In time for the Labor Day weekend we are posting a story that just appeared on a great site for families in Chicago Families in the Loop by a guest blogger, Kelsey Banfield, who writes under the moniker The Naptime Chef. Kelsey and I collaborated on picnic dishes made with or enjoyed with our Belgian beers earlier in the summer. It was fun! So grab a biere de table, saison, biere de garde, organic wit, abbey singel, lambrucha while you are doing the Labor Day shopping. The BBQ or picnic is guaranteed to be a special summer’s-end celebration. You’ll find more picnic posts when you search “cooking with beer” on this blog. If you are a young parent and a foodie you will want to follow Kelsey. If you are determined to get the most out of Chicago for you and your young family – Families in the Loop is your ticket. Have a great Labor Day!
Belgian Beer is Oh So Fine
Years ago, I had a summer job most college students could only dream of, working at Vanberg & DeWulf, a Belgian beer importing business in Cooperstown, NY. During my few months there, I learned all about the beverage business from owners Wendy Littlefield and Don Feinberg. Amid the flurry of office activity, I also learned a lot about their beers. I was barely legal to drink at that point and had not yet developed any sort of palate for beer or wine, but I was intrigued by this new world that extended far beyond the tasteless dorm mainstay: Natty Light.
In Belgium, brewing beer is an art form; Belgians take their beer as seriously as the French do their wine. To drink a Belgian beer is to enjoy it sip by sip and pair it with delicious, farm-fresh foods.
Since that wonderful long ago summer, Wendy has since become a friend and mentor. She’s also become a professional partner because, as it turns out, Belgian beer can easily be paired with foods to enhance our dining experiences. And, in case you didn’t know, it’s absolutely fantastic to cook with! With Labor Day quickly approaching, now is the perfect time to learn about these decadent Belgian ales.
To kick things off, here are the perfect beers for end-of-summer/early fall sipping.
The first group of Belgian beers, known at Biere de Tables (Table Beers), are typically enjoyed during family meals. They have a low-alcohol content, come in a variety of flavors and have a fine bubbly mouth that feels akin to champagne. In many homes, children are often allowed to have small sips of Table Beers with their meals; it’s how elder Belgians teach the next generation about their fine beers and food.
Other beers are known as Saisons (beers brewed on the farm in the winter to quench the thirsts of farm hands); lemony light “Abbey Ales” (great accompaniment to mussels): or “Wheat Beers,” which are great with spicy foods. Strong “Golden Ales” are suited to grilled chops or burgers. To spice things up for our Families in the Loop readers, we’ve even added a “Wild” surprise beer to the mix below.
1) Lambrucha: This unique beer, the marriage of two fermented drinks, Kombucha and Lambic, was developed by Wendy and Don. Tasting Table Chicago recently stated, “Move over, Miller High Life: We’re declaring Lambrucha the new Champagne of Beers.” Strong words for such a new beverage! This tart bubbly drink is rose-colored with light, refreshing, citrus notes and pairs perfectly with summer veggies and seafood. Lambrucha is the mimosa of the beer world and the ultimate picnic brunch beer.
2) Avril Organic: This USDA-Certified Organic beer is touted as being one of the best Belgian beers ever. It has a very low alcohol content, along with crisp, grassy notes. Avril Organic is the perfect palate-cleansing summer beer.
3) Saison Dupont: Among the most food-friendly beers of all time, Saisons were the only type of beer Belgian farm workers would drink. Bottles were stashed in nearby rivulets to stay cool and farm hands would take sips as needed to stay refreshed. Saison Dupont is one of the ultimate picnic beers, since it has a light straw color and is full of citrus and spicy notes.
4) Hop-Ruiter: A new beer developed by Don & Wendy in conjunction with the Schelde Brewery (a rising star on the Belgian microbrewing scene), Hop Ruiter combines the Belgian appreciation for esters and the American love of hops. Unlike American beers, the hop character is not piney, and instead is more reminiscent of an oak-y white wine. This Strong Golden Ale is perfect for summer cookouts.
5) Witkap Abbey Single Style Ale: If the monks drink this for lunch, why can’t you? This light beer is indeed a summer refresher all over Belgium and is often served with salads and fish. Revered for its champagne-y, citrusy flavor, this beer is light sipping at its best.
6) Foret Blanche Organic: This brand new organic beer is a personal favorite of mine. I love the tart, yeasty flavor that pairs so well with fruity desserts. I’ll admit, I also love the pretty label. This beer comes from Brasserie Dupont, the makers of Saison Dupont and Avril, and they are known as being the champions of organic beers in Belgium. Foret Blanche Organic pairs especially well with seafood dishes.
For Sipping and for Cooking!
One of the best parts about Belgian beer is that it can be sipped, stirred and baked. If you’re looking to try it out with an easy and delicious recipe, this pork dish is the way to go. It can be served hot or cold and even taken on picnics or boat rides. Marinating the meat in beer tenderizes it and adds all sorts of spicy flavors. I like it, of course, because preparation is so incredibly naptime chef-friendly.
Wendy got the idea of marinating the pork from Top Chef Winner Richard Blais. When he was just starting out, he developed some terrific recipes for Vanberg & DeWulf to help them showcase their beers. On several occasions, he used Belgian beer as a marinade to tenderize the meat and infuse it with spicy flavors. Ruth Van Waerebeek, the modern godmother of Belgian cuisine, also champions marinating pork in beer in her cookbook, Everybody Eats Well in Belgium. She swears by using pork shoulder with the bone still in, but I prefer pork tenderloin without the bone because it is easier to find and less expensive.
When I made this for my family recently, I popped the tenderloin in to marinate while my daughter was at camp and baked it that evening for dinner. The dish was a huge hit and has already earned a place in our regular dinner rotation. The chutney I served it with was made by my friend Tanna, who owns her own chutney company called Chutney Unlimited. Any comparable chutney you can find will work just as well. The recipe is below for you to make at home!
Enjoy your delicious new Belgian beers this Labor Day weekend!
~By Kelsey Banfield, The Naptime Chef
Want to learn more about Vanberg & DeWulf, experts in Belgian Beer since 1982? Head over to their website!
Beer Marinated Pork Tenderloin with Garlic-Ginger Chutney
3 pounds boneless pork tenderloin
3 cups Moinette Brune or similar dark beer
1 ½ cups Garlic-Ginger chutney or similar strongly flavored chutney of choice, divided
1. Place the tenderloin in a large Ziploc bag and pour in the beer and 1 cup of the chutney. Seal the bag and swish the beer and chutney around so that it completely covers the meat. Place it in the fridge and allow it to marinate for at least 3 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place the pork and the marinade in a large baking dish. Bake it for about 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches…
3. Allow the pork to cool slightly, slice it into medallions and serve with dollops of the remaining chutney on the side.
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