GREAT CHEESE AND CIDER MATCHES
Why the world’s best restaurants don’t have cider matches on their cheese menus is becoming increasingly more mysterious to me. What is on offer to go with a cheese platter tends to be a one size fits all sweet wine or a port.
Sure, they are often great quality and they can work on occasion, but when you consider the incredible range of cheeses we have available to us, regardless of what your matching tipple is fermented from, there is no way a single glass can cover all the bases.
In my last blog I covered the subject about genuine premium, high juice cider, with its great range of styles and flavours, coupled with its often close terroir relationship to where milk producing livestock grazes (in the orchards). So I go back to my starting point – why on earth don’t we see it more of it on the cheese menu?
Quite apart from anything else, a great bottle of cider is a fraction of the cost of its equivalent bottle of wine. Maybe that’s part of the problem. You be the judge – try these 6 amazing cheese and cider combos; trust me, you won’t look back.
CAERPHILLY & TY GWYN MEDIUM SWEET
The Caerphilly in this question is a cow milk cheese form Caws Cenarth Dairy in Camarthenshire, run by the second generation Carwyn Adams using an ancestral family recipe with sea salt. To match, I went with Ty Gwyn’s Medium Sweet Cider pressed and fermented from predominantly Browns Snout apples and made by craft producer Alex Culpin at his cider house in Pontrilas.
I will confess that Caerphilly is not a cheese I usually make a beeline for – personal preference more than anything else. And whilst I love Alex’s cider, the medium sweet is my least favourite from his stable; again, personal preference, I simply prefer dry ciders. However, when you put the 2 together both completely change character. The cider accentuates the salty sourness of the cheese, and the cheese releases some of the subtle sulphuriness in the cider so that I was immediately transported to the farmyard – in a good way – on a fresh spring day. A super moreish combination, and an instance of 2+2 most definitely equalling 6.
BARON BIGOD & ASPALL DRAUGHT
Baron Bigod is the UK's only raw milk farmhouse Brie made by Jonathan and Dulcie Crickmore just up the road from us in Bungay. It is a gorgeous, creamy white bloomy-rind cheese made from unpasteurised milk and aged for up to 12 weeks.
Given the locale, it made perfect sense to pair this with one of our own ciders, and it was Aspall Draught that did this the most effectively. With its natural sweetness coming from a hefty dosage of fresh apple juice, Draught works fabulously with the creamy texture and delicate yet warm flavour of the Brie. I hesitate to use the term ‘perfect match’, but my, this comes close.
GRAINDORGE CAMEMBERT & DUCHE DE LONGUEVILLE
A good traditional craft Camembert is becoming an increasingly rare thing, largely because very few of them these days are made from un-pasteurised milk. Graindorge is a highly classic Camembert which, true to tradition, is made from raw milk. However, Graindorge, one of 2 independent dairies producing traditional Camembert, was taken over just before the summer, and the other one, another artisan producer, will stop producing before the end of the year. Good Camembert should be bulging, ivory in colour, slightly salty and pungent – as this example most certainly was. Sadly, like Stilton, the name buys a lot of kudos, to the extent that the original definition is being re-written for the sake of longer shelf lives and broader export opportunities. That’s a damn shame.
Douche de Longueville Cider on the other hand, still conforms to the appellation controlle that makes Normandy ciders so distinctive; this cider, made with Gros Oeillett apples, remains true to the traditions of great French cider making. Interestingly, I wasn’t convinced this would work with the Camembert, as I thought the astringency of the tannins would clash with the slightly sharp rind. How wrong could I be? The pungency of the soft ripe cheese is accentuated by the low acidity and natural sweetness of the cider, and its own distinctive farmyard characteristics are accentuated by the pungent nature of the Camembert. This is one of the finest food and drink combinations I have ever experienced; and Eric, my taster in crime, I swear almost had a tear in his eye as he was completely transported back to his Normandy youth by the cider he last drank as a teenager, and the cheese he is so deeply and rightly passionate about. And that’s just how good food should move you.
LINCOLNSHIRE POACHER DOUBLE BARREL & DUNKERTONS BROWNS
This is quite simply one of the best new British hard cheeses, developed, made and matured by the Jones farm and dairy in Lincolnshire. Double Barrel only uses selected milks, and once the cheese has been made it is left to mature for over 20/22 months. It has a woody, earthy flavour, and is what Eric would call “an oak of a cheese”.
It’s a big cheese alright, and so needs a big cider; being quite low in acid meant I had to find a cider both big on flavour, high in alcohol, but also correspondingly low in acidity so as not to clash with the cheese. We found Dunkertons Browns to be the perfect cider for the job. Made from Browns apples that originated in Devon, this cider has a solid 7.5% alcohol and all the full flavour you would expect of a full bittersweet cider. It’s big enough to match the strength of flavour of the Double Barrel, without being too dominant. Fabulous – brilliant British cheese making and cider making in perfect harmony. I am sure the late and great Ivor Dunkerton would have approved.
CABRALES & EL GAITERO
Not everyone’s favourite cheese; quite challenging for many it is one of the great blue cheeses from Asturias in north western Spain, still handmade according to secular knowledge and ancestral traditions. I know people who don’t think you should touch a Cabrales unless it is literally walking off the plate. The best are made with mixed milks from animals that have only grazed on the mighty mountains of the Picos de Europa. Goat and sheep milks add a spicy complexity that intensifies, becoming quite salty after a 5 to 6 month maturation.
And what else would you match with it but a local Asturian cider? El Gaitero is the largest cider brand in Spain and hails from Villaviciosa in the north. Spanish ciders can be notoriously volatile as the strict rules that govern how they are made cannot be bent. El Gaitero is actually one of the less volatile and spicy Spanish ciders; however, it has enough pepperiness to lend a savoury note that means it is not overpowered by this extremely muscular mountain cheese; it also has enough residual sweetness to pair with the saltiness the Cabrales has after its maturation. A remarkable combination that again speaks volumes of the strong terroir relationship that food and drink can so often have, and does so in abundance in this case.
BLEU DE CAUSSES & ASPALL IMPERIAL
Bleu des Causses is a creamy cow milk cheese, blue veined, and with a salty power. Produced from milks from cows that graze on the northern side of the Causses between Brive and Albi, the milk benefits from a greener climate than on the south side of the Causses which is dry and windy. The cheese is matured for approximately 3 months.
As with any cheese that has a pronounced saltiness, it is always good to find a cider that has an inherent sweetness to stand up to it. Step up Aspall Imperial; with its hefty 8.2% abv, dosage of muscavado sugar and high percentage of tannic and low acid bittersweets, this cider has everything required to be the perfect accompaniment to this fabulous cheese.