photo courtesy of Foggy Ridge Cider
Apple cider has a image problem. Or perhaps a "name" problem.
Most of us buy "apple cider" at roadside stands or in the grocery store. That brown liquid is actually just apple "juice," which should be more appropriately named "fresh cider" if ya wanna call it cider.
Real cider is sometimes referred to as "hard cider," which by definition, is fermented up to 8 percent alcohol, so you can get a "buzz" better than with beer.
Diane Flynt, owner and artisan cider maker at Foggy Ridge Cider in southwest Virginia, (www.foggyridgecider.com,) says she's had some old-timers who've visited her cidery and say, "Well, I just left some on the back porch and it got hard all by itself."
Well, sure. Just like cheese will develop a mold all by itself, juice will ferment.
True cider is the work of an artisan, and like wine, it takes a serious application of techniques, with stainless steel tanks or oak barrels, with added yeast and careful monitoring of brix, or sugar levels.
But it all starts with the apple. Diane grows 30 different varieties that are full of tannin, acid and aroma.
The best cider apples are often heirlooms and, well, ugly. As with wine, most ciders are blends of several varieties of the fruit, providing a balance of sugar, tannin and apple taste.
After a visit to Foggy Ridge Cider while researching THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK (out in March 2010), I was hooked on cider. I love it with pork, esp., or sipping with cheese. It's a sophisticated taste and looks lovely. What a lovely tradition to bring back to America!
As "American as apple pie"? Nope. Apples came from England with the Jamestown settlers. The Cherokees loved them, and used sophisticated grafting techniques to establish large orchards. Every early American homestead eventually had their own apple orchard, because it ensured they'd have something to eat and drink.
Cider was the drink of choice for most settlers. John Adams had a tankard of cider before breakfast each morning. Most ciders during the 18th century were better for them than water, which was often polluted. In fact, apples were "drunk" more than eaten at that time.
For an interesting account of the history of apples, read THE BOTANY OF DESIRE by Michael Pollan.
Appalachian and Grayson cheeses from Meadow Creek Dairy, Galax, VA
photo courtesy of Meadow Creek Dairy
PAIRING CIDER AND CHEESE
Last week, Diane was at Wine Authorities, a wine shop near Forest Hills in Durham, pairing her cider with several local cheeses.
Hillsborough Cheese Company makes a wide range of cheeses from purchased cow and goat milk. Fresh chevre, rolled in ashes from grape vine leaves, had a mushroomy flavor, and paired nicely with the sweeter cider from Foggy Ridge called Sweet Stayman. Spicy foods would also be a good contrast with this sweeter cider.
A rule? Balance spice with sweet.
Another fresh herbed cheese paired nicely with the Serious Cider from Foggy Ridge. Because it is crisp and more acidic, with a higher tannin level, it's a more food-friendly cider that begs for veal snitzel, perhaps, or a nice pork dish, or even smoked trout.
Pair acidic foods, like fresh cheeses, with acidic wines or cider.
Meadow Creek Dairy is located near Galax, VA, near Foggy Ridge Cider. Because their Jersey cows are raised on pasture, they only produce seasonal cheeses. The Appalachian is a luscious creamy yellow cheese that paired nicely with the more acidic Serious Cider.
That's one of the pairing rules for both wine and cider.....the higher the fat level of the food, the more tannin is needed.
The Grayson cheese from Meadow Creek was quite pungent, with a big beefy, mushroomy flavor. It needed something to stand up to its big bite, like the Serious Cider.
photo styling by Kathryn Wiegand
Pippin Gold is a Port-style blend of cider from Foggy Ridge, made with only Newtown Pippin apples, and apple brandy made by Laird & Co, a VA distillery that is the nation's oldest. Diane entertained us with how she freezes the cider at a local ice house, then takes a huge pick and climbs onto the huge cube of ice and breaks it, then withdraws the melted liquid, which concentrates the flavors. Then it is blended with the brandy, producing a smooth and sweet liquore which we've enjoyed as a drizzle over fresh pound cake. Diane also recommends sipping it as an aperitif with walnuts, almonds or dried figs, or as an after dinner drink, or poured over fresh peaches.
WHERE TO FIND FOGGY RIDGE CIDERS?
At Wine Authorities, of course. Wellspring. A few restaurants in DC and along the Blue Ridge and in the Triad. Diane hopes to expand in the Triangle area. When spring arrives, plan a trip to the cidery near Dogspur, VA, that's near the funky little town of Floyd, VA, and Chateau Morissette, a delightful winery along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Read all about ciders, and how Diane changed careers from a banker to cider maker at www.foggyridgecider.com.