In America many large-production lager breweries use "adjuncts" such as rice or corn which are cheaper, less-flavorful fermentables.) In England, similar philosophies are maintained when producing traditional ales.

But in the American craft-brewing world, creativity is not only welcomed but revered. There are many fantastic American breweries producing traditional European styles, but there are also a few that defy definition and tradition. Dogfish Head Brewing Company, located on the Delaware shore, has been called by beer expert Michael Jackson "America's most adventurous brewery." In the brewery's 11-year history, owner Sam Calagione and his team of brewers have gained a reputation as creative geniuses. Dogfish Head brewers have not only created beers of amazing strength (20 Minute IPA at 20% alcohol by volume), but they also explore an amazing array of spices and flavorings, including raisins, coffee beans, rye, honey, ppirulina, dates, ginger, peaches and raspberries.

One of their finest beers is a style they have called Indian Brown Ale. The brewery describes it as "a cross between a Scotch Ale, an India Pale Ale, and an American Brown Ale." Malty, yet highly hopped, the dark brown brew has flavors of molasses, coffee, and raisins and is brewed with a small amount of caramelized brown sugar. The beer packs a solid punch and weighs in at 7.2% abv.

Enjoy. Hopefully I'll make it back from the Meadowlands alive, and full of cheese.

By Dan Steinberg  |  October 20, 2006; 4:02 PM ET
Categories:  Beer and Cheese  
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