Beer and cheese have a long history together — as perfect companions on the table and as the dual objects of devoted labor by Belgian monks who often made both in their monasteries. Some of the world’s greatest cheeses also involve combining the two products as, most commonly, the curds are “washed” with a beer brine while aging to achieve a holy funk. But something new has quite possibly just been created by a trio of Pennsylvania food icons in what might be the world’s first “dry-hopped” cheese. Perpetual Beer Cheese is a collaboration between Caputo Brothers Creamery, Tröegs Independent Brewing, and the Giant food stores chain, and takes a novel approach to one of key components in beer — hops — by infusing it into warm pasteurized milk like a giant tea bag.
In this case, it’s the same Citra hops used in Tröegs’ popular Perpetual IPA, and the result is pretty remarkable. The semi-firm Fontina-like cheese melts slowly across the palate and blooms like a mouthful of sunshine, a zesty blend of lime and grapefruit citrus with notes of green melon and more tropical fruits.
“We believe it to be the first of its kind, dry-hopping the milk before making the cheese, and it nearly killed us,” said Rynn Caputo, the president and cofounder of the creamery halfway between York and Lancaster that initially made its name as an artisan mozzarella producer. “Keeping this cheese from becoming too bitter was a monumental task.”
This complex cheese also gets a beer brine while it ages — a “Perpetual beer shower,” Caputo calls it — that mists the cheese daily for two weeks and helps adds an extra tang to the fermentation. Beer washes are common in cheeses like Chimay, or the well-loved Tröegenator beer cheese Caputo makes in a Gouda style and washes with the Tröegs’ dark double bock. In the Tröegenator’s case, the beer is an accent to an older, aged cheese. The fresher, creamier personality of Perpetual works more as a lively vehicle for hops that mimics the flavor profile of beer against the richness of dairy.
The Tröegenator was the first hit collaboration commissioned by Carlisle-based Giant markets, and has helped grow Caputo from its inception in 2011 as a York farmer’s market vendor selling 40 pounds of hand-pulled mozzarella a week to a 300,000-pound-a-year operation. They now operate fresh mozzarella and cannoli stands where products are made on-site in 11 Giant markets, and the volume of milk Caputo uses weekly — about 3,000 gallons — has enabled them to sustain two Pennsylvania dairy farms.
“With the dairy crisis being as bad as it has gotten with low milk prices, it’s gone from abysmal to catastrophic with COVID-19,” said Caputo. “So [these projects have] allowed us to help save these farms.”
That initiative has only just begun. With increased production of seasonal beer cheeses like the limited spring edition of Perpetual and a Mad Elf edition planned for October (rubbed with the brewery’s Christmas beer and Hershey’s cocoa), Caputo has been able to take on a third farm this spring, and hopefully with sustain a fourth by fall. As a result, beer and cheese now have another shared mission: helping save some of Pennsylvania’s endangered dairy industry.
— Craig LaBan