STORY BY PRISCILLA AGUILERA
PHOTOS BY GIOVANNI CARDENAS
Mechanic shops, industrial buildings, and storage units tightly line Calvert Street in Van Nuys. It’s getting dark, but the air still feels hot and sticky, could there really be a brewery here? Nearing closer to brewery, the pungent smell of an entire table filled with cheese wheels smacks you in the face. Pastel colors of pink, orange and blue wheels of cheese line the table like a sunset portrait or a cheese themed still-life painting. Absolutely stunning. Also on the table is a basket of lactaid chewables, “no excuses!” a sign reads.
Cheese, is a wide lens to which Alex Ourieff, Cheesemonger and owner of Vagabond Cheese Company views the world. I caught up with Vagabond Cheese at Mcleod’s (Mac-loud) Brewery in Van Nuys during one of their weekly events at the taproom. Ourieff served up a plate of gorgeous cheese that he already pre-paired with Mcleod’s tasty English style ales.
Cheese has taught him about history, politics, economics, agriculture, and science. And with that knowledge and excitement he was able to carve out a career for himself. Originally, Ourieff wanted to be apart of the craft beer industry and moved to Northern California for a piece of the action.
While working at a creamery in the bay area Ourieff saw the potential of beer and cheese pairings in an exploding craft beer market and decided to capitalize on the momentum. He created Vagabond Cheese company, a nomadic-shop based in Los Angeles that primarily travels to breweries and taprooms to curate cheese pairings with beer available there. Finally Ourieff can view the world through salty and sweet lenses.
“When it comes to popular cuisine in the United States we are total Francophiles,” Ourieff said. Which is true in most cases; wine is still very popular in the United States, and so is the Instagram famous macaroon dessert, and the ooey-gooey French omelette, to name a few.
Ourieff blames our obsession with French cuisine on why beer and cheese pairings are often overlooked as a perfect combination. “If we were really stoked on Belgium, beer and cheese pairings would have been more popular.”
Beer has more carbonation than most wines do, the carbonation in the beer will lift the fat in the cheese off of your plate and allow you to taste more things at the same time.
Beer also has more sugar than most types of wine, and cheese has a bit of salt, which is a better balance.
Ourieff recommends this guide for creating your own do-it-yourself pairings: Drinking local craft beer like Monkish Brewery in Torrance and Beachwood Blendery in Long Beach with cheese from a trusted local cheese shop like Cheese Addiction in Belmont Shore. As a general rule of thumb he recommends pairing saltier cheese with a sweeter beer. If you're trying to do a fast and easy pairing try Brie with a pilsner, an IPA with a cheddar, blue cheese with a stout, and a saison or farmhouse beer with an alpine style cheese like gruyere or swiss. Below you can read Vagabond’s guide to pairing cheese at Mcleods Brewery with his own commentary.
Pecorino Ginepro (pasteurized sheep milk) with Son of Leod (Viking Pilsner) - “This beer has a grainy sweetness, but not overpowering sweetness. The cheese is not super acidic so we don’t need a super acidic beer (like dark and sour beers). I really liked the texture of this pairing, the cheese knocks the CO2 out of suspension in the beer, and it almost feels like the beer was served on nitro.”
Montealva Joven (pasteurized goat milk) with Joe, Don’t Dent The Bus! (Cask, Best Bitter)- “Every pairing I do I want to make sure it does something different from the other pairings. So this one brought out the sweetness in the beer and brought out a sweetness in the cheese that is not normally present in the cheese without the combination.”
Taleggio DOP (Ca d’Ambros, Pasteurized cow milk) with Cutting Bracken (Brown Ale)- “Taleggio has a really fudgy texture that mellows out the roasty notes in the beer and still holds a grainy sweetness because it is a brown ale. The sweetness really mellows out the salty properties of the Taleggio.”
Lou Bergier Pichin (unpasteurized cow milk) with Lost in London (Oatmeal Stout)- “I got a surprising note from the pairing that I didn't get on its own. It was kind of like a christmas-y nutmeg clove and cinnamon flavor.”
If you like cheese, and beer or want to learn more about the pairing, give Vagabond Cheese a visit! Since they travel around the greater Los Angeles area you’ll be sure to run into them. Find them every Sunday at the Historic Core Farmers market in Downtown Los Angeles. For date listings go to Vagabondcheese.com