It’s a shame more people don’t reach for cider when enjoying a morsel of cheese, or food in general. Everyone runs to wine and beer. Ever the third-place choice, cider can be every bit as complex and engaging a dining companion as it’s two more popular contemporaries. With the burgeoning cider scene, that needs to change.
Look no further than your own backyard for some of the best cheese and ciders made in the country today. New England is home to dozens of producers, each making their own array of amazing foods and beverages. It’s top-notch stuff, worthy of every award they earn.
Here are five local cider and cheese pairings that will knock your socks off.
Bantam Cider Rojo with Cricket Creek Farm Maggie’s Reserve (pictured above)
I’m a total sucker for the flavor of sour cherry, andBantam Cider’s Rojo is right in my cider wheelhouse. Fermented with a hearty ale yeast and aged with sour cherries and black peppercorn, this semi-dry cider is loaded with things to say. Fruity and spicy on the nose, taking a sip of Rojo leads to a slight sourness, ultimately finishing dry with a delightfully subtle cherry flavor.
When it comes to pairing cheeses with anything cherry flavored, I usually think alpine-style. The firm, almost fudge-like texture and rich flavors compliment the bright fruit flavor of the fruit. Sign me up for Cricket Creek Farm’s Maggie’s Reserve. Extended aging (between 12 and 18 months) brings out savory tones in the cheese, complemented by caramel undertones. The cider’s acidic backbone and berry finish cut through the richness and make this pairing sing.
Prospect Ciderworks Paradise with Ruggles Hill Creamery Ada’s Honor
It’s hard for me to think of springtime without craving goat cheese. The warming sunshine and longer days call for the bright and lively flavors of a well-made chèvre, and Ruggles Hill Creamery in Hardwick usually hovers around the top of my list. Tricia Smith has been making scrumptious cheeses since 2001, and Ada’s Honor was one of the first. Based on the classic French cheese Chabichou and named for the goat who makes the milk, this bloomy-rinded beauty is smooth and dense with amazingly clean and fresh flavors.
With such a cheery disposition young goat cheese is best paired with a drink that can keep the sunshine flowing, and Prospect Ciderworks in Boston has just the thing. Based on Belgian witbier, Paradise hits you with a blast of citrus and just a hint of spice. Fermented using Belgian ale yeast, this dry cider is steeped with orange peel and grains of paradise for a distinctive flavor that matches the complexities of the cheese perfectly. This has ‘lazy brunch in the sun’ written all over it.
Champlain Orchards Cidery Mac & Maple with Grafton Village Clothbound Cheddar
There’s a reason cheddar is one of the world’s most popular cheeses. Talk about crowd-pleaser. Cheddars are firm and dense, with wonderfully mellow flavors that are savory and nutty. It melts well in cooking. It’s great for snacking. Is there anything it can’t do? Up in Grafton, Vermont, Grafton Village Cheese rocks a clothbound cheddar that is just as legit as its classic English cousins. Aged for six to eight months this cheese has intoxicating aromas of mushrooms and fresh butter, grassy flavors and a meaty texture.
A couple hours northwest in Shoreham, Champlain Orchards is concocting delicious alchemy of their own. Making cider since 2011 (when they cranked out only 246 gallons of cider, a number now topping 50,000), they’ve hit on a combination that can only be described as “Vermont in a can”. Blending MacIntosh apple cider and Grade-A Vermont maple syrup, this crisp sipper has just the right amount of sweetness to make it a total winner with food. Especially cheese. Especially cheddar.
There is so much goodness going on in this pairing, it’s hard to know where to start. The sweet-tart flavor of the apples? The woodsy, caramelly tones of the maple syrup? The salty and savory body of the cheese? I’ll eat and drink a whole lot more and get back to you.
Pony Shack Cider Barrel-Me-Over with Vermont Shepherd Invierno
The idea of aging beer or cider in a barrel has been around for a while. The whole idea is to allow the wood to impart rich, deep flavors into the liquid over time. If you’ve ever had a barrel-aged stout or ale, you know just how amazing the end result can be.
Pony Shack Cidery in Boxborough takes cider aging a step further, using American rye whiskey barrels from a small craft distillery in nearby New York. That extra nuance makes a huge difference in the cider, adding robust oak flavor and even hints of whiskey sharpness to the dry, crisp body.
Pairing such a complex cider calls for a cheese that can match the intensity. Enter the pride of Westminster, Vermont. Vermont Shepherd is an award-winning cheese maker with 300 hundred sheep and their own aging cave. The Invierno is a blend of sheep and cow milks aged for five to nine months, and usually ripens by early winter. Invierno is full-bodied with a strong and spicy flavor, a fantastic match to the cider’s assertiveness. If you’re feeling extra-fancy, drizzle a little (or a lot) of Fat Toad Farm’s Irish whiskey cream caramel over the cheese and let the deliciousness wash over you.
Still River Winery Ice Cider with Great Hill Blue Cheese
Great Hill Dairy in Marion makes one of my favorite Massachusetts cheeses - Great Hill Blue. It’s the only cheese they make, and boy are they good at it. Made from raw cow milk, this non-homogenized beauty is loaded with flavor and texture. Crumbly and thick, this cheese is loaded with aromas of salt and cream. The flavor is surprisingly bright and tangy, with an ever-so-slight peppery bite on the finish.
A cheese this dense and captivating needs to be served with a cider that can tame the wild side and counter the cheese’s peppery punch. Still River Winery in Harvard makes an ice cider that is more than up for the challenge. If you’re unfamiliar with ice cider, think ice wine, but from pressed apples. Frozen water crystals are removed from super-chilled cider. The remaining liquid is slowly fermented at cold temperatures for several months, yielding a final product that is dense and beyond delicious. When made well there’s still plenty of bright acidity that keeps it from getting too thick and cloying.
The magic of this combination is in the contrast between the cheese’s saline flavor and the wine’s sweet apple tones. That salty-sweet balance is completely captivating. Of course, you could always go way overboard and fry up some apple slices in brown butter to serve alongside this pairing. I certainly won’t judge.