Last Wednesday evening, we went over to our pals Jolie and Hunter Wade’s farm for the first-ever Sebastopol Cider & Cheese Challenge.
This midweek madness was inspired by our friends at Consider The Rind and United States of Cider, who created a cheese-pairing challenge based on our tasting notes for our 2012 batch of Graviva! Semidry Cider. I thought it’d be fun to have Jolie and Hunter join us. They run Apple Sauced Cider and produce the sensational Save the Gravenstein cider from their own organic apples.
We busted out bottle upon bottle of other ciders and wheels and slabs of cheeses. Hunter concocted some delicious side dishes and breads to keep us fueled. And the revelry began.
For the purposes of the challenge, I took notes of how only our ciders paired with the cheeses. But don’t you worry, we polished off the other bottles in the interest of furthering cider-pairing science!
Two of the cheeses were part of the official Consider The Rind challenge: Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam (cow) and Laura Chenel Chabis (goat). (I couldn’t find the Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve that was recommended.) We then added a few more cheeses from some of our favorite local producers: Bellwether Farms Crescenza (cow), Cypress Grove ChevreHumboldt Fog (goat), Nicasio Valley Foggy Morning (cow), Redwood Hill Farm Camellia (goat), Weirauch Farm & Creamery Taz (sheep), and Weirauch Washed Rind (cow).
Hunter describes their Save the Gravenstein cider as like biting into a fresh Gravenstein apple: zesty, crisp, refreshing, and tart, with bright acidity and aromatic notes of kiwi, fresh sliced apples, and key limes. I characterize our Graviva! as likewise being bright and crisp, with refreshing acidity and a touch of sweetness—the Gravenstein is a party apple! The traditional cider apples give it lively tannins, and just a little bit of barnyard funk. Aromatics are subtly floral with distinct culinary apple notes. Both ciders are lightly effervescent.
We’re all novices when it comes to cheese pairing, but you don’t need an experienced palate to appreciate the interplay of acidity, carbonation, texture, and flavor. Kay at Consider The Rind notes that a successful pairing may come either from Sameness or Differentness in the potential mates. Sometimes similarities in cider and cheese—as in acidity—work. At other times, opposites do attract. We found this to be so.
All the cheeses on their own were beautiful and delicious. But it was kind of surprising how things changed when tried alongside the ciders. Some pairings made the cheese too salty and canceled out the cider flavor (e.g., Graviva! and Humboldt Fog), while others heightened the cider’s tartness and left a weird, funky finish (e.g., Save the Gravenstein and Crescenza). But other combinations were off-the-charts fantastic. The consensus was that Graviva! and Mt. Tam rocked. The acidity of the cider cut through the rich, unctuous texture of the Triple Crème cow’s milk cheese, washing the palate and leaving a wonderful, creamy mouthfeel. (Runners-up for Graviva!: Chabis and Taz.) We all loved Save the Gravenstein with Taz aged sheep’s milk cheese. The dry, slightly crumbly texture worked beautifully with the lightness and acidity of the cider, providing a lingering nutty flavor, with just a hint of barnyard. (In second place for Save the Gravenstein: Humboldt Fog.) I look forward to trying these and other cheeses with our Lost Orchard Dry Cider, a much more tannic, drier, and complex blend due out later in the summer. My bet is the results would be quite different.
Let us know if you try any of our ciders with your favorite cheeses. In the works is a cider and cheese tasting this fall with Tilted Shed, Apple Sauced, and other local cheese and cider producers, so stay tuned!
Tilted Shed co-owner, cider evangelist & shameless rabble rouser!