Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pairing Ciders and Cheeses: Inspiring Palate Education at Murray's Cheese Shop

Tonight I gleefully took advantage of the "Ciders of the World: Pairing Ciders and Cheese" workshop at Murray's Cheese shop on Bleeker Street.  Many thanks to Gregory Hall of Virtue Cider and Jordan Zimmerman of Murray's Cheese Shop for putting this together and guiding us all. 

This experience taught me so much in terms of standardized and evaluative terminology for cider tasting. I also learned from Jordan some principles of cheese pairing that I think will make my future cheese trays and pairings much more dynamic and exciting. She really reinforced the importance of both texture and contrast  in pairings. I've thought plenty about how food flavors interact and to some degree about mouthfeel, but I feel like my appreciation for cheese textures really grew after the tasting.

In terms of cider, I really learned the most from the international focus of the tasting. I've really not had very many French or Spanish ciders. Greg had truly impressive knowledge of each cider that we tasted, so we got a fascinating look at not only the ciders but also the producers and international cider cultures.

Beyond this, getting to just taste ciders with other people and hear them talk about their experiences was enlightening. It reminded me a bit of my days at Volta Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate when we did so many staff coffee cuppings and palate exercises. I owe a ton to Anthony and Janet and my coworkers there for early experiences learning to talk about what I'm seeing, smelling, and tasting. 

We tried six beverages and six cheeses. Here's the list in order with very brief descriptions.

Farnum Hill Kingston Black: This was my favorite cider. I was really impressed by how well balanced this varietal cider tasted. The dryness, acidity and tannins all work really well together in the style of a hearty English cider. This deserves its own review at a later date.

with Ossau-Iraty Vielle: a really nutty sheep's milk cheese from the French Pyrenes.

Foggy Ridge Serious Cider: A more acidic and high tannin cider from Virginia. Still English style and very good. It uses the Dabinett apple which is a very distinctive English cider apple. 

with Vermont Butter and Cheese Coupole (best cheese of the night): This beautiful goat cheese from Vermont just bowled me over. I cannot say enough about its richness and textures. The fresh creaminess and density just made me close my eyes in bliss.

Etienne Dupont Cidre Cuvee Colette: This was the most popular cider of the night. It is a really excellent Normandie Cidre made with the fascinating keeving process.

With Etivaz: this cow's milk cheese is the group effort of 37 milk producers in the Swiss Alps. It is only available for four months of a year. 

Sarasola Sidra Natural: My first Spanish Sidra. This Basque cider is definitely more acidic than most ciders I've tasted. Very still and low in tannins. Our group had a mixed reaction to such a totally different flavor profile. I cannot say that I loved it, but I'm very glad I got to try it.

with Salva Cremasco, an amazing cheese but not the most harmonious pairing of the night. This cheese smells and tastes like either bacon or sauteed mushrooms. The rind looks fairly funky but tasted so interesting and good. Be brave. Eat the rind. The Umami was out of this world. If you get the chance to try this cheese, I highly recommend it.

Christian Drouin Pear: This was a real education for me. I'd never had a perry quite like this before, and I enjoyed it so much more than I expected I would. Perry is a beverage I came into the class not knowing a lot about, so hearing about crazy challenges was fascinating. Pear trees take a very long time to mature enough to bear fruit. The waiting game continues even past that point because the window for processing the pears is very short; first they are far too hard to crush and then they are only good for about 48 hours before going too soft. Crazy.

with Le Chevre Noir: an amazing fruity granular goat cheese. We didn't get to see the distinctive black wax rind, but we certainly enjoyed the unique texture of this cheese. Beautiful pairing.

Christian Drouin Pays D'Auge: this was the last cider of the night and a very good one. Wild yeasts and ripe apple aroma. Farmy with a buttery caramel mouthfeel.  Medium tannins. Low acid.

with Chiriboga Blue: a very earthy creamy, almost satiny, blue cheese. Jordan described it as black peppercorns in heavy cream. She is completely right. An outstanding cheese that would be great to change the mind of anyone who thinks they don't like blue cheese.

Afterwards, I chatted a bit with two brothers who work in cider distribution to bring Spanish ciders to
America, Jordan, and Greg. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming.