On a sunny afternoon in Stillwater, particularly on the weekends, a long line can be seen at the historic district’s busiest intersection. Near Chestnut & Main, families and couples slowly shuffle up to a window making the sidewalk almost unusable. East by just a block is the lift bridge to Wisconsin, so cars are always speeding by, from quaint downtown over the river to a winding county road.
Well, naturally, that line is for ice cream. Just regular Kemps stuff. But just next door is a dreamy little shop called Wedge & Wheel. It’s full of dairy of a different kind – cheese from far and wide, plus meat, small snacks, wine and beer. The place can sometimes get busy, too, but most of the time when I visit I sit at a small table and think: all those people in line…they are missing out. This is the real treat.
Wedge & Wheel combines a very small menu of mostly panini and cheese plates with their well-curated deli offerings, and much of their beer and wine selection is local. During my most recent visit, I challenged my cheesemonger to pair three cheeses with beer, and rather that going with the dark or the farmhouse, I opted for hoppy. The White IPA from Badger Hill has some Belgian yeast influences common to this Belgo-American style, but the bitterness is more prominent than the phenols.
Hop-forward and bitter beers are not always easy to pair with food. Their stark resin, citrus, or herbal notes can come across as prickly with delicate foods, or in competition with bold flavors. But three successful pairings were set before me by my server, owner Chris Kohtz.
Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheddar from Blue Mounds, Wisconsin was the first and most successful partner for its synergistic effects. The nuttiness of the cheddar increases, while the citrus in the glass cuts the creamy fat. The Belgian phenols of clove and pepper are exaggerated in a positive way while the bitterness plays a supporting role. For a sidecar snack, reach for the Marcona almonds, part of their cheese plate bouquet. The only drawback was in the cheese itself — I found the rind pungent in a way that was mold-like in taste and ended up eating very little of the outside.
To push the boundaries of funk on funk, try the Redhead Creamery North Fork Whiskey Washed Muenster. The wheels of cheese are washed in Panther Distillery Minnesota 14. The rind is horseblankety and pungent, drawing out those characteristics in the beer which would otherwise be obscured partially by hops. The cheese also increases the beer’s bitterness, though, making the beer sort of a caricature of itself. For much-needed contrast, try some dried tart cherries as a sidecar snack.
Finally, another adventurous pairing is found in an inoculated cheddar with bleu characteristics. Made by Roelli of Wisconsin, the bleu cheddar presents a textural contrast as well as a flavor marriage. The beer becomes more citrusy, but doesn’t cut the flavor or texture of the cheese – they simply exist together. In contrast to the other two cheeses on my plate, the texture isn’t creamy – it’s crumbly and almost drying in the mouth and completely unlike a typical dense blue. Try a gherkin sidecar for a nice briny levity.
The three cheeses were quite distinct from one another and each had a certain super power when combined with the beer. Also on all cheese plates are some meaty, mild Castelvetrano olives which worked in several combinations. Several specialty meats are available in combination with the cheese, too, much of which is from Red Table Meats in Minneapolis.
Skip the ice cream line on your next visit to Stillwater and try some experimentation of your own!