Sure you've heard of pairing cheese with wine, but have you tried pairing with cider? Cider is just apple wine by another name, and in some cider producing parts of Europe that double as notable cheesemaking regions, cider and cheese are thick as thieves.
Here in the United States we're in a golden age of cidermaking; the drink has come a long way from the candy-sweet bottles reluctantly offered as gluten free options at beer bars. In New York City, cider freaks gather in the autumn to celebrate Cider Week, a buzzy celebration of American-made ciders. 2022 marks the 12th year for this festival, which is happening RIGHT NOW!
New Yorkers can stop by our Chelsea Market shop to discover a wide range of New York State ciders now or any time of year. Below we've included some of our favorite cheese pairings, and tips on how to create your own with your favorite local ferments.
First things first: drink what you like
What's true for cheese and wine pairing is also true for cider. The best pairing is the one you enjoy the most, even if it breaks all the "rules." Good food and good drink have a way of finding each other no matter what. Tasting any quality cider with a well made cheese is its own reward. Then keep tasting, mixing, and matching!
But consider your family history
Our maturing American cider industry is paying more attention to the drink's roots, particularly from England, France, and Spain, where cider apple trees have grown since the invading Roman Empire planted them there. Many ciders are made in the spirit of these regional European styles and they often wear their inspirations on their labels.
As with wine, what grows together goes together; a region's beer, wine, and spirits are usually made in a way that complements local foods and ingredients. Spanish style ciders are light and barely effervescent with a twangy funk from natural yeast fermentation. In Spain's Asturias region and Basque Country, these tongue-crackling brews are usually served with soft and semi-hard barnyardy sheep's milk cheese. Look for Spanish style cheeses like Wischago and Anabasque.
French style ciders tend to be richer and fuller bodied, sometimes with smoky notes, which go well with the mushroomy vibes of Harbison and the gelato-like richness of Kunik—two American cheeses made in the style of petite French bloomy rinds. English style ciders are crisp, fruity, and heavily carbonated. Sweeter versions go nicely with a ripe blue cheese, while drier bottles are tailor made for a slice of cheddar or gouda.
And check your sweet tooth
Cider apples contain different amounts and types of acids and phenols than wine grapes; even the driest ciders have less astringency and tannin to balance naturally occurring sugars than similarly dry wines. What this means for us drinkers is that a cider's sweetness matters a lot, and most American cider makers differentiate their varieties by levels of residual sugar.
When pairing, go for cheeses that can match a cider's sweetness and intensity. Light, crisp, bone-dry ciders appreciate a fresh and tangy chevre. On the other extreme, a dessert style or ice cider may taste downright syruppy. A rich cheese like Bayley Hazen Blue can stand up to all that sweetness.
Six pleasing pairings
Still not sure where to start? We asked Jill Tardiff, the manager and specialty foods and beverage buyer of our Chelsea Market shop, to recommend American cheese pairings with the ciders we carry in store. Give one (or two) (or all six) a try!
- Doc's Cider Perry: A semi-sweet blend of apple and pear ciders we love with Lazy Lady Farm's tangy bloomy rind cheese called La Roche.
- Original Sin Black Widow Cider: Made with New York apples and infused with blackberries, this sweet and fruity cider is delicious with the dense, fudgy Boucher Blue.
- Cider Creek Farmhouse Cider: An unfiltered French style cider fermented with champagne yeast. The buttery texture and tangy finish of Noblette balances the cider's sweet and funky sides.
- Hudson North Cider Co Toasted Pumpkin: A cloudy cider reminiscent of hazy IPAs, without the hoppy bitterness but a similarly full flavor. Delicious with the classic Cabot Clothbound Cheddar.
- Bad Seed Dry Craft Hard Cider: Bone dry and fermented with Sauvignon Blanc yeast. The maple infused sheep and cow's milk Sappy Ewe add dimension to this cider without overwhelming it.
- Brooklyn Cider House Rosé: A blend of naturally fermented heirloom apples with Finger Lakes red wine for a genre-smashing rosé. Pair with the similarly multifaceted St. Johnsville Junior, a bloomy rind goat milk cheese sure to surprise you!