Ciders and Food Pairing: What the Experts Are Saying

by Nancy Zaffaro
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Cider pairs well with food; like wine and beer, it’s great with cheese, seafood, meats, soups, salads, BBQ and ethnic dishes, and desserts. Whether you’re just starting to explore ciders or are already a big fan, let’s look at what some of the experts are saying about pairing cider with food.


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Opening session of CiderCon 2016.

More than 1,000 people attended CiderCon 2016, the annual trade conference for the cider industry in the U.S., and I was happy to be among them. Organized by the United States Association of Cider Makers (USACM), this was the 6th annual conference. Held this year in downtown Portland’s Hilton Hotel, attendees arrived from more than 44 states and 8 countries, representing more than 350 cideries.

The popularity of ciders means we’re going to have ever- more options available to us. And as the cider makers learn more, get more experience, gain availability from a wider variety of apples (including traditional heirloom varieties of apples from Colonial America and from Europe), this is the drink you want to learn more about today.

Explore the world of ciders and enjoy them with your favorite foods.

Cheesemonger Steve Jones Teaches Cider and Cheese Pairing

At CiderCon’s session on pairing cheese and cider, expert cheesemonger Steve Jones led us through a tasting of five cheeses paired with five Pacific Northwest ciders. Jones’ career in cheese spans more than 20 years; he travels judging competitions, consults, teaches classes, and owns Portland’s Cheese Bar, Chīzu , as well as a soon-to-open cheese annex at the Commons, also in Portland.

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“In America,” he said, “we don’t think of cider and cheese, but we need to change that. Cider is a natural for cheese.”

For the tastings, Jones brought together contrasting selections (combining sweet and salty flavors, for example) and comparative selections (perhaps a funky British-style cider with a strong, funky cheese), while also keeping the selections regional, where the pairings focus on “what grows together, goes together.”

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The cheeses were all excellent selections from Northwest cheesemakers Ancient Heritage, Ferns Edge, Face Rock Creamery, Cascadia, Black Sheep Creamery, and Rogue Creamery. The cheeses were paired, respectively, with some of my favorite Northwest cider selections from Reverend Nat’s, Wandering Aengus, CidertRiot!, 2 Towns Cider, Bushwacker, and E.Z. Orchards. All selections were great, but when asked to choose a favorite, more hands went up for E.Z. Orchards’ Cidre paired with Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue cheese. The tasting left no question that I’ll be putting together a cheese plate the next time I relax with a good cider.

Jones says, “Besides tasting well together, cider’s carbonation is an asset to cheese. Cheese is fat, and the acidity and effervescence of cider helps keep the palette lively, more so than with red wine, which usually is still.” Jones advises to keep things simple. “Three to five pairings is preferable to seven to ten.”

Reverend Nat’s Revival and Face Rock Creamery

Gregory Drobot, the face (and heart and hands) behind Bandon, Oregon’s Face Rock Creamery, recently introduced Revival Cheddar, an aged cheddar made with one of Reverend Nat’s most well-received traditional ciders, Revival. Reverend Nat’s celebrated the cheese at their taproom one evening during CiderCon 2016. “The cheese has a mild sweetness to it that paired particularly well with the semi-dry sweetness and the acidity of the cider.” Drobot says, “Cheese and fruit go well together, and so too do cheese and cider. Cheese usually has a slight sweetness to it that does not give a harsh or offsetting taste to cider fruit flavors. The sharp forward flavor and the back note of the sweetness of the cheddar really work well together with this semi-dry cider. There’s a great mouthfeel and the flavors work very well together.”

Reverend Nat's and Face Rock Creamery pairing. (Photo courtesy Watershed Communications.)

Reverend Nat’s and Face Rock Creamery pairing. (Photo courtesy Watershed Communications.)

Food Pairing with Seattle Capitol Cider

Seattle’s Capitol Cider is a leading go-to source of food and cider pairing. This comfortable dark wood-paneled gastropub is housed in a 100-year old building in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. The kitchen is gluten-free, peanut-free, and soy-free and the menu includes upscale, made-from-scratch dishes that are are both comfort foods and creative gourmet fare. The full bar includes 30 taps, 20 of which are devoted to cider, which is, of course, gluten-free. There’s live music, as well as a bottle shop, so you can bring home bottles of your favorite ciders.

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Capitol Cider’s Chef Sara Harvey leads a session on cider and food at CiderCon.

At CiderCon, Capitol Cider’s Chef de Cuisine Sara Harvey led a presentation on cooking with and for cider.

Speaking with her afterwards, she says, “At Capitol Cider, we make vinegar, gastriques, poach fruit, pickle vegetables, braise meats, make sauces, marinade proteins, and do almost everything we can to use cider at every step of the process. It’s fun; it’s exciting to see how cider can offer a different result than cooking with wine, beer, or spirits, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to play in the world’s largest cider kitchen lab on a daily basis.”

She continues, “As far as my menu goes, we have all of our entrees paired with a cider, and those range from Spanish to French style to Pacific Northwest crisp to English. And we rotate those as each menu item evolves with the season. We are a seasonally driven, 100% craft kitchen, working within the brackets of a gluten-free cider pub. We use cider as regular ingredient in our food. Our fish and chips uses Blackthorn English cider in the batter, and we pair with a Domaine Bordatto Cidre Sagaro Basandere. The sweetness of the cider, the salt of the fish, the funk of the Spanish cider, and the richness of the house-made tartar all come together and then the capers start dancing with the fresh lemon notes in the cider, and then you get a mouthful of hand cut fries tossed with French sea salt—it’s pretty special.”

Capitol Cider and Harvey recently joined forces with five other women chefs from five other Seattle restaurants for a special event, Sirens & Cider. Cider’s wide-range in styles and flavors guarantee that there’s a cider for any course. Bishop had no problem pairing her ciders to dishes as diverse as a black cod crudo with horseradish cream, lemon curd, apple and sorrel salad and a lamb loin with charred onion, crispy gnocchi, black trumpet mushroom, and celery root; just two of the dishes on the Sirens & Cider menu.

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Two of the dishes from a Sirens & Cider dinner. (Photos courtesy Capitol Cider.)

The event was so successful; two future dinners have been scheduled. “We’re at an interesting time in the cider world and I’m so very delighted to be part of the exploration and innovation that is happening,” Harvey says.

Alpenfire Cider

Alpenfire Cider’s Nancy Bishop loves the topic of cider and food pairing. “Some foods just cry out to be paired with cider, like cider braised roast chicken, most any pork dish, cream sauce based meals etc. But some take a bit more creativity to really match up.” Bishop was on hand to describe her six ciders that accompanied each of the six courses served at the Sirens & Cider dinner. “I find that, almost always, it works best to match acid to acid with your dish and make that final fit with the adjustment in sweetness and carbonation. But that loose rule is meant to be broken. I think dessert is an easy one. Sweet ciders are in themselves a dessert and only need a few nuts, cheese or biscotti to finish them off, but if you’re looking for a cider to complement a dessert I would go with tangy and tart, unless it’s a deep chocolate cake. That opens the door back up to those ciders rich in flavor, color and tannins. My favorite is our Ember bittersweet with a dark chocolate, dry-nut filled cake or torte. That really works!”

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Cider is the perfect choice for any course of your meal. (Photo courtesy Capitol Cider.)

Northwest Cider Association

Northwest Cider Association has put together a Cider Pairing Poster; take a look at this wonderful “go to” resource at the end of this post. The organization itself is a great source for cidermakers and orchardists as well as for individuals learning more about ciders, and they host some of the largest cider festivals in the country.

Putting What the Experts Say to Good Use

If you’re just starting to drink cider, experiment with different styles. There are many different styles of ciders out there. If you’re lucky enough to have a cider expert in your life, do get their opinions. Attend a cider event where you can try many different ciders, go to a pub with a good cider list, or get to know the ciders your local cider makers makes. Talk with shop owners. Read. Cider is just like wine—if you’ve had one glass of Chardonnay in your lifetime, you really can’t say you know and like (or dislike) wine; there’s still a whole world of flavors yet to be discovered.

Pay attention to what you taste. Look at the appearance of the cider. Note the aromas. Are you enjoying sweet, sour, or bitter tastes in the cider? What flavors are coming through—apples, berry, spicy, woody, honey, yeasty? How does the cider feel in your mouth—do you like the carbonation level, the astringency, any creamy or metallic sensations? Notice any aftertaste—how long do the flavors hang around? Are they sweet, dry?

As you find what ciders you like, start thinking about what foods you’d enjoy with them. Start with foods you know you like, and consider these guidelines for food pairing:

  • Cheese: Ciders and cheese is truly versatile. Think dry, semi-dry, sweet, perries and Old World ciders. Fruit ciders can work especially well with soft or cheeses that incorporate fruit.
  • Chicken, Pork, Sausages: Dry ciders, spiced ciders, hopped ciders may be ideal, but you’ll find these are versatile meats.
  • Red Meats and Charcuterie: Forgo sweet ciders here and try an Old World cider or a barrel aged cider.
  • Duck, Roast chicken, or Salmon: Depending on the preparation, a fruit cider may accentuate the rich, fatty flavors of these dishes. Dry, sweet, hopped or Old World ciders may also be good choices.
  • Seafood: Oily fishes will benefit from dry ciders, while shellfish will work well with many semi-dry ciders or sweet ciders, perries, and ginger ciders. Try fried fish with a hopped cider.
  • Soups and Vegetable Entrees: Soups and vegetables are so versatile; your preparation will be your best guide here. Consider flavors and seasonings, ethnicity of foods, and cooking method.
  • Pastas: A dry or a hopped cider can go great with a red sauce, while vegetable or white sauces will benefit from dry or sweet ciders.
  • Asian Foods: Sweet ciders, perries, and ginger ciders will do best here. Many dry or semi-dry ciders will also work.
  • Mexican or BBQ: Dry ciders, spiced ciders, barrel aged, dry, hopped or sweet ciders can work well.
  • Salads: Try perries, ginger or hopped ciders.
  • Desserts: Try sweet or tart ciders, or dessert ciders (ice ciders or pommeaus) with cakes or pastries, or Old World ciders for dessert cheese plates. With chocolate, stay with traditional/Old World ciders that are high in tannins.

DSC_0012 (640x412)Enjoy yourself as you discover which particular ciders work best with the food you enjoy. It won’t taste long for you to find what works best for your tastes. Keep trying new ciders, and have fun introducing others to cider.


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-Photos by Nancy Zaffaro, except as noted. The cover photo is courtesy Capitol Cider.


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