Perfect Cheese Match

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My quest to broaden the scope of beverages that complement cheeses was once again put to the test.

I had my first serious encounter with cheese and cider at CheeseFest, in 2011, trying locally brewed ciders from The Hills Cider Company with some local cheeses. What I didn’t realise was just how well these two products worked together. The ciders were more like dry champagne made from apples rather than the fizzy, sweet stuff I had previously known as cider. I knew this deserved to be investigated in more detail.

If I can borrow the Twitter term, cider is ‘trending’, with Australian sales growing by 50 percent in the last three months of 2011. Cider is an alcoholic beverage produced by the natural fermentation of the blending of fruit juices. There are a number of imported and local brews on the market and the list of flavours seems to be endless: apple cinnamon vanilla, pear, strawberry, wild berry, blackcurrant and strawberry lime to name a few.

With a forecast growth in the UK of 45 percent over the next five years it could indicate a change in consumption habits, which may affect wine and beer. Kieron Barton, MD of Rekorderlig – one of Australia’s fastest growing cider brands – explained that while Australia is five years behind the UK’s cider market, it is following the same growth pattern.

I say, bring it on! Since my encounter at CheeseFest, I have sampled some great brews, mixing and matching them with different cheese styles. The sophistication of some of the ciders tried in my tastings, particularly from some of the Artisan producers, was very exciting.

Clear, clean flavours, length on the palate, yeastiness, fruitiness and cleansing are all descriptors that came to mind when I sampled a variety of boutique ciders. These characteristics lend themselves perfectly for matching with cheese. You may need to spend a bit of time understanding the flavour of ciders, which can be described as bubbly and effervescent or dry and surprising.

As always I like to recommend local products, here are some suggestions when pairing Adelaide Hills (excellent apple growing region) ciders to various cheese styles. The Hills Cider Company produce two core varietals, an apple and a pear cider, which are both lightly carbonated. Match their pear cider with a gooey ripe Camembert – they work superbly together. The light body of the cider compliments the rich complex characters in the cheese and the floral finish in the mouth leaves you wanting more! The slight yeastiness of their apple cider was a great match with washed rind cheeses, complementing the yeasty and flavoursome characters on the rind. The sparkling bubbles in the cider left the palate clean with a herbaceous finish. Their newly released ginger and apple cider, one of their hybrid series was amazing with our Monet, a goat cheese seasoned with herbs and edible flowers. The ginger in this cider is concentrated on the nose, however, quite subtle on the palate; this combination brought the best out of both products.

Not unlike cheese, the ciders presented far better with a short rest at room temperature before serving. This is essential if you want to experience the full flavour of the fruit in the cider and the characters in the cheese.

Houghton Cider Company, also based in the Adelaide Hills, produce some exceptional ciders. Their Perry Cider made from pears is dry, carbonated and light bodied. It works fabulously with delicate flavours such as fresh chevre found in fresh matured cheese such as Cabecou. The acid in both products worked well together, a refreshing combination. The surprise was their honey and apple cider, which worked well with yeasty washed rinds and milder blue cheeses. The slight sweetness in the cider complemented the salt in both cheese styles.

Cider Garden, another locally made cider uses small seconds apples from the Adelaide Hills. Their method incorporates fermentation in oak barrels for around 12 months. This is followed by a further ageing in the bottle for six months to produce an excellent tasting dry and slightly yeasty drop. This vintaged cider was easily matched to most of the cheeses varieties with great results. The cheeses brought out the sweetness in a very dry cider with no residual sugar, producing an excellent combination of flavours!

If you love good mature cheddar or aged Gouda, Alexandrina Cheese Company produces a beauty, then a dry rustic cider such as Cider Garden works superbly. Enjoy this on a cheese board with crusty bread and fresh apple. It was very difficult to fault this pairing and difficult to stop consuming it.

Sweet and stronger ciders with very pronounced fruity flavours I found a little more difficult to pair with cheeses. Artisan ciders and cheeses that are well crafted speak for themselves. Wine is often seen as the perfect cheese partner, however there are so many other beverages that complement, contrast and enhance the many cheese styles available. I hope to share more of these soon. If you are a cider lover and a cheese lover, consider them a perfect match. If you are not familiar with cider why not give it a try next time you have a cheese platter in mind? I am quite sure you will be most pleasantly surprised.

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