Reviewer’s Note: Samples of the products discussed here were provided to me for reviewing purposes at no cost.
A recent sampling of a trio of Trappist cheeses sent our way courtesy of Belgian Trappist beer brewer Chimay was eye-opening as the most affecting eating experiences tend to be. For the uninitiated, a “Trappist” beer is one that’s brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery under the control and responsibility of the community of monks, and whose revenue is devoted to social service. The Trappist cheeses, made exclusively with regional milk produced on their farm, are so-called because their rinds get washed with Chimay Trappist beer as part of their production process, which includes a period of ripening in the Abbey cellars.
For the purposes of this review, I received along with an attractive wooden cheese cutting board and bottle opener, sample wheels of Chimay à La Grande Réserve, Chimay Doré Gold, and Chimay à La Première. The cheeses came with serving suggestions that included pairing each one with the Chimay beer that best complements its flavor. The Chimay à La Première cheese paired with Chimay Red Cap, a beer that gets labeled as Chimay Première when sold in 750 ml bottles. Respective recommended beer pairings for the Chimay à La Grande Réserve and Chimay Doré Gold cheeses were a dark beer named Chimay Blue Cap (labeled as Chimay Grande Réserve when sold in 750 ml bottles), and one called Chimay Triple (which, when sold in 750 ml bottles, gets labeled Chimay “Cinq Cents”). In order to experience the best flavor interactions for each cheese, I made sure to acquire each one’s recommended companion beer before sampling it.
The Chimay à La Première cheese was mild, with faint buttery and nutty flavors whispering through it. Tasted alone, it was an encouraging beginning made more so by the bite that followed it, taken with a taste of its companion ale, Chimay Red. The beer possessed a sweetness that recalled candied fruit on both the nose and the palate, and when sipped with the cheese, drew forth, those hints of nut and butter in a way that really brought them alive.
The Chimay à La Grande Réserve had a pronounced, acrid aroma, that stung the nostrils in a manner notable but not altogether unpleasant, as many cheeses have a less than endearing initial aroma. On the tongue, it had a bitterness that the caramel-laced fruitiness of the accompanying Chimay Blue beer did a good job of palliating. This ale had a less pronounced fruit character than the Chimay Red, but one nonetheless present, with greater balance between fruit and more developed notes of caramel or burnt sugar. This cheese’s tang bordered on excess for me, though I believe this to be less a fault of the cheese (which no doubt expresses ably to quite well all the requisite characteristics that such a cheese should embody) than of my frequent predilection for nuance over sharpness with cheeses. While I found that the two flavor profiles complemented one another nicely, I’d much sooner choose the Grande Réserve beer than the cheese, were I looking to revisit one independently of its partner.
I found the Chimay Doré Gold to be the most palatable cheese of the three, and the one I could most imagine purchasing again. Faintly sweet, less biting that the Grande Réserve, but with more fullness and flavor complexity than the Première, its flavors married well with the Cinq Cents beer, which I found to be on the drier side compared to the other beers with a fullness that made it my favorite of the three beers.
Chimay has been a producer of Trappist cheeses since 1876. I was glad for the opportunity to sample these three cheeses and am especially excited to revisit the beers that paired with them. These cheeses can be used to add dimension to cheese biscuits and tartlets, and perform well when added to risotto or au gratin potatoes. Their semi-softness makes them equally as well-suited to simple slicing and serving with charcuterie, assorted breads, crackers, raw or baked vegetables, and fresh fruits.Per my aforementioned personal preference, I would likely blend the Grande Réserve cheese with one or both of the other cheeses rather than using it alone. I don’t doubt, though, that many people would find much to love about the pronounced bitterness counted among its flavor characteristics, and find multiple ways to cook with it all by itself.
To learn more about Chimay’s rich tradition of making quality Trappist of ales and cheeses, visit www.chimay.com