The planet is blessed with over 7,000 varieties of apples. From the ancient fruit-bearing trees of Britain and France to the northern most regions of Scandinavia to the far regions of Australia to the frostier parts of North America, apples cover the earth. It’s easy to see after biting into a sweet and juicy Pink Lady or a full of flavor Fuji, how every apple must be a good cider-making contender. Not so. Surprisingly, what tastes good might not be a good candidate for producing a delicious hard apple cider.
It’s really all about the apples. These are not your Disney movie “Snow-White” perfectly round and red apples. Cider-apples may not look pretty or taste sweet, but their value is in what the juice brings to the blend.
Cider apple varieties have covered the landscapes of Europe for millennia. Now rooted firmly in American soil, the old world cultivars thrive, bearing names that sound more like vintage cocktails than apples. Ashmead’s Kernel; Baldwin; Cox’s Orange Pippen; Dabinett; Foxwhelp; Frequin Rouge; Golden Russet; Muscadet de Dieppe; Northern Spy; Porter’s Perfection; Roxbury Russett; and Somerset Redstreak. These are just a few of the uniquely distinct ‘cider apple’ varieties that are grown in specific regions of the United States.
An orchard that cultivates specific “cider apple varieties’ will be as diligent about their methods of growing, harvesting and production as wine growers. Other factors cider makers must contend with might be that qualities of ‘apple cider’ trees can vary from year-to-year and even from tree-to-tree. Cider-makers, like wine-makers, look for certain characteristics in the fruit, such as high levels of acid, tannin or sugar. The favored combination ferments for a period of time, transforming into hard cider. We can thank the Europeans for their finesse in developing this fine drink.
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An American Favorite
Although France and England have been serving up goblets of the fermented pomme since ancient times, it wasn’t until the pilgrims of the Massachusetts Bay Colony planted apple trees that America had its first taste of the fruit. Recognized for creating a distinctive French-style, the region of Normandy has been producing hard apple cider since the 9th century. By the 15th century, ahead of ale or wine, cider was the beverage of choice in France.
Following in the footsteps of locally-crafted libations, cider is finally coming of age in the United States. Along with breweries, wineries and distilleries, cideries are staking their claim on the scene of neighborhood and small town maps, as well. Wherever farm-based products are grown and harvested, like dairy, vegetables, fruit and grains, you will find cideries and their beverage brethren are popping up in pubs for people to enjoy and explore local food and drink in new ways.
Pairing cider with cheese is a natural. If you like a slice of Cheddar on your apple pie, don’t stop there. The Hudson Valley, New York Cider Week offers a guide on cheese pairings with cider. The guide was produced by Cider Week NY with David Flaherty, Beer & Spirits director at Hearth Restaurant and the Terroir wine bars in New York City, and Elizabeth Chubbuck, associate director of wholesale at Murray’s Cheese. Check it out at ciderweekhv.com
CIDER AND CHEESE PAIRING TIPS
Pairings can heighten shared characteristics or reveal subtle contrasts (think salty and sweet). An extraordinary pairing creates flavor and a textured experience that is greater than the sum of its parts. Look for balance and try to avoid having one flavor overpower the other. Pay attention to the acidity, aromatics, size of bubbles and weight of cider to help you determine what cheeses to best pair it with. Richer, creamier, mouth-coating cheeses favor carbonation and acidity that helps cut through the butterfat and salt to refresh the palate. What grows together, goes together. Though not a guarantee of a good pairing, try ciders and cheeses from the same region to explore the concept of terroir.
Here’s example from the guide of a “snackable cheese and cider” pairing.
Try a sparkling, semi-dry cider with Cheddar cheese. The guide suggests cheeses and ciders from the Northeast region of the states, pairing Hudson Valley “Scrumpy” Farmhouse Cider produced in Staatsburg, NY with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Greensboro, VT. The malty tastes of brown butter, caramel and peanut butter in the cheese bring out the sweetness in the cider and fruity, tannic tang of the apple skins, notes the guide.
Tempting Pairings And Creations
Bob Purman and his wife Yannique, own and manage Island Orchard Cider in Door County, WI. They produce Normandy-style ciders that are more dry and complex. The cidery is located in Ellison Bay, WI and their orchards are on Washington Island, WI. After frequent trips to France and many cider tastings, Yannique says “Our French style cider orientation comes from our family trips visiting my father in Brittany.” After realizing that Wisconsin had the perfect soil for growing apples and cherries, they began the cider-making process. “Bob, my husband, cider maker and orchardist, started making ciders, taking cider instructional classes and planting the orchard in 2006. We have 35 different types of French, English and American traditional cider apple cultivar,” adds Yannique.
One of the most unique and small batch ciders they offer is “Wild Thing.” This is a ‘keeved’ cider, a French cider production method. The freshly-pressed, select, high tannic apple juice goes through the keeving process, which removes most of the nutrients. It is then slowly cold fermented through the winter using only the wild yeast. When only a small amount of sugar remains, it is bottled and continues to ferment, which produces a light spark. According to Yannique’s description, “the cider is lightly effervescent. Dry, with a strong earthy apple flavor.”
The husband and wife team suggest pairing their new cider release, Island Orchard Apple Lavender Cider, with Holland’s Family Farm “Marieke Gouda” six- to nine-month cheese, produced in Thorpe, WI. The richness of the Gouda cuts the acidity of the cider and brings forth the lavender. Find out more about the orchard and ciders at islandorchardcider.com.
On the other side of the world in Australia, Gurneys Cider produces a French and English style cider (with no sugar) in South Gippsland. With organic apples grown on the property and wild apples foraged from the surrounding area, the unfiltered and unpasteurized cider is served up in their new cider house that overlooks Wilsons Promontory. It’s a beautiful setting to enjoy their custom “cheese board and cider” offerings that include locally-sourced sourdough bread, crackers, organic soft cheeses, chutneys/relish and seasonal fruit. Find out more at gurneyscider.com.au.
Vermont’s Woodchuck Cidery is located in Middlebury, where they claim to be “the country’s leading craft cider brand”. It entered the hard cider world in Proctorsville, VT in 1991 with its flagship Woodchuck Amber. Always innovative, the team puts a spin on cider by creating tasty cocktail recipes to go with its line-up of ciders.
Here are a few mixology recipes straight from the Woodchuck Cider House.
• Woodchuck Arnold Palmer: Add 4 ounces of lemonade and 4 ounces of iced tea to a glass. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and top with Woodchuck Granny Smith Cider. Garnish with a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint.
• Woodchuck Old Fashioned: Add a sugar cube to the bottom of a glass and top with two dashes of Angostura bitters and a splash of water. Muddle together until the sugar dissolves. Add ice and stir before and after adding 2 ounces of bourbon whiskey. Top with Woodchuck Semi-Dry and twist orange peel before adding it to the glass.
Find out more at woodchuck.com
In the Finger Lakes region of New York, the county hosts an annual Apple Tasting Tour in October. Cheese and cider lovers should stop at Embark Craft Ciderworks, where they can feast on tasty cheese and charcuterie boards paired with its ciders. Thousand Island River Rat from Clayton, NY, supplies all the flavorful offerings. Its roasted garlic Cheddar cheese pairs well with the American Heirloom Cider, a dry cider blend of seven American Heirloom apples—Baldwin, Northern Spy, Golden Russet, Stayman Winesap and McIntosh. Or try the Nieuw Yorker, a semi dry cider with an equal blend of Jonathan, Liberty, Macoun and Northern Spy apples that were all founded in New York. This “New Yorker” pairs well with Thousand Island River Rat Hickory Smoked cheese. For a lighter snack at the tap house, pretzel lovers can bite into The Monster Marauder Pretzel – A warm pretzel served with cider cheese and house-made, honey mustard
Find out more at embarkcraftciderworks.com