I just spent the past two weekends as well as several weekday evenings working on a cider and cheese project. It may not sound like “work” drinking hard ciders alongside fabulous cheeses but when you taste and analyze approximately 500 different combinations, all the while taking detailed notes of their synergies, well, you get the picture. The phrase “hard work but someone has got to do it” comes to mind.
I purchased a cider at a fromagerie while in Cannes earlier this summer, knowing I would be working on this project. I had never really focused on ciders before; the demand for wine, beer, whisky, even Sake pairings was far greater than those requested for ciders. Yet ciders have been playmates with cheeses for many centuries, especially in that great cheese region of southern France and northern Spain. Fermented apple juice and fermented milks – the possibilities are many. So the pairings between ciders and cheeses were actually fairly easy to recognize: the balance of fruity and savory, the harmony of acidities, the overall “size” of each partner, the role of textures in each, the “seal-the-deal” melding of aromatics, as well as the relative hunger and thirst; all these considerations made for an interesting exercise.
One thing I especially appreciated was the relatively low alcohol contents of the ciders, some higher than others; the top end being around 10% while most were near 5%. This means that you can taste a greater variety of cheeses without compromising your assessments, and you can wake up the next morning feeling a little better than if you were pairing cheeses with wines hovering around 15%, which many of them are these days.
As with wines and beers, the ciders come in a range of relative fruitiness. Some of them taste sweeter than others. Those on the sweet end have their advantages, like “dessert” wines, the sweet balancing the savory or salt in the cheeses. In one pairing I was distinctly reminded of some of those classic cheese and wine pairings – Roquefort and Sauternes. The drier, less fruity ciders relied upon other balancing qualities: the aromatics providing the most recognizable “finishes,” some that either enhanced the partners, or brought out nuances in either or both.
You might want to take a second look at ciders. When you see some of the wine or beer offerings (often très banale) a cider might be just the ticket.
Or in other words: If you are unsure about the water, or the wine or beer, drink the cider.
- Max McCalman