Soft-ripened cheeses—your brie styles, Camemberts, and those other pillowy, creamy, sometimes stinky, bloomy rinds—are a pretty versatile fromage family. From delicate, almost fluffy goat buttons like Shellbark Hollow’s seasonal Aurora’s Cloud to buttery, toothsome rounds of Buttercup Brie from Cherry Grove Farm’s hardworking Jersey cows, our region boasts a wide selection of these supple, spreadable wonders. On the funkier end of that spectrum lies Roundtop Farm’s Sheep Camembert.
Honey Brook, PA Amish man Melvin Stoltzfus has collaborated with his cheesemaker (it’s a common practice amongst the Amish to work with an outside facility to make cheese) to turn the milk from his grass-fed sheep into a line of sophisticated and delicious sheep’s milk cheeses. The highlights are a savory-sweet aged raw milk tomme, a pungent, crumbly blue, and of course the Camembert-style. Get a wheel (each weighs a little more than half a pound) on the younger side and you’re in for a less challenging experience: Beneath a typical fungal whiff from the snowy white rind is a note of steamed cauliflower— rather pleasant in conjunction with the salty, grassy notes in the ultra-creamy paste, so dense you could stand up your knife in it.
But pick up a wheel a week or two further along in its lifespan and the funky factor is seriously amplified. The milder mushroomy quality is much bolder, treading pleasantly in root cellar territory, and the grainy, grassy origins of the cheese come through in a hint of sweet across the tongue. The texture is even denser, buttery bordering on unctuous—a cheese this rich and assertively flavored is just waiting for a cascade of bubbles to clear the palate.
And what to pair with a cheese so lush yet so brazen? Common practice points to bright, light brews like kölsch or pilsner or dark, bready stouts to pair well with creamsicles like this one, but a few exploratory sips nixed both options: Lighter selections couldn’t stand up to the sheep Camembert’s big, complex flavors, and the sweet notes in darker, smoother beers clashed with the ultra-savory paste and bitter/musty notes on the cheese.
Enter Saison VOS, Sly Fox Brewing Co.’s Belgian-style farmhouse ale marmalade-golden and finely carbonated, this ale freshens the tongue and hits first with a gentle, citrusy sweetness, not too syrupy or yeasty—although the proprietary blend of wild yeasts that slightly cloud the color is what gives this brew the complexity it needs to stand up to the sheep Camembert. The ale retreats on a clean, toasty, slightly bitter note.
When these two mingle, expect amped-up brightness—almost a coppery flavor—from the saison, and for the grassy notes in the Camembert to be highlighted with a hint of toasted sesame. The funky aromas and bold flavors in the Camembert bring the “farm” in farmhouse ale into focus, putting its slightly sweet, grain-y flavor in context, somewhere between fresh-cut grass and the microflora and fauna of that farmhouse’s root cellar—or aging cave.