Here is the thing. I don’t like cheese. Cheese doesn’t like me. In fact dairy and I generally have the combined energy of two people unexpectedly meeting in person after bickering on twitter, but at least we can be in the same room together. Cheese and I, however, have unreconcilable differences. And before someone pipes up with the inevitable “but there are so many different cheeses” – yes, don’t I just know it? You can’t move in this world for mouldering milk byproduct, nor for the sort of cheese apotheosist who reacts to “actually I don’t like cheese” as though I’ve casually suggested a kitten-punting competition.*
The pairing of ciders with food is underwritten in general, but is particularly unkind to those of us whom cheese eschews. You can find 90% of the recommended matches for cider by watching an episode of Wallace and Gromit; “oooh I do like a nice bit of Wensleydale” pretty much sums them up. The remaining 10% is largely covered by James’ iconic steak-and-bittersweet pairings (which I have ascertained are photographed on a very large chopping board and not, as I once naively wondered, a very clean bit of floor) as well as this Dick Withecombe-inspired Burum Collective piece on the ciders and perries to go with a chippy tea.
So, for those who do not find it easy being cheesy, who are not having a chippy tea, and whose local supermarket/butcher has run out of steak, presented here are ten alternative cider-food pairings you might enjoy instead. I have stuck very much to what I know – all but one are regular features in my own gastronomic calendar and as such are well within the scope of those whose culinary skills only modestly exceed “press start on microwave”. I hope they bring you as much contentment as they have all brought me.
1. A Massive Sausage Roll
On this point I will brook no demur: there is, quite simply, no foodstuff in existence that pairs more satisfyingly with cider than a Massive Sausage Roll. Not cheese. Not steak. Not a chippy tea. Not more cider, for the wits among our readers. A Massive Sausage Roll, with pretty much any cider worth drinking, is as good as it gets.
The massiveness of the Massive Sausage Roll is, of course, critical. I will be fielding no complaints from those who have failed to enter gustatory nirvana after deploying some grey and cringing thing from the Meal Deal section. It wants to be the sort of behemoth you need to unhinge your jaw to eat, that has taken two pigs, half a herb garden, several pepper mills and planning permission to construct and that shortens your life considerably with a single bite.
Such an ecstasy of fat and protein and flaky pastry deserves the respect of the top rung of your cider rack, and for the best results requires judicious application of both acid – for whispering through the grease – and tannin – for chomping into the meat. Dryness is also your friend here to keep things bright and fresh and lifted. Kingston Black is therefore a good starting point – the Burrow Hill Bottle Fermented in particular will see you very nicely. And sticking with traditional/champagne method creations (Massive Sausage Rolls are worthy of no less) the Smith Hayne Méthode Traditionelle 2018 or Bollhayes 2017 will chop through your Massive Sausage Roll with similar aplomb.
2. Seafood pasta with a stupid amount of garlic bread
I am casting a rather broad net here with “seafood”. (‘Casting a net’ – God I’m hilarious). Perhaps in your household, “seafood pasta” conjures images of a steaming bowl of clams heaped on linguine, perfumed with garlic and parsley and white wine. Perhaps you lavish it with all the ocean’s bounty – the salty mussels, the meaty prawns, the shredded crab – all lovingly garnished with rough-chopped cherry tomatoes, more fresh garlic and generous pinches of pepperoncino.
If I am completely honest, our household’s approach is for one of us to march into the kitchen brandishing a can of tuna, root around in various cupboards and what happens, happens. But no matter – all of these options go tremendously with Just The Same Cider!
And that cider is the culinary apple’s answer to our foil for the sausage roll. Traditional method once again, fresh and bright with green apple, lemon and perhaps a toasty thread from ageing on lees. Thrilling, with a seam of acidity, no tannin that might clash with the seafood and not so much intensity of deep flavours that the food will be overwhelmed. Chalkdown are always one of my favourites in this category, but you will also have a tremendous amount of fun with Anatomy, the 100% Bramley traditional method cider from Tinston or with anything from Find & Foster.
(NB The stupid amount of garlic bread needs no additional extrapolation or justification, and can also garnish anything else on this list. Even the crisps or pudding. No questions please).
3. Thai Green Curry
The geophysicist refuses to comment on the subject of “favourite” anything, but Thai is very definitely her favourite cuisine, which I can boldly assert here as I’m fairly confident she isn’t a regular Cider Review reader. The majority of Thailand’s diverse and mesmerising food sits well beyond both my skillset and my kitchen’s ingredients, but Thai Green Curry has proven itself a relative flatterer of cookery capability and on days when work and writing and rehearsals and wedding planning and kitten-wrangling and general lockdown haven’t wiped me out long before dinner, one that I occasionally motivate myself to attempt.
(Whether I should be dignifying my hotchpotch, largely jar-assembled creations with the title “Thai Green Curry” is another matter entirely, but I’m not sure what else to call them, and the cider pairing remains unaffected irrespective of your level of from-scratch-ness).
The brightness, fragrance and light spice of this dish, especially if vegetarian and full of crunch, call, once again, for something with exuberant aromatics, with a gentle nip of acidity and with no heavy-handed tannin. And no apple hits that brief better than Discovery. Its fruity, floral fragrance, all strawberries, lemons and light petals, works here in a similar way that something like Sauvignon or Riesling might – only better, as Discovery is lower in alcohol and therefore better able to cope with spice.
Again I’d lean in a dry direction personally – I find dry drinks are almost always easier to pair with the majority of food – but since there isn’t a great deal of bone dry Discovery about, a little compromise may be necessary. Kentish Pip’s 2020 pét nat will do you perfectly, and Nightingale’s Wild Disco is similarly as dependably delicious as they come (though I long for the day Sam releases a totally dry Discovery, because I am greedy and demanding).
4. The geophysicist’s pizza
Yes, first of all, you are allowed to eat pizza without cheese. In fact the geophysicist, to whom my cheese-aversion was very nearly a deal-breaker, has come round completely to the concept in the last few months and has never looked back. She reports an increase in the flavours presented by other ingredients, and a decrease in the-end-is-nigh fullness after eating a whole one with the aforementioned stupid amount of garlic bread.
My pizza of choice comes with capers, olives, anchovies and chilli flakes and is salty, spicy, zingy, savoury, doughy bliss. But as its best cider pairing would probably be along the lines suggested for the previous two foodstuffs, let’s pretend you’re having the geophysicst’s pizza, which usually boasts mushrooms, peppers and caramelised red onions and to which miscellaneous species of spicy sausage can be added when she is feeling indulgent or carnivorous. Last week she even added artichokes. Some people just like to watch the world burn.
This option being richer, sweeter and umami-er, I’m going to reach for something cold-racked or something keeved. The fullness, juiciness, slight sweetness and crackle of bittersweet apple spice will do wonderful things in conjunction with your pizza alla geofisica and make the whole thing as soulful and decadent as you deserve. I would be tempted by the Worley’s Special Reserve, and I would also throw covetous glances in the direction of Ridge and Furrow’s Bottle Conditioned Medium. But most keeves and cold-racked ciders will do every bit as well.
5. Chicken Kiev avec wedges
The hob broke shortly after lockdown 2.0 began in November and left our usual gastronomic repertoire in tatters. But one of the wonderful things that came of the resulting far-too-long it took to resolve and ultimately replace it was my rekindled love of the chicken kiev.
Crunchy, breadcrumby chicken stuffed with garlic is, as far as I’m concerned, the confluence of genius, and we have had it at least once a week since. Remembering that a day holds the potential to be a Chicken Kiev Day is rapidly becoming a soul-plumper ne plus ultra. We don’t make our own, and nor do I particularly want to. We just shove ready-made ones in the oven with some roughly hacked and haphazardly-seasoned potato wedges and half an hour later feel a lot better about all of life’s vicissitudes. We even had pork kievs once, because that is how high-octane our lives have become.
Such a peal of starchy, meaty, garlicky joy deserves perry. Thrilling, zingy, fragrant, citrusy and plump of fruit. Thorn would be my first port of call, but then Thorn is so often my first port of call when it comes to perry. Its vivacious green flavours would certainly match Kiev deliciously. But let’s widen the lens a little. France’s Plant de Blanc is easily fruity and tangy enough to replicate Thorn’s handiwork here, and in the UK you can find it magnificently represented in Templar’s Choice, Pacory or, if you’re feeling extra-fancy, Eric Bordelet.
And since we are pairing our dinner with poiré, I am garnishing its title with the gravitas of an ‘avec’ and avoiding the mean, unfair and unwarranted charge my friend levelled – that chicken kiev was “a dinner for six-year-olds”. ‘Avec’ is always grown-up. Just ask Beans avec Toast.
6. Meaty, Veggie, Mincey Stuff In A Pot
Meaty, Veggie, Mincey Stuff In A Pot is, without question, the plat du maison chez nous, and has been for both of us since long before we met. Occasionally it takes on a Bolognese-like aspect, sometimes it could pass in the dark for chilli, and on rare occasions the geophysicist’s maverick hand will even alight on the curry powder, and take the pot into pastures wild and new. Be it meaty-mincey-based, veg-based or some confluence of the two, this dish is not set in stone. It is shifting and ineffable and many-faceted and un-knowable. But fundamentally it is Meaty, Veggie, Mincey Stuff In A Pot.
It is a meal we eat religiously, and treat with the utmost seriousness. Long will be our dinner-table conversations poring over and considering the specific ingredients that went into it this time, as though they were cunningly and thoughtfully planned and selected rather than a random gaggle of disparate edible odds and sods flung at a pot in ad-hoc fashion and cooked on uneven heat until we got bored, before serving with the carbohydrate of our choice. (Almost always pasta, but rice and potato make sporadic appearances in the name of occasional exoticism).
As its name suggests, there are no rules when it comes to the centrepiece of Meaty, Veggie, Mincey Stuff In A Pot; so long as it involves some chopped tomato, a glug of whatever alcohol is to hand and at least four different herbs and spices, the job is very much a good’un. Our hob hiatus taught us that Meaty, Veggie, Mincey Stuff In A Pot is also oven-suitable – we are talking about a tremendously forgiving dish here. And there is little that nourishes my soul on a more essential level.
A dish of this depth and heartiness calls for something with heft and oak and fruit. Oak-aged bittersweets are absolutely your friend. Since MVMSIAP carries such weight in our household, we often choose Ross on Wye’s Raison d’Être, which sits in a similar emotional sphere. But we have recently enjoyed pairing it with Stones Cider’s Elephant in the Room (Chisel Jersey, Somerset Redstreak and Dabinett) and I have had many a satisfying result with various different vintages of Oliver’s Yarlington Mill.
7. Pan-fried salmon and salad
I cannot begin to tell you how cheffy it makes me feel when I turn the piece of salmon over onto the non-skin side and everything goes dramatically “hiss” and suddenly the kitchen is one-man-abuzz with “are the bowls in the proper place, bring that salad to the pass, DINNER’SREADYINTWOMINUTES, drizzle some olive oil over that thing over there, OKNOWIT’SONEMINUTE, why is that salmon cooking so quickly, everything’s gone askew, life’s not worth it, IT’SREADYWHEREAREYOU, look how crispy that skin is, I am a demigod”. Friends, I feel alive.
Minimal prep and/or cooking time are the two tenets of dinner in our household, and this hits both briefs to perfection. And healthy too – what luck! The geophysicist enjoys a sprinkling of pine nuts in the salad, but they always end up clustering at the bottom of the bowl, so I generally don’t bother. Life is too short to worry about pine nut coagulation. Salad, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper. Herbs (misc). I neither need nor want for more.
If I could get Austrian Birnenmost (perry to you) over here, I don’t think I would match this dish with anything else. All-but-dry, winey, packed with clean citrus, riper topical fruits and lovely fresh minerality – be still my beating palate. Since Brexit has kiboshed any chance of that materialising on these shores any time soon, my instinct instead is to go with a fuller-bodied, fruity, no-tannin cider. The Newt’s Fine Cyder, from Idared apples, is a near-perfect like-for-like (it has a lot of similarities with Austrian and German ciders, actually) and any Egremont Russet you can find, but particularly Little Pomona’s Col Fondo, will offer the balance of fresh and full-flavoured that your pan-fried salmon requires. Chill, serve, and marvel at how crispy you got the skin, even if marvelling involves a modicum of pretence.
8. A big ol’ bag of crisps
I will never not want a big ol’ bag of crisps. If I ever have the flat to myself for the evening and have no work or writing to take care of it is absolutely guaranteed that a 150 gram bag of crunchy, salty potato will feature. I seldom have one in company, as it is my profound conviction that 150 grams is not a sharing quantity, and I am religious in not opening the bag until whatever film or programme I have settled on that evening has commenced because this is the point at which the crisps stop being empty calories and become your with-entertainment-refreshments. There have been few such evenings in the last year and a half and they are a private little form of albeit-unhealthy self-care that I miss a great deal.
Matching ciders to flavours of crisps deserves a whole article – nay, a whole book! – to itself, but for the purposes of this briefer treatment I have chosen drinks with the ability to adapt to more or less whichever crisp is your preference (mine is Salt and Vinegar – the Co-Op’s for best results). So nothing too tannic, too sharp or too sweet – this is meant to be a comforting drink, after all – something soft and round and fruity enough to perch atop the salt and starch and oil of your crisp of choice. Somerset Redstreak is an excellent place to start, and Barley Wood Orchard bottle a lovely, juicy one. Indeed the output of Barley Wood Orchard in general is just the sort of soul-massaging, fruity fare that your evening of crisps and boxsets demands, and Artistraw would be another good place to go hunting. May whichever you choose wash your cares away as effectively as it washes down your big ol’ bag of crisps.
9. Szechuan takeaway
Reading’s cider scene remains, for the most part, a dismally barren wasteland. But our independent food scene is an increasingly bustling and beautiful one, and my favourite of its constituents is a Szechuan restaurant called Kung Fu Kitchen. For the last few years it has brought us a dazzling array of authentic, regional Chinese food and has expanded my gastronomic horizons as much as it has my waistband.
Now obviously I can’t suggest that one style of cider or perry is perfect for the whole vast spectrum of Chinese or Szechuan cuisine, but some of my favourite food and drink matches have come from our irregular lockdown Kung Fu Kitchen takeaways, and it’d be remiss of me not to mention them. (Not least because cider and perry is so much more effective than higher-alcohol wine when it comes to matching food with this level of spice.)
We’ve barely scratched the surface of the dishes Kung Fu Kitchen has to offer, but our order usually oscillates around a nucleus of hearty, warming twice-cooked Szechuan pork, fresh, crunchy garlic shoots and chilled yet fiery Xinjiang shredded chicken, loaded with Szechuan pepper. Discovery (or culinary apple ciders generally) do very well here, but aromatic perry from more-flavourful pears goes even more satisfyingly, its off-dry nature giving the spice a bit of a cushion. Skyborry Ultralight Beam works wonders, as does anything from Gregg’s Pit or Bartestree. For a curveball, Pomme Pomme, Pilton’s blend of quinces and apples, gives you all the aromatics and intensity of flavours that this thrilling, electric food deserves, and is up there with my favourite food-drink pairings of all time.
This was, initially, just going to be “some pudding,” until I was told in no uncertain terms that I was being wilfully and belligerently silly. I am just not much of a pudding person. It’s not that I don’t like them (though many contain cream, whose opinion of me is similar to cheese’s), it’s more that my tooth is more savoury than sweet. I’d always go starter-main if I was having two courses at a restaurant, and at home I’m normally too full of Meaty, Veggie, Mincey Stuff In A Pot to even countenance something to follow. Besides, if God wanted us to eat puddings, they wouldn’t have invented the KitKat Chunky.
I am prepared, however, to accept that not everyone feels the same way as me on this matter, and this pairing is for those who don’t. The first rule, when matching cider or perry (or wine) to pudding is that if the pudding contains meaningful quantities of chocolate, especially if that chocolate is of the sticky, saucy disposition, forget it. Chocolate is too dense and rich and intense and mouth-clagging; it’ll clash with tannin and acidity. If you’re drinking port (and maybe pommeau) you might get away with it, but I wouldn’t bother. Save yourself the hassle, eat your chocolatey pudding, have a drink after. Or, I dunno, try a stout if you just can’t wait.
If, however, your choice of dessert fits within the brackets of “Some-kind-of-fruity-spongey-or-biscuity-pudding-and-we’ll-also-accept-meringue-here” (in my experience most puddings do) then you are in luck, and dessert ciders are very much your friends. If your pudding is on the lighter end of the spectrum, Eden’s Honeycrisp or Katy and Morgan Sweet from Llanbethian Orchards have the freshness and delicacy to match. If it is a deeper, richer pudding then go for Eden’s Barrel-aged Heirloom Reserve. You could even push the boat out with something fortified – a Normandy pommeau or the Somerset Pomona from Burrow Hill, both packed with oak and syrupy baked apple and spice galore alongside sweetness and warming strength.
And some cheering news to end on for my fellow pudding-dodgers. By my mileage these drinks are just as good (if not better) sipped on their own, paired with nothing but a long and restful evening. Mind you, in my world those are even less common than pudding is.
*I would, of course, never suggest a kitten-punting competition. Though I suspect my kitten would be open to the concept of an Adam-punting competition.