Interview by Meredith Clarke
Every beverage has its best friend: red wine and red meat, white wine and fish, Guinness and bangers and mash, and the Daiquiri and Ernest Hemingway novels. But what about cider? We sat down with Mark Grimaldi, owner of The Cellar D’Or Wine and Cider in Ithaca, to learn more about cider and how to pair it with foods.
Edible Finger Lakes: How would you describe the different flavor elements of cider?
Mark Grimaldi: You can really break it down regionally. Some ciders from Brittany have a yeast that gives off a farm-y, funky, Band-Aid-type aroma. It adds complexity. I know that a French cider’s going to be tannic, dry, rich, rustic. A Spanish cider’s going to be tart, sour, dry, there’s not going to be many bubbles, it’s going to have a vinegar aspect to it. Finger Lakes ciders can be really mineral-y, sweet or dry–they’re all over the map really.
EFL: Tell me a little more about Finger Lakes ciders.
MG: I honestly believe Finger Lakes ciders are some of the best in the country. I’m starting to understand that you can get a real, crisp minerality to them, and they can be these really deeply complex, dry ciders. They’ve got more than just apple notes; it’s a citrusy, fermented beverage. Take Redbyrd, Eve’s and South Hill, for example.
EFL: So do you have a favorite Finger Lakes cider?
MG: You know, I have to say the Cloud Splitter from Redbyrd really blew me away when it came out in 2013. To me, it was almost like drinking a Loire Valley white wine or a Sauvignon Blanc. The white wine aromatic basically leaps out of the glass. It’s citrusy and you can almost smell the minerality of it. It’s just beautiful.
EFL: In general, how do you go about pairing cider with food?
MG: I take everything from a wine basis because that’s what I was bred on. You can apply the same concepts you have with wine pairings, like sweet wines go with sweet foods. If you have a spicy food, you wouldn’t want a high alcohol, crisp, dry wine (or cider) because it’ll accentuate the heat. You’d want sugar to cut it. Sometimes I look at cider from a beer drinker’s perspective since some ciders can be almost yeasty or bread-y, or even citrusy like a Hoegaarden or Heffeweitzen, and I apply those concepts in the same way.
EFL: Any suggestions for everyday food pairings?
MG: A lot of people like to pair cider with barbecue or pulled pork. Some like to glaze pork chops with cider then drink cider with it, too. Things that aren’t super sweet, like tarts and pies, go really nicely with the off-dry ciders. But you can go really sweet if you take the iced cider route. The more sour Spanish ciders would pair really well with vinegar-y things like salads.
EFL: What should we be eating with cider that we aren’t?
MG: Cider and cheese is a ridiculously good combination. We did this amazing pairing here not too long ago. We matched a dry New England cider with a cloth-bound farmhouse cheddar. Sick. The bubbles just lifted the fatty cheddar right off your palate. It was the perfect pairing. Then we paired a funky, ammonia-ridden blue cheese from northern Spain with the Spanish cider. Perfect. We did a triple creme with the French. Great. The tannic acidity just lifts the fat right from the cheese.
EFL: Here’s a challenge for you: What kind of cider would I drink if I was eating braised chicken, pesto egg noodles, and sautéed Brussels sprouts and onions?
MG: Okay. The chicken’s going to be chicken-y. Pesto, garlic-y, spicy. Egg noodles, rich. Onions and Brussels sprouts, caramelized roast-y, sugary goodness. That’s a tough one. I would say Redbyrd’s Workman’s Semi-Dry or Eve’s Beckhorn Hollow. They have a richer apple-y texture and palate that would stand up to the richness of that dish.
EFL: One more: What about smoked blue fish with capers and onions on a bed of arugula?
MG: So blue fish is dark, super oily. Arugula, snappy, spicy. Capers, salty. I’m gonna have to go with a dry, mineraly, crisp cider. Maybe Black Diamond’s SlateStone or Redbyrd’s Workman Dry. The tart, pickled flavor of the capers drew me to something crisp and tart to match. It’d be good to have some acidity to cut the oil of the fish, too. We also carry cider from Blackduck, and this guy makes cider like no one in America. They have green olive notes, they’re funky, dirty, vinegar-y, tart, sour. If you really want to push that pairing limit, there could be a really great marriage of funk.
136 E. State Street, 607.319.0500. thecellardor.com
Meredith Clarke was a summer writing intern for Edible Finger Lakes.