November 5, 2007

Pairing Cheese and Cider

It is appropriate that the opening posting on my first weblog should be an account of a new experience: tasting and appreciating small-production ciders. A newcomer to New England, I had previously considered cider to be a sparkling, characterless alternative to beer (if I considered it at all). Yesterday, I learned that cider is a surprising, versatile beverage that can complement cheese beautifully.

During Cider Day, a weekend-long festival held annually in Franklin County, Massachusetts, I attended a workshop on pairing New England cheeses and ciders. I will describe the six cheeses in detail, and will note particularly good cider pairings for each.

Triple, a soft-ripened, triple-cream cow's milk from Champlain Valley Creamery in Vermont, smells like sweet, fresh butter. Its rind has an "al dente" texture, and its neutral flavor does not detract from the citric note of the perfectly-aged paste. When buying this cheese, smell its rind to ensure that there is no trace of ammonia scent, which would destroy the cheese's sweet, delicate flavor. Tideview Vintage Ciders Vintage Dry enhances Triple by developing its subtle flavor of mushrooms. The gently-sparkling cider has a light scent of Bourbon, had a citrusy texture and acidity. In the mouth, this combination produces satisfying richness that whispers, "fall is here." Sweeter ciders did not pair well with this cheese, overwhelming it or producing bitter flavors.

Westfield Farm's (MA) Classic Blue Log is a delightful, aged goat's milk log with a thin rind of blue mold. The piece that I tried had the consistent, dense texture of a younger chevre log, but I imagine that it ripens like the Spanish Monte Enebro. Classic Blue Log has a pleasantly musty aroma, with traditional lemon zest flavor and chalky minerality. This cheese was an acceptable partner to the full, nutty West County Cider Roxbury Russet, resulting in a smooth, creamy mouthfeel.

Pierce Hill, a semi-firm sheep's milk cheese produced by Hope Farm (VT), emulates Basque shepherd's cheese, but retains more moisture in its three-month aging. Its mild, musty scent and full, fruity taste is flattered by ciders with residual sugar. It gained earthiness from Farnum Hill Ciders Semi-Dry, and was transformed into pure comfort food by Domaine Pinnacle's Ice Cider.

Hillman Farm (MA) produces several fantastic goat's milk cheese, including the aged Hilltown Wheel. Its flavor is rich and caramelized, with a hint of characteristic tang. Eve's Cidery Essence, a honeyed, floral ice wine with a vegetal note on the palate, brings a note of cocoa out of the cheese. Hilltown Wheel also paired nicely with Wescott Bay Orchards Traditional Dry's Bourbon-like aroma and lively acidity and Tideview Vintage Dry.

The much-acclaimed Cabot Creamery Clothbound Cheddar, aged by Jasper Hill Farm(VT), is a beautiful, bandaged-wrapped specimen bursting with luxurious, sweet caramel, a little bite to keep your attention, and an unctuous mouthfeel punctuated by fine grana. The classic union of cheddar and apples was demonstrated by this cheese harmonizing well with each cider, particularly with the intense ice ciders. Pair this cheddar with Eve's Cidery Essence for a simple but stunning dessert, or serve it beside Domaine Pinnacle's Ice Cider (read: apple pie in a glass). Keep your port and Stilton, this is how I want to end a winter dinner party!

Great Hill Blue (MA) is a rich blue cheese made from raw, unhomogenized cow's milk. This specific piece of the farmstead blue seemed a little saltier and less balanced than when I've tasted it in the past. (This is not unusual in my experience with blue cheeses; I recommend tasting blue cheese before each purchase to ensure its ripeness and saltiness please you.) Even so, the Great Hill paired well with Tideview Vintage Dry, accentuating the cider's apple flavor, and was complemented by both ice ciders.

My tips for pairing cheese and cider:
  • Tideview Vintage Cider Vintage Dry seemed to be the most versatile cider for pairing with cheese. Its neutral flavor and minerality reminded me of sparkling white wine, and it had a similar palate-cleansing effect. Its dryness complemented a variety of cheese styles. Ciders with stronger apple flavor had fewer successful matches.
  • The affinity between apples and cheddar absolutely extends to cider. This is a great place to start with cheese and cider pairing. Experiment with a couple of each, and your experience will guide you in future pairings.
  • Flavor intensity is important to consider when pairing cheese with any beverage. Avoid lopsided choices (such as mild cheese with full-bodied wine or acidic cheese with sweet cider) that will result in one overwhelming its partner.

The cheeses for this workshop were provided by Rubiner's cheese shop in Great Barrington, MA, and were presented by Rubiner's manager, Laura Simon. Some of the cheeses will be difficult to find and can be ordered from Rubiner's.

Cider Day organizer, Ben Watson, presented the ciders at this and other events throughout the weekend festival. Attendees included cider novices and connoisseurs, home brewers, and vendors from across the US, Canada, and even Australia.


Rubiner's Cheesemongers and Grocers

264 Main St, Great Barrington, MA, 01230



celticjig said...

I went to the cider day link and it was expired, approximately when is Cider Day/weekend? I am a huge fan of hard cider and need to get out to the East coast for a vacay at some point and this would be a good point.

Danielle said...

The 13th annual Cider Day festival was held during the first weekend in November last year. The events, centered around historic Deerfield, MA, included a Cider Salon with 17 cider producers, Q & A sessions with cider producers, apple tasting, and tours of nearby orchards. At the Cider Salon, we learned that the not-to-miss event is an open cider tasting, where cider makers of all levels bring their creations to share. Charles and I will definitely make it there next fall! I expect that the 2008 website will be up by late summer.

Thanks for your comment!