In 1850, a small group of Trappist monks settled on the wild plateau of Scourmont near Chimay in southeastern Belgium. They founded a priory and, after much back-breaking labor, managed to transform the barren soil into fertile farmland. A farm, a brewery, and a cheese plant sprang up around L’abbaye Notre-Dame de Scourmont, from which the monks still produce their authentic Trappist beers and cheeses under the Chimay label.
In 1986, the monks launched a new kind of Chimay cheese. Rather than washing this semi-soft cheese in salted water during the ripening process, they washed it in their beer. Though this à la bière method imparted a pungent aroma, its flavor was mild and nutty, with a slight hint of hops and malt.
The monks make their Première cheese by washing it in their Première beer, a dark, fruity ale. Both are also simply known as Chimay “red” beer and cheese, due to their distinctive labels. Made using fresh, creamy cow’s milk from the region and ripened for three weeks, the resulting cheese tastes of apricots and peaches, with some bitterness and the unmistakable taste and aroma of malt and yeast. The monks make their Grande Classique (blue-label) cheese in a similar way, but instead wash it in the abbey’s Grande Réserve, a dark, spiced ale with a powerful aroma of raisins and molasses. The result is a cheese with a flavor that is at turns salty, boozy, and yeasty.
The best way to try these cheeses is, of course, alongside a good Chimay beer, ideally the very same beer that the cheese itself was washed in. And while sampling these Trappist products, you can rest assured that the monks were responsible for quality control during the entire production process, and that most of the income from their beers and cheeses goes toward various social aid projects.