Traditionally, it has been the winemakers that have exploited the versatility of cheese to demonstrate how the pleasure of their own product can be enhanced through imaginative and thoughtful pairings. More and more, however, cidermakers and cider lovers are exploring the various ways by which different cheeses can enhance the cider imbibing experience and they are discovering that cider and cheese can be successfully paired in a number of ways.
I recently moderated a panel of the art of pairing hard cider and cheese at the recent Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference. The object of the seminar, attended by 40 conference participants, was to explore the ways different cheeses and ciders might work to elevate each other. What we learned was that while some rules of thumb are very helpful, the successful pairing of ciders and cheeses will often come down to what the individual is looking for in an epicurean experience.
The line up of ciders and cheeses for this seminar were:
Tilted Shed 2013 Graviva Semi-Dry Cider (Sonoma County, CA)
Tilted Shed 2013 January Barbecue Smoked Cider (Sonoma County, CA)
Specific GRAVITY 2013 Gravenstien (Sonoma County, CA)
Devoto Orchards 2013 Cidre Noir (Sonoma County, CA)
Tomme — Pug’s Leap (Sonoma, CA)
Delice de la Vallee — The Epicurean Connection (Sonoma County, CA)
Dunbarton Blue — ROELLI Cheese Company (Wisconsin)
Gypsy Rose — Gypsy Cheese Company (Sonoma County, CA)
Upon reviewing this list of ciders and cheese, one thing should stand out: seven of the eight ciders and cheeses all were produced in Sonoma County. This fact highlights one of the guiding principles in pairing cider and cheese: Seek out ciders and cheeses that were produced in the same region.
One of the panelists at the recent seminar made this point emphatically. Jon Brown, owner of the Gypsy Cheese Company, reminded participants that when you pair cider and cheese based on regional sameness both the apples from which the cider was produced as well as the grass eaten by the goats, cows and sheep that produced the milk for the cheeses are exposed to the same climatic conditions and the same ambient microflora, yeast and other naturally occurring elements.
Some of the classic pairings in the culinary world are based on regional sameness. It’s no coincidence that the classic wine pairing for Chevre is Sauvignon Blanc. Chevre is made in abundance in the Loire Valley of France where Sauvignon Blanc is a primary white grape. Consider some of the other classic cheese and wine pairings:
Epoisse and Red Burgundy: Both are produced in the Burgundy region of France
Manchego and Sherry: Both produced in Spain
Roquefort and Sauterne: Both produced in Southwestern France.
Following this principle, the intrepid cider lover will seek out cheeses that are produced in the same general vicinity as the cider. If nothing else, this approach to pairing cider and cheese possesses an intellectually pleasing quality, if not an aesthetically pleasing character. In the case of our cheese and cider pairing we identified the following outstanding pairings:
Gypsy Cheese Company Gypsy Rose Washed Rind & 2013 Tilted Shed January Smoked Barbecue Cider
Pug’s Leap Tomme & Devoto Orchard Cidre Noir
Roelli Dunbarton Blue & 2013 Specific Gravity Gravenstein
Delice de la Vallee Triple Cream & 2013 Tilted Shed Graviva
The seminar participants offered up various reasons why they liked these combinations of cheese and cider. More often than not the reason boiled down to one elevating the character and qualities of the other or the two working together in harmony to create a unique experience.
In the end, what appeared to be clear to everyone in the seminar was that craft cider is unquestionably well suited to be paired with a number of different types of cheeses. And just as the diversity of wines in the world results in nearly countless kinds of pairings with cheese, the diversity of cider (though less than wine) is great enough to encourage us to experiment liberally in seeking great cider and cheese pairings.