Cheese and Cider

June 2, 2010

I am one who loves eating cheese and apples. My favorite is to take a tart juicy apple like Pink Lady and pair it with an aged nutty cheese, like the Irish Dubliner. My grandfather loved to eat cheddar cheese with apples and with apple pie. Why would eating cheese with cider be any different than these examples?

On page 101 of Cider: Hard and Sweet, Ben Watson states that when it comes to having a cider tasting,  that cheese makes for an excellent choice:

Cheese is a simple and natural accompaniment to cider, so long as it is mild-flavored; a strong-tasting variety like Stilton [blue cheese] or extra-sharp Cheddar will overwhelm the delicate taste of most ciders. But soft cheeses like Camembert and Pont l’Évêque, both of which come from Normandy, will complement cider nicely…

Speaking of cheeses, for the past several years I have had the honor of leading cider and cheese pairings along with some of the nation’s top cheese authors and cheese mongers. These tastings are rather different than those focused exclusively on cider, because the object is to find the best matches between cider and cheeses. In general, strong cheeses, especially blue types, pair well with sweeter ciders, or even fortified dessert wines like pommeau or ice cider. Otherwise, this is not an exact science, since ciders and cheeses from individual producers vary so much. You might try a fruitier cider with a fresh chevre, but a more acidic or sparkling cider with an aged goat cheese, for instance. For a party tasting, I suggest buying four or five different types of cheese (sheep, cow, or goat’s milk; young and aged styles), and then having guests try a sip of each cider with a bite of each cheese, then scoring them and seeing which make the best pairings. For a good book on American cheeses, I recommend [Jeffery] Robert’s The Atlas of American [Artisan]  Cheese (Chelsea Green, 2007), which profiles cheesemakers all across the U.S. and describes the cheeses they make, as well as giving suggested pairings with cider, beer, and wine.

Based on this book review, I got my hands on The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese. It gives one page per cheesemaker talking about who they are, where they are, what they make, awards, and history about the company. The book is grouped into geographical regions, and at the top of each cheese maker’s page is icons indicating the milk used. Occasionally, there will be an extra page talking about a cheese with pictures. At the end of the description there is a “Serve with:” section, indicating a style of cider, then a style of wine followed by a style of beer to serve the cheese with. These are all generic styles, not brands, which makes a pairing a little easier to do. For example, the book highlighted Rogue River Blue from the Rogue Creamery in Central Point, OR, saying, “Serve with: Semi-sweet sparkling cider •Late-harvest Muscat or Riesling •Dry or chocolate stout”. Another cheese from this area that it highlights is Killeen, a spring cow’s milk cheese from Estrella Family Creamery in Montesano, WA. “Serve with: Still, single-variety cider •Medium –bodied Merlot or Pinot Gris •Amber or red ale”.

Crispin Cider recently had three people pair their cider with cheese.  Their recommendations included:

  • Crispin Light: chevre with ginger-pear preserves, cheddar, and mascarpone
  • Brut: apple smoked cheddar or an emmentaler-style swiss cheese
  • Original: gouda, aged cheeses, or bucheron
  • Honey Crisp: blue goat cheese

Ben Watson released Cider: Hard and Sweet: History, Traditions & Making Your Own, 2nd Edition in 2009, ten years after it originally came out. This book is more like Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols’ Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider in that it contains more information beyond making cider, including:

  • Much more information about the kinds of apples used for cider, especially in North America
  • Pollinating apple blossoms
  • A small section of “Some Commercial Yeast Strains Used for Cidermaking”.
  • A larger section is devoted to styles of ciders and regional influences on them.
  • How to evaluate a cider when tasting.
  • Recipes on cooking with cider, including Wassail, pork chops, desserts, and much more.

Watson lives in New Hampshire, so this book has a little more resources for North American readers. The back of this book also includes several pages on websites, equipment sales, organizations, suppliers, festivals and competitions, and apple and pear tree suppliers.

Andrew Lea does have a few comments on his website about this book, saying,  ““CIDER – Hard and Sweet” by Ben Watson – ISBN 978-0881508192 – The Countryman Press, Woodstock, Vermont.  The second edition of this book was  published in 2008 and is an excellent practical guide similar in concept to the Proulx and Nichols volume…  It’s written by an American author from a US perspective but with a fair bit of European background and some interesting historical detail too.”

All in all, I like Ben Watson’s book slightly better than Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols. However, this book barely touches upon establishing an orchard, making the other book still very valuable in my home library.