Did you know that Oregon’s official state fruit is the pear? The state ranks second in the nation in pear production, joining Washington and California to make up the majority of US pear production. Our rich, volcanic soil, abundant water supply, warm days and cool nights make for ideal pear growing conditions.
The season begins in August and continues through the month of October. Pears are picked when fully grown, but not quite ripe, and placed in large bins to be transported to a packing house to be cooled to about 30 degrees to ripen.
A simple and quick way to enjoy pears is to pair them with craft beer and cheese. Local experts Neil Ferguson of the Pear Bureau Northwest, usapears.org, and Steve Jones, of the former Cheese Bar, lent their respective knowledge to suggest pairings for five varieties of pears, all readily found in local grocery stores and farmers markets.
Bartlett pears are typically the first variety to be ready each year and kick off the pairings. Jones said he took a bit of “creative license” with this pairing, choosing Threshold Brewing & Blending’s Fresh Hop Strata “Electric Fields” Pale Ale with Face Rock Creamery’s Face2Face cow/sheep milk clothbound cheddar.
Hoppier beers, like IPAs and pale ales, generally pair very well with cheddars, and clothbound cheddars are a style traditionally served with fruit.
Red pears go well with Pilsners, so Jones selected Montavilla Brew Works’ Plywood Pilsner, a beer brewed in collaboration with Mr. Plywood, the Montavilla lumberyard across the street from the brewery. For the cheese, Jones recommends fresh chevre; a creamy, white cheese made from goat’s milk for a simple, zingy, straightforward pairing.
Dark ales, like inner SE’s Away Days Brewing Co.’s Milner’s Mild, are a fun style of beer that tend to be very food-friendly. Ferguson’s recommendation of the Bosc pear variety along with Jones’ recommendation of Briar Rose Creamery’s Maia, soft Brie-style cheese, create a pairing leaning on the subtle flavors of each of the components.
Digging into more robust flavors, pair Anjou pears with Gigantic Brewing’s LP Stout and Rogue Creamery’s Caveman Blue. The sweet, roasty notes of the beer combine with the natural rind blue cheese and juicy, subtle sweetness of the pear to provide the broadest palate of flavors of these pairings.
Comice pears are among the sweetest and juiciest of all varieties. Jones recommends combining them with Little Beast Brewing’s Bes and Cascadia Creamery’s Sawtooth, a semi-soft, washed rind cheese. The fatty richness of the cheese dials back the tartness of Bes, an easy-drinking, tart wheat ale, soured with lactobacillus and dry-hopped with Lemon Drop hops and chamomile. This trio offers a contrasting array of flavors for the palate.
For those who have missed Jones’ Cheese Bar since its closing in January, he is still lending his considerable expertise to select locations around Portland and plans to start offering classes once COVID-19 cools off.
In the meantime, sign up for his email list at tinyurl.com/33v98ahy and check out his co-authored book, Cheese Beer Wine Cider: A Field Guide to 75 Perfect Pairings, which can be picked up at local bookstores.
Most of the beers mentioned are available year-round, with the exception of one – Threshold’s fresh hop Strata pale ale. Fresh hop beers utilize hops freshly-harvested (instead of the dried variety of hops found throughout the year) and are only available for a short time. Visit Threshold soon to make sure you don’t miss out.