A slice of crunchy apple is a classic flavour pairing for cheese so it makes sense that cider should be a go-to drink to accompany a platter of your favourite cheeses. Indeed the old saying "what grows together, goes together" applies perfectly as apple trees and grass pastures thrive in similar climates so cider and cheese producing regions often overlap - think Normandy with its "Route de Cidre" and Camembert; also England's West Country scrumpy and Cheddar.
Here in Suffolk the Chevallier Guild family has been making cider for almost 300 years. In orchards just outside Debenham, the home of Aspall Cyder, forty-six different varieties of apple are grown to produce a range of ciders across the flavour profile. Recently Clare chatted with eighth generation cider-maker Henry Chevallier Guild about the wonderful match of cider and cheese. Passionate about cider, Henry described it as an "extremely versatile" choice. He agreed that terroir - the soil, climate and topography of an area - is hugely important in the production of both cheese and cider. Noting that many cheeses are made from the milk of cows and sheep that have eaten the grass of orchards where apples are grown, Henry said "it doesn't get much more symbiotic than that!"
The flavour of cider varies with its acidity, sweetness and tannic profile. Tannins are compounds found in apple skins, pips and stalks. They register in the mouth as dryness, a touch of bitterness that refreshes the palate. With high levels of acidity and tannins, cider can perfectly cut through the buttery richness of cheese. The texture of a carbonated cider can also work well with cheese - its effervescence keeping the palate alive.
As with wine, different styles of cider sit well with different cheeses. We would suggest pairing hard cheese with a barrel-aged cider. These dry ciders typically have a good level of acidity and tannins, with a crisp apple flavour that suits a tangy, bold Cheddar, Alpine classics such as Comté, or hard sheep's cheese such as Manchego. Dry ciders with a tart flavour can also pair well with a young goat's cheese..
A sparkling cider cuts through creaminess of rich soft cheeses. For Henry Chavellier Guild, Suffolk gems Baron Bigod and Aspall Draught are both extremely delectable in their own right and together form "a winner of a combination". A hefty dose of fresh apple juice in this lightly sparkling cider gives it natural sweetness that works brilliantly with the creamy texture and earthy flavour of Britain's only raw milk Brie-de-Meaux style cheese.
Both blue and washed-rind cheeses pair well with the sweeter ciders, including ice cider made from the juice of frozen apples (freezing concentrates natural sugars in the apples). Sweetness contrasts the saltiness of these cheeses, creating balance. Henry Chevallier Guild finds the combination of Spanish blue cheese Cabrales and El Gaitero cider "pretty hard to beat". Cabrales is a spicy, mixed milk blue cheese similar to Slate favourite, Picos de Europa. The cider, El Gaitero, is made nearby in Villaviciosa, with a pepperiness that means it is not overpowered by these intense mountain cheeses of Northern Spain.
Indeed the characteristics of cheese and cider go so well together that they are often paired during the cheese-making process. At Slate we have "Celtic Promise" in the wall of cheese. Celtic Promise is made by Caws Cenarth in the Teifi Valley, west Wales. This dumpling shaped cheese starts life as Caerphilly. It is then matured for eight weeks during which time it is washed weekly in cider, developing a slightly sticky, orange coloured rind. Its paste becomes supple in texture and develops a sweet flavour. Similarly, Stinking Bishop made by Charles Martell in Gloucestershire is one of Britain's best known washed-rind cheeses. Whilst being aged for four months, every four weeks it is immersed in perry (pear cider) made from the Stinking Bishop variety of pear and from which the cheese takes its name.
Like all good pairing combinations, matching cheese and cider can heighten shared characteristics and bring out subtle contrasts. Cider rarely competes with cheese, most often it brings out the best in the flavour and texture of a cheese. Have a play around with some mixing and matching - enjoy!