Pork loin to pork belly, bacon to baby back ribs. The holy hog is a cornucopia of cuts frm which to choose. Even at its leanest, pork still hints at the decadent fattiness for which people clamor. But it's more than just an indulgent meat, it's an edible chameleon, able to take on the character of the cooking technique used or the sauce that caresses it. Steak almost demands red wine; chicken generally and politely requests white. But pork is the wild frontier and anything goes. This was infinitely clear at the 2017 Pork Summit in Napa where chefs' pork dishes were married with a variety of bibulous options.
When pairing beer or wine with pork, the message at the Summit was clear. Look at the character of the overall dish, not just the meat itself. Is it smoky or spicy, bold or delicate? Once you establish the flavor profile, you can decide whether you want to complement or contrast. Below are three of the Summit pairings, as well as the why behind each of them.
Smoke and Spice
Smoked Pork Loin with green garlic, pickled mackerel, pale ale jelly, and hop oil
Chef: Brittanny Anderson, Metzger Bar & Butchery
Pairing: 2015 Napa Valley Schioppettino, Matthiasson Vineyard
The "smoked" in the pork loin clues you in to a natural pairing direction. Smoke calls for smoke, at least to some degree. That match is found in Schioppettino. This forgotten grape, which rarely if ever sees landfall in America, is being grown in Napa by Matthiasson Vineyard.
Historically (dating back to the 1200s), Schioppettino grows in the Friuli region of Italy.The confluence of the Alps and the Mediterranean create a micro-climate that produces a wine grape both ripe and spicy, as well as bright and fruity. Think of it as an Italian love child of Syrah and Pinot Noir, combining violets and berries with cedar and black pepper.
In 2008, the Matthiassons started growing Ribolla Gialla and Refosco, both from the Friuli region. When the grapes produced lovely wines, the Matthiassons decided to try their hand at Schioppettino. Their bottling offers up some smoky notes, like those prevalent in many Syrahs, and this is what led Jill Klein Matthiasson to think it would pair well with Chef Brittany Anderson's pork. A low ABV of 12.1% made this an infinitely food-friendly, even session-able wine.
Spice and Fat
Grilled Ham Steak with blood orange, green chile, dandelion greens, and hazelnuts
Chef: Cosmo Goss, The Publican
Pairing: 2014 The Faufreluches Gewürztraminer, Forlorn Hope Wines
It doesn't get more traditional than a ham steak, but Cosmo Goss melded sweet, bitter, and savory to create something more than the sum of its usually predictable holiday buffet table parts. Offering a wine with equal complexity is essential for a dish that has so many layers.
Forlorn Hope's 2014 The Faufreluches Gewürtztraminer is all sweet lychee brightness. The backbone of minerality and petrol that balances the spice of the chile and the fat of the pork, while complementing the fruit and nut elements.
According to winemaker Matthew Rorick, "this wine is the continuation of a conversation I have had with the growers about the skin-fermented white wines of Friuli and Slovenia. Employing judicious skin contact during fermentation has allowed for the expression of lychee and other tropical aromatic notes, though without leaving other overt indications of skin fermentation. The skin contact also provides a touch of texture in the form of tannic grip, keeping the variety's propensity for becoming viscous or oily on the palate in check and allowing for a crisp, precise finish." This is all to say that Forlorn Hope's Gewürtz offers all the best qualities of the grape and none of the worst. Paired with Goss's ham steak, it cuts through the fat and marries with the various aromatics seamlessly.
`Bitter and Sweet
Beer Mash-Fermented Pork Shoulder with rutabaga, yeast, and cherry
Chef: Justin Carlisle, Ardent and Red Light Ramen
Pairing: Lucky 13 Mondo Large Red Ale, Lagunitas Brewing Company
Beer calls for... more beer. Justin Carlisle's minimalist plating starts with pork shoulder fermented in beer yeast, giving the meat a complex and, yes, beer-like quality.
Lagunitas Brewing Company's Lucky 13 Red Ale was bottled for the first time in 2006, celebrating the company's then thirteen years in business. Red, or amber, ale, is characterized by maltiness; the hops can be pronounced or not. Lucky 13 offers a sweet malt quality that is balanced by the bitter hops, echoing the pork shoulder's own bittersweet profile.
Pairing beer with such a refined dish was rather inspired. Not only did it illustrate the broader possibilities for food and drink pairings, but it added a layer of playfulness to the restrained composition of the dish. Most importantly, it worked.