I’m a cheesemonger by trade, for me cheese is where it’s at. I came up in a section of the industry that can best be described as rarefied. I was working with the best producers and supplying London’s most elite restaurants, Michelin Stars aplenty.
Back then it was all about Cheese and Fine Wine, pairing that Lactic Selles sur Cher from the Loire with a crisp Sauvignon, that 24 month Marcel Petite Comté with a saline, almost metallic Vin Jaune from the Jura. Delicious no doubt but accessible and egalitarian, I don’t think so.
I founded Cellarman with the conviction that there was more to pairing than reaching for the Domaine Leflaive Montrachet Grand Cru. I wanted to discover something more inclusive and yet no less complex and delicious.
In a most fortunate turn of events that included a fire escape in East London and abar at The Houses of Parliament I met Gabe Cook and Felix Nash and the rest is history. I was introduced to a world of British Cider makers who were the equals oftheir continental wine cousins in skill and passion. The UK now produces a staggering range of fantastic cider that pairs beautifully with British Cheese.
When I’m pairing cheese and cider I am considering all sorts of things, balance of sweet and salt, matching characteristics, mouth-feel, the interplay of tannin and fat, acid and protein. I’m also trusting my instincts and my palate, if it’s pulling me in a certain direction I know better than to reason why.
There are fundamentally two types of pairing, Complimentary and Contrasting.
A Complimentary pairing is one where elements of each party match one another. A classic example of this in wine would be the aforementioned Loire Goats cheese, full of minerality, good acidity and a lemony finish paired with a Sauvignon Blanc from the same region. demonstrating the same characteristics. Both flavours are delicate and subtle and in many ways support one another without either being drowned out.
A contrasting pairing is one where elements of each party sit at opposite ends of the spectrum. Again a classic example of this from the wine world would be Stilton with its rich savoury, saltiness paired with a port full of syrupy, fruity, figgy sweetness – that ultimate pairing works because of the balance of salt and sweet.
So that’s the theory….. In reality the only way to go is to taste, taste, taste! I was delighted when Tom Stephens, founder of Rebel Root Cider asked me to get involved with a cheese and cider pairing session. I love the Eastern Counties ciders for their crisp acidity, that tangy freshness that pairs with cheese so differently from the Western tannic, caramel classics.
So what did we taste?
I brought a selection of cheeses including;
Rosary Ash - a fresh, lactic Goat’s cheese from Oxfordshire,
Spenwood - a sweetly nutty sheep’s milk cheese from Berkshire. Reminiscent of Pecorino
Baron Bigod - an oozing, unctuous savoury brie-style beauty from Suffolk
Westcombe Cheddar – A classic Clothbound Farmhouse cheddar, deep and meaty from Somerset
Cropwell Bishop Stilton - Smooth, a little spicy with great salty depths from Nottinghamshire.
Rebel Root Wild 2018 – A native yeast fermented tart apple treat. All apple flesh and clean, flinty finish.
The Outcider 2016 – Full rich sweetness from the long warm summer of 2016. Pink skinned apples bringing a peachy hue to the cider. Matured for 2 years sur Lie for a smooth, relaxed finish.
The Outcider 2017 – A wetter, cooler Summer resulting in a crisper, greener finish, lovely apple skin tartness mellowed and polished at the edges through maturity.
Lost 2016 – A batch that hunkered down in the corner of a barn until discovered and released to the world. A blend of cooker, eater and a bitter sweet cider apple in unknown proportions. The introduction of Dabinett brings the structured tannins I associate with the West.
The wild cards….
Gone Forever from Pilton Cider - Cider blended with fermented cherry wine resulting in a heady, perfumed, almond finish with confident west country tannins. Unique and just a little wild.
Ice Cider from Sandford Orchards – Freezing the apples lead to an intensification of the flavour and an increase in the fermented final abv. Rich, syrupy dessert cider.
We tried all the cheeses with all the ciders but the pairings that really worked were the following
Rebel Root Wild 2018 with Rosary Ashed Goat’s cheese. A really fresh, clean pairing. The complimentary minerality and structured acidity in both the cider and the cheese brought that incredible mouth puckering tartness that almost reminded me of apple sour sweets as a kid. A pairing that almost leaves your mouth feeling lighter somehow than before.
The Outcider 2016 with Spenwood. Almost pulpy apple flesh matching the natural, floral sweetness of the sheep’s milk, as well as contrasting with the savoury, roast lamb finish. The acidity in the cider stripping the fat from that rich milk and revealing flavours of green almonds and hay. Complex and interesting pairing.
Lost 2016 and Westcombe Cheddar. This pairing is in successful in many ways due to the Dabinett tannin bringing western cider apple structure into play.
Westcombe has an umami richness with a mouth coating finish that just needs to be stripped away. Once those tannins have bonded to the fat in the cheese they dissolve leaving green apple flesh and caramelised onion and beef in the cheese.
Gone Forever from Pilton Cider with Baron Bigod. Sometimes it’s not just an analysis of what’s happening on the palate but rather a combination that is nostalgic or evocative. This for me was grown up strawberries and cream. Rich dairy, buttery and mushroom in the Baron blending with that Cherry perfume and sour/sweet finish. Weird and lovely.
Sandford Orchard Iced Cider with Cropwell Bishop Stilton. Definitely a pairing of contrast. The syrupy sweet cider bouncing off the deep savoury salt of the cheese. Big flavours, deeply satisfying. The element that surprised me was the tannin in the cider, it really added something with that structure making it a great match for any full flavoured cheese.
Cheese and Cider is for everyone, it’s unpretentious and delicious. Most importantly it works, get the pairing right and it takes things to whole new level.
IGTV Masterclass Live - (Click on image)
Discover Cider - www.discovercider.com
The Cheese Bar London - www.thecheesebar.com
Cellerman - www.cellarman.co.uk
Pilton Cider - www.piltoncider.com
Sandford Orchards - www.sandfordorchards.co.uk