How to pair cider and cheese from Deli Events Coordinator and American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional, Tessie Ives-Wilson!
Apples (and thus cider) and cheese have a long and illustrious history of being paired together. Because of the short season and relative novelty (historically speaking) of unfermented sweet cider, there aren’t as many historical pairings, but there are long traditions of ciders in England, France, and Spain that would have been traditionally served with the local cheeses. Because the English were the ones who brought over apples in large quantities and established the largest colonial presence in North America they also brought their cheesemaking traditions that stuck here in the New World, namely cheddar, which is one of the cheeses that is an ideal pairing with most ciders due to its bright acidity & saltiness!
Personally one of the reasons that ciders and cheese go so well together is the residual sweetness of the cider (even the hard ones!). Even a little bit of sweetness is a great contrast to the salty, savory flavors in a wide variety of cheeses. Apples are also high in tannins (just like wine) and can bring drier notes to a cider that can also pick up sweetness and umami in great cheese.
When thinking about cheeses to choose for a pairing, there are 3 major types of pairings with beverages and cheese to consider:
Similarity or Affinity
Look to pair subtle-flavored cheeses with subtle, sweeter ciders, rustic cheeses with more intense, funky ciders, and cheeses with fruity or floral notes with ciders that echo those flavors. A medium-bodied fresh, sweet cider with an alpine-style cheese that have some sweet, nutty notes like Comte or Pleasant Ridge Reserve would be a beautiful pairing!
Complement or Contrast
Opposites attract! Find flavors that are the opposite of each other (dry vs. sweet, sweet & sour, etc) to provide contrast in a pairing. Dry, salty flavors of many kinds of cheese can contrast nicely with the sweet, malty flavors found in darker or fruity beers and wines, and the opposite is true as well! For a cider, choose something tart and dry (VanderMill Green Man) to cut through the richness of your favorite triple-cream brie!
Local cheeses from a country or region are often matched with beverages that also are native to the area. This “what grows together, goes together” rule is usually applied more often in Europe where food traditions are much older than those here in the New World. These rules aren’t always true in the USA, where wine/beer/cider flavors & styles are tied less to the region/state where they are produced and are more likely to be at the discretion of the brewer or vintner! A great play on this using an easily available Michigan cider would be to pair up JK’s Scrumpy Cider from Flushing, MI (modeled after a classic English Style hard-cider) with a clothbound English-style cheddar like Cabot Clothbound Cheddar or a true English Cheddar like the Montgomery’s Farmhouse Cheddar.
Fresh ciders can be great to pair up with cheeses if hard ciders aren’t your style! Just keep in mind that they tend to be much sweeter and so I would lean towards the contrast pairings for this type of cider. Drier, saltier cheeses like Cheddar, Manchego, and aged Gruyeres are going to fit the bill nicely. If you want to try an affinity pairing search out a nice, crystal-laden aged Gouda – there will be caramel & sweet notes that are going to amplify with the sweetness of a fresh cider.
If you’re drinking an Angry Orchard cider, I would personally grab a wedge of a bright, American-style cheddar! Look for a midwestern white cheddar, these are going to have good acidity and a nice undertone of caramel sweetness for the best of both worlds. The Imperial Buck by Deer Creek Cheese in Wisconsin would be phenomenal!
When in doubt, trust your own taste buds – if you don’t enjoy a pairing (even if it’s “the perfect match” according to an expert) it’s not worth repeating!