While I’m overtly a beer enthusiast, I really enjoy anything artisanal, be it wine, coffee or food…like most of you I’m sure! I’m therefore thrilled to share that this month, pairing up with Cidrerie Milton’s “Exploration Series” offered not just a stimulating challenge, but yielded some surprisingly satisfying results! Initially I had concerns that the apple-dominant flavour profile of cider might not lend itself to the diversity of crackers pairing that beer does. However, as you’ll see, each cider in the series is uniquely characterful enough that there was a lot of room to play. And hey, wine is made from the same amount of ingredients as cider, and that has plenty complexity. Lastly, as with my previous cheese article, I’ve taken the opportunity not just to pair crackers with beverage, but to add a third, boosting Aperitivo/tapas to each match to give you a whole night’s degustation.
Cider : Premiere Station, French inspired cider, 7%
Enhancer : Roast pork cold cuts
Crackers Season 2 : Balsam Fir & Garlic
OR Fennel & Black Pepper
The most approachable of the series, Premiere Station is light bodied, dry and tart, structured with very pleasant apple-skin tannin. It’s reminiscent of a brown glass, swing-top bottle I drunk as a teenager in a Normandy farmers market. The fennel and pepper crackers elevates the subtle phenols of the yeast profile nicely. A cold, rosemary infused slice of leftover roast pork will benefit greatly from this liquid apple sauce, and indeed will pair well with the balsam fir and garlic crackers, if you’re a lesser fan of anise flavours.
Cider : Hollyhop, American coastal inspired hopped cider, 6%
Enhancer : Chilled mussels escabeche
Crackers Season 2 : Balsam Fir & Garlic
The classic West-coast hop combination of Citra, Cascade & Chinook of the Hollyhop gives at once a much more fruity and less resinous flavour profile than I expected. Aromatics of lychee and tinned peach on the nose bely a punchy, lime acidity and a woody depth, that harmonizes perfectly with the piney cracker. Cold mussels on the half shell with notes of thyme, shallot and white wine would be divine. The acidity and dryness of the cider should accentuate the subtle sweetness of the seafood while the delicate fruit and herb aromatics twinkle.
Cider : Les Arpents Jaunes, Rural cider, 7%
Enhancer : Greek yoghurt & honey with Season 2 crumble
Crackers Season 2 : Newfoundland Sea Salt & Olive Oil
Buttery buttery! While remaining dry enough and still relatively light in body, there is a warmth and a depth to this version which separated it from the pack. Round and textured, Les Arpents Jaunes is also the most apple-y in the traditional fruit sense. It incorporates nuances of both fresh and cooked varieties, in part probably due to a warmer maceration. The Sea Salt & Olive Oil crackers are the perfect “Boost” style of pairing; the cereal and salt aspects in conjunction with the full fruit and dairy flavours create delicious apple pie vibes. A small pot of Greek yoghurt, drizzled with honey, and some crumbled Saison 2 crackers on top marries playfulness to a dessert-like comfort.
Cider : Honeycrisp Sour, Laurentian inspired cider, 6.5%
Enhancer : Maple-candied bacon
Crackers Season 2: Habanero & Paprika
This peach-orange, pink highlighted, sunset in a glass is a real treat for the eye. On the nose, a mead-like dry honey note mingles with Brettanomyces barnyard and lactic cream hints. To my taste, Honeycrisp Sour is the most intense on the palate, wild yeasts have added a forceful acidity, but Dolgo crab-apples and the plentiful lees give the body a fuller fruit-juice mouthfeel to balance. Tart cranberry and leather to finish, it’s punchy! I found the Habanero & Paprika cracker, faced with such intensity, softened in the way you’d encounter in a fermented sweet chilli paste. A couple of luxurious slivers of maple-candied bacon would add some comforting fat and sugar to counteract the capsaicin heat and the vigorous acidity of the cider, while the leathery Brett and smoky pork get on famously.
Cider : Txotx, Basque inspired farmhouse cider, 9%
Enhancer : Pintxo of pickled guindilla pepper, white anchovy and olive
Crackers Season 2 : Habanero & Paprika
Ever since a visit to Brooklyn Cider House, New York, the Basque style, caught in overflowing cups directly from the barrel, has captured my heart. Bracingly crisp, bone dry, exploding with wild yeast notes of pear drop candies that surf on a woody funk undercurrent. The acid intensity of Txotx transports me back to a couple of great Quebec sour beers macerated on yellow plums. The fennel crackers slide comfortably into this particular family of aromatics and would work fine as a pairing, but I found something about the pepper heat of the Habanero crackers better reflected the soul of the drink. Throw in a geographically inspired pairing of Pintxo of pickled guindilla peppers, white anchovy and olive skewer, and the paprika piquancy of the biscuit takes on an even greater significance.
Cider : Malaventure, Coastline inspired cider evoking Belgian Kriek, 7%
Enhancer : Duck prosciutto
Crackers Season 2 : Fennel & Black Pepper
Much like the Honeycrisp Sour in many ways, the final cider Malaventure is built around a substantial red fruit acidity redolent of a Berliner Weiss or a young Burgundy. To wit, there is more earth and wood, both in aroma and in tannin. There’s also a through-line of salinity whose origin I can’t quiet explain. The Fennel & Black Pepper crackers are designed to eat with the aforementioned beers, so fit naturally here as enhancers of the tart red fruit, the cracked black pepper playing off its mineral salt twin. Some thinly sliced duck prosciutto with a decent amount of satiating fat is gamey enough to stand up for itself, and a great pairing for the berry and forest floor flavours.
Tinned Octopus. I honestly could have put just cold, tinned octopus in olive oil with all of these pairings. If anyone has one lying around in the cupboard, lucky you!