Food and drink matching

Core values - cider and food matching

By Robyn Black

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cider

Merrydown cider is made with culinary apples making it a versatile match for food
Merrydown cider is made with culinary apples making it a versatile match for food
Robyn Black mulls over ideas for matching cider and food

As every pub-quiz boffin knows, the famed ‘méthode Champenoise’ (by which Champagne is made) was in fact invented by plucky British cider makers, back in the 17th century cider boom.

England’s wine

“There are several reasons why cider works well with food,” says Henry Chevallier-Guild, partner at Suffolk-based cider maker Aspall.

“It can cover all the same bases as wine because it has the structure and acidity to do so, and there’s also the small matter of tannins (which generate the astringent, mouth-puckering flavours).

“To me, these seem much smoother in cider than in wine and compete less with the food. It’s also true that there is enough variety of apples, blends and methods of cider making to rival wine.”

The company is currently working with Young’s and Geronimo pubs, hosting a series of ticketed food and cider-matching evenings (a programme that has been expanded after selling out last year). It is also challenging the group’s chefs to cook with cider.

This has already resulted in some notable successes, such as the Aspall’s braised spare ribs with sweet apple syrup (£4.50) that are flying off the bar snacks menu at the Castle in south-west London’s Tooting.

Great British ingredients

Over at the Stable group, it is a match of pizza and cider that is flying off the menu, as the company prepares to open its seventh venue.

Now 51% owned by Fuller’s, the business was founded in 2006 by Richard and Nikki Cooper, who believed that pizza done well, and with a local twist, would be popular.

“Bread and cheese both go well with cider, and pizza is nothing if not a riff on bread and cheese,” says marketing manager Andy Delbridge.

Best-sellers at the chain include the West Country porker (chorizo, tomato & mozzarella topped with rocket, £11) and Longhorn Jim pizza (marinated ground beef, chorizo, red onions, mushrooms & ham, £13.50).

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pork-based pizzas give some of the best and most popular matches with cider,” Delbridge says. “We would always recommend a light, crisp cider with those to cut through the fattiness of the meat. However, there is far more variety in cider than most people are aware of, so we often recommend sweeter styles for a spicy pizza, such as our Ruby Murray, made with spiced lamb meatballs, garam masala and fresh coriander.”

Perfect for pub grub

The rise of casual dining has also had a positive effect on the cider category, which has a more democratic appeal than wine, and cider producers have been quick to try and cash in on this — including Merrydown owner SHS Drinks.

“There are two main drivers behind our decision to promote Merrydown with food,” explains marketing director, alcohol, Debs Carter.

“The first is the rise in casual dining over the past five years, which has been hugely relevant for target Merrydown consumers (men and women aged between 30 and 40).

“The second is the fact that other drinks categories have done it so well. We have been inspired by wine, most obviously, but also with what brewers have done with beer and food during the past decade.”

She also argues that, as Merrydown is made with culinary apples which are sweeter than traditional bittersweet cider varieties, it is a better and more versatile match than other ciders for food.

To promote this, the company has joined forces with comedian and Celebrity Masterchef winner Adrian Edmonson, who has created several recipes for pubs using the cider, providing them with a twist on pub classics, including pork & apple pasties, coq au cider and even pears poached in cider brandy for pudding.

Carter adds: “Good pubs are always looking for ways to differentiate themselves and these are recipes that work in the real world: this isn’t just about gastropubs,” she adds.

Celebrity chefs

It’s an opinion echoed by Westons, the Herefordshire cider maker behind such brands as Stowford Press and Old Rosie, as head of UK sales, Geoff Brandman, explains: “Our evidence shows that consumers are actively seeking new experiences and food-matching can help non-cider drinkers to try cider for the first time, while cider drinkers are encouraged to buy food they may not have considered before.” He advises pub chefs interested in exploring this further, to “keep it simple and straightforward and ensure the food is well-liked.

“Offer two or three main ciders with food-pairing options and a guest cider with a revolving menu option.

“And providing tasting notes adds a different dimension to your menu.”

Thatchers is also hoping to inspire pubs and restaurants to introduce cider and food-pairings to menus.

It is working with Tim Maddams, ex-head chef at River Cottage, as well as Bini Ludlow, who runs Sweet Cumin, a cookery school in the south-west, to come up with some inspiring matches.

Curry nation

“We don’t believe that anyone has really explored in-depth cider and food-pairing as we’ve been doing in recent months,” says managing director Martin Thatcher.

“In particular our lighter ciders such as Thatchers Rose, and Thatchers Katy, work amazingly well with chilli and spicy flavours, really cleansing the palate. We believe operators should start to choose cider over lager and beer for these kinds of dishes.”

Ludlow, whose school specialises in Indian food, has come up with several stellar matches including bateta varas (creamed potato balls with chilli and coriander) alongside a light cider such as Thatchers Katy, and her spicy chicken wings (made with green and red chillies, coriander, garam masala, tandoori powder and cumin) matched to a medium cider, such as Thatchers Gold.

“Judging by the response we’ve had from consumers, pub operators and chefs, we are really excited by the potential of matching cider with food,” Thatcher says. “It’s certainly not a step too far — in fact, it is being welcomed with open arms — and operators can see how introducing something new like this can help their business.”

The five Cs of cider and food-matching

Cream:​ There’s enough acid and fruit flavour in cider to really slice through creamy dishes. As well as cream-based sauces, think about velvet-textured dishes such as risottos and stuffed or baked pasta with medium-bodied, medium-dry ciders.

Curry:​ Spicier dishes, especially those with a creamier slant such as tarka dhal, mutter paneer or butter chicken, work well with richer, bolder ciders.

Cheese:​ Given that Normandy does its own line in great cider, the region’s famed cheeses such as Camembert are a good bet, as well as British classics such as cheddar and Wensleydale.

Chops:​ Pork is a classic marriage with apple and goes way beyond chops: think Sunday roasts, sausages & mash, pork pie and black pudding, as well as ham hock and gammon. Look for light to medium-bodied ciders to match.

Chicken & crustaceans:​ Think what works with white wine and replace with light, delicate ciders. Try mussels, fish pies and fish & chips, as well as chicken casseroles, Caesar salad or chicken & ham pie.

Case study

The Jolly Butchers, London

A menu and tap takeover of this London Village Inn pub in north London last May by Welsh cider maker Hallets was hailed a storming success.

“It was the first time we’ve run such an event with a cider maker, although we do them regularly with brewers,” explained manager Ozan Aydin.

The evening consisted of an expanded range of Hallets ciders available at the bar plus a chance to meet the cider maker. About 60% of the menu was given over to dishes cooked with cider.

The most popular meals included mussels with spring onions, cream & Hallets Heartbreaker cider (£9.95); apple & butternut squash risotto made with perry (£8.95); and lamb chops with Lyonnaise potatoes & cider gravy (£10.50).

The dishes proved so successful that Aydin now regularly adds cider-based dishes to the specials board, he says.

“People are familiar with the idea of beer and food but cider and food is a little different. It also means you can play with lighter dishes, as a lot of beer and food-pairings are quite heavy.”

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