Real Trappist beers, from the abbeys of Belgium, will be the unifying theme of an upcoming dinner at The Haze on Sunday, March 21.
The idea for the event came from Madison author Madeline Scherb, whose book A Taste of Heaven, published last August, is a guide to some of the best foods produced by monks and nuns in the U.S. and Europe.
A bit fatigued by the usual bookstore reading/signing drill, Scherb wanted to do something special. She started looking around for a restaurant that might be willing to do a pairing dinner.
"I picked the Haze for two reasons. I was looking for the right people, who have a commitment to quality." They really know their food, observes Scherb. "And I liked the east/west theme of the restaurant." The Trappist monk Thomas Merton also did much to bridge east and west, Scherb notes, so in that sense it's especially appropriate. The chefs at the Haze "were immediately excited."
Four of the seven Trappist abbeys that currently produce beers will be represented at the dinner: Rochefort (with two beers), Orval, Westmalle and Achel.
Real Trappist beers must be brewed within a Trappist abbey by the monks or supervised by monks and the purpose of the brewery is to support good works and the abbey, not make a profit in and of itself.
Scherb, who's been to all four of the monasteries, will talk a little about each place before each course and hopes to show photos on the restaurant's flat-sceen television.
All four of these monasteries have brewpubs attached to them, Scherb writes in A Taste of Heaven, and most accept visitors for spiritual retreats. While sampling the beers at the source is a good reason to go, it's not the only reason to visit. Orval, for instance, is "especially beautiful after evening prayers when Grand Silence settles over the monastery and not a whisper disturbs the calm surface of the reflecting pool," Scherb writes.
Christopher Pax, operations manager and a chef at the Haze, says the various chefs who cook at the Haze met to taste the ales and put their heads together to come up with the menu:
- First course: Achel Blond served with a savory tart of goat cheese and fennel
- Second course: Westmalle Tripel, served with a seafood cioppino with coriander and house-made lardoons
- Third course: Orval, served with house-smoked ham on a lavash cracker, fat-poached egg and pear-onion slaw
- Fourth course: Rochefort 8 with smoked beef brisket cabbage roll, sauce gribiche and fried leeks
- Fifth course: For dessert, Rocheforte 6 served with a sticky toffee pudding featuring beer caramel and a molasses sponge cake.
Cost is $65 and the meal begins at 5 p.m.; reservations are being taken at the Haze, 608-260-2680.
Beer representatives will also be on hand to talk beer. "They know more about the beer than I do," says Scherb, although she does point out that "These are very strong beers. People might want to consider taking a cab."