Cider at the Table

A strategy for pairing food and drink

Written by Meredith Collins, photo by Michael Welch

With fall freezing into winter, it’s time to stay warm with your heartiest recipes.

But you don’t have to trade in the ciders that were so exciting during apple season. The science of hard cider pairing can help you match robust meals with delicious nectar all winter long.

Amazing heirloom apples grow here in the Finger Lakes, and because of their tremendous variety there’s a perfect local cider pairing for every food. Three features of cider that make it especially good for coldweather foods are high acid, effervescent bubbles and an alcohol content (ABV) between 6.9 and 10%.

Acidity translates to tartness, one of the five basic tastes. In pairing a tart cider with food, you can match it with other tart dishes (like cranberry relish), contrast it with other big flavors (like eggplant parmesan), or cut richness (fondue, anyone?). Any of these strategies can work with Finger Lakes ciders.

As for bubbles, they keep your palate fresh and receptive to the nuances of your food. They literally scrub your taste buds! Carbonation isn’t required in cider—plenty of tasty still ciders exist—but a little sparkle can elevate a pairing. Some ciders even resemble champagne (look for “naturally sparkling” on the label). The contrast here isn’t just flavor, but texture.

Finally, ABV doesn’t just measure how tipsy you’ll feel. Alcohol also translates to mouthfeel: The boozier the beverage, the fuller it tends to be. Because cider’s ABV splits the difference between beer and wine, it’s light but still has enough body to balance a winter feast. Cider won’t disappear, even when you’re serving something rich.

If you’re looking for a place to start with winter cider pairings, try this winter treat: Serve Black Diamond’s 2017 Porter’s Perfection Golden Russet (made in Trumansburg, NY) with a mushroom risotto topped with delicata squash. The cider’s acidity will cut and contrast the rich caramel flavors of the squash and the mushrooms’ umami. The drink will help to prevent palate fatigue while you savor notes of mango, homemade applesauce and grippy tannins. You’ll thank me.

Meredith Collins has been reviewing hard cider for more than six years at She has judged cider for national and international competitions including the Good Food Awards.

This article originally appeared in the January-February 2020 Issue of the magazine.

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