Tuesday, September 18, 2018

A Birthday Pairing Dinner with Sur La Mer, Whitewood Cider Co, Castle Hill Cider, Aeppeltreow, Virtue, and Champlain Orchards

My dear friend El just had a birthday. For some strange reason, this means she wants to hostess an elaborate dinner party. She loves to cook and share delicious food with friends (it’s something we have in common, but I’m somewhat more low key in my cooking ambitions). She also loves a good cider; it’s the preferred beverage for most of my closest friends. So I pair a cider with each course. It ends up being a lot of food and a lot of cider, and a lot of fun. 

I chose all Finger Lakes Ciders last year, and I wrote about the event as part of my lead up to Finger Lakes Cider Week: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2017/09/finger-lakes-cider-week-and-birthday.html

This year, she wanted to do it again, so I happily volunteered to another set of pairings. I did want to switch it up a bit, so I choose 6 ciders from 6 different states beyond New York. I love my home state’s ciders, but I wanted a 100% different lineup. Elizabeth also wanted to switch it up this year by sharing a only creative partial menu before the food was actually revealed at the table.

1) Chips and salsa

Drew Family Wines "Sur La Mer" Brut Cider, California

Here’s how El describes the course, “a panoply of heirloom tomatoes from Jackman Vineyards...a raw salsa fresca made by combining them with some local jalapenos, cilantro, onions and a bit of lime juice to create a bright, fresh salsa including black icicles, bolsenos, and green zebras.”

And the cider’s official description: 
A preservation project, a way to preserve a farming heritage  A blend of three varieties:  Gravensteins, Philo Golds and Rhode Island Greenings for some acidity.  We've gone old school in our approach with a native yeast primary fermentation and dosaged with a champagne yeast  (no forced carbonation here) before bottling as a traditional sparkling wine is made.  We find the bubbles are finer this way.  Notes of green apple, citrus, bread yeast and salinity and seaweed due to our coastal proximity are evident here.  A perfect summer glass of bubbles to accompany so many foods.  We love creamy and salty cheeses or roast chicken with this lovely handcrafted Brut Cider.
The Sur La Mer cider smells of cooked apples and minerals. It was very dry and tart. I paired this dry high acid cider with salsas because of the mention of salinity in the description. Luckily it came through and a little extra saltiness along with super fresh salsa and local tortilla chips was delightful. The salt really brought out the sweetness of all the fresh tomatoes. The cider also brought just a little gentle funk to the table to help perk up everyone’s appetites. 

2) Pasta and pesto 

Whitewood Cider Company’s Kingston Black and Wickson Apple

Fresh pasta is one of El’s favorite things to make. I love it when she cooks this because homemade pasta is just miles better than dried.  She says, “I wanted to give it a sauce that was both packed with flavor and relatively light, and a simple pesto was an obvious candidate. I just used basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and a mix of pecorino romano and parmesan cheese.”

And the only description of the cider I was able to find online of this limited release cider, “Dry, fruit forward, sophisticated, big cider aged in a semi-neutral second use gin barrel. Flavors of very ripe tangerine, oak, vanilla and a touch of the gin botanicals.”

I anticipated this course of food being my favorite as I am a passionate pesto fan. I wanted the gin botanical notes of the cider to complement the basil of the pesto, and it did! Everyone gushed about this course paired with the Kingston Black and Wickson Apple. 

3) Duck Confit and Tomato Confit 

Castle Hill Cider’s Terrestrial, Virginia

I'm deferring to El’s description for this course, “Duck confit is one of my favorite treats; it’s rich and salty and just incredible...Because I had two pescetarians at my table, however, I knew I needed something satisfying to accompany the duck. Tomato confit is actually a completely different thing; meat confits are poached in fat, whereas vegetable confits are just silky and richly flavored sauces. This recipe used local ginger, garlic, shallots, and herbs from my wife’s garden to make a delightful bowl of dipping sauce for bread.” And that dipping sauce wasn’t just delightful, it was divine!

Castle Hill’s official description for the cider, “Like a cold pool on a hot day, Terrestrial’s acidity gives this cider a crisp finish. Made with a blend of Winesap and Albemarle Pippin apples, this cider pairs nicely with oysters or aromatic dishes and makes a cleansing counterpoint to rich cheeses.”

I was least certain of this pairing going in, but I knew how much I love the Terrestrial and had faith in the classic pairing logic of umami flavors with high acidity and tiny bubbles. The cider lifted all this food richness and aerated rich apple, pointed acidity, and firm structure too. For many folks either a dark meat or tomato sauce would call for red wine, but for me a structured and tannic dry cider with plenty of acidity will do the job for any tomato sauce I’ve met.  

4) Taco platter 

Aeppeltreow’s Americana

The taco platter was in reality a table groaning under the weight of food choices. This course could have been the entire meal and everyone would have eaten bountifully. Options included Ancho-rubbed steak, tequila-lime chicken, Mahi-mahi marinated in ancho, lime, and jalapenos, and marinated tofu in the style of Chipotle. These were surrounded by a tomato salsa, a roasted salsa verde, a corn salsa, and a spicy peach salsa. And four cheeses. And peppers and onions. And shredded cabbage. And the base of hand pressed tortillas. 

The Aeppeltreow Americana’s official description declares, “Estate grown apples of Jeffersonian provenance. Our attempt to re-create Colonial American cider.  Crisp and clean. Zero residual sugar.”

I’m fond of many ciders from Aeppeltreow, so I hoped to find a special occasion for this very special cider. It’s aromas were very wine like: much more fermentation than fresh fruit. I loved the soft tannins and mellow acidity. I chose it for this meal because I wanted a still cider that would have plenty of body. The body is to stand up in the presence of all the strong food flavors, and I chose a still because bubble can really up the perception of spiciness. While some folks at the table have a spice tolerance, several did not. The Americana helped us enjoy this course ever so much. 

5)Maple Apple Donut Cake 

Virtue Cider Seedling Orchard With Schaerbeek Cherries


Champlain Orchard Single-Varietal Honeycrisp Ice Cider Library Edition 

The cake starts out with sponge that’s is much less sweet and tastes predominantly of buttered cinnamon. This was topped with a cooked blend of Tango and Macintosh and a sweet maple glaze.

The Virtue Cider Seedling Orchard With Schaerbeek Cherries is described online as, “Virtue ciders orchard series pays tribute to our partnering farmers by featuring a single growers finest fruit. Michigan seedling orchard is a friend to chefs and farmers markets for their quality hand picked heirloom fruit.”

While the Champlain Orchard Single-Varietal Honeycrisp Ice Cider Library Edition is introduced, “Our single-varietal Honeycrisp Ice Cider has a wonderful pure apple flavor as well as the characteristic sweetness and zesty finish of the Honeycrisp apple. It is excellent with sharp cheese before or after dinner, or to complement desserts. We also love to pour it over ice cream.”

To be completely  honest, no one chose between the two ciders. We just started out with small tasting pours of each. The Virtue was phenolic, leathery and dry. It brought out the apple beautifully. There’s classic cider wisdom of putting cherry and apple together for a reason. For folks afraid of doing a dry cider with a sweet dessert, don’t be. Just choose a cider that has lots of flavor in addition to being dry. 

And the Champlain Honeycrisp started off with aromas of golden raisins and melted into twingey acid and beautifully balanced sweetness. Alex says it’s the best ice cider he’s had in his life. It was as much a pairing for the maple notes of the dessert as the apple, and that was heart-stoppingly good.

The whole dinner and birthday celebration was such a wonderful time. I feel so lucky to share evenings of food and cider with my amazing friends.