Cheesemonger Challenge Graviva! Cider Pairing

Our pen pals at Tilted Shed Ciderworks have just released the 2012 vintage of GRAVIVA! their semidry cider featuring the Gravenstein, an endangered heirloom apple. We have yet to encounter any Tilted Shed ciders here on the East Coast but at UnitedStatesofCider they have been present in many of our cider daydreams. When we drink cider we usually enjoy it with our other favorite obsession-  cheese. So for the launch of this new batch of GRAVIVA! I dreamed up a few supporting players for this fantasy cider session.

Since I have not (yet) tried GRAVIVA! I am basing the pairings on Tilted Shed Ciderworks own tasting notes:

The Gravenstein sparkles in this bright, crisp cider. The refreshing acidity is balanced with a touch of sweetness. We sourced the Gravs and other heirloom cider apples for this blend from organic growers in the Sebastopol area. The Grav lends its lovely aromatics, while a mix of “bittersweet” apples—which were specially developed over the centuries for fermented cider—imparts lively tannins. This is Sonoma County heritage in a bottle. Viva la Grav!

Great as an aperitif or celebratory bubbly, or pair with aged cheeses, spicy foods, and a hammock. Silver medal winner at the 2013 Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition.

grav

 Some clues about the cider I pulled from this description:

  • “Bubbly” and “sparkles” = some type of carbonation or fizziness in the mouth
  • acidity
  • touch of sweetness
  • lively tannins

A brief ponderance on these qualities lead me to the following selections:

Cowgirl Creamery MT. TAM (from nearby Marin County, CA)
Bloomy rind, Triple Crème, Cow’s Milk
Tasting notes: Fresh Butter, whispers of Mushroom, Salt
Why this pairing?

  • Smooth and buttery. Triple crèmes must have at least 75% butterfat to be called such. It is achieved through the addition of cream or crème fraiche to the fresh curds. A decadent contrast to the often restrained qualities of cider.
  • Carbonation and Acidity from the cider will cut through the richness serving as a light and airy counterpoint to the dense and unctuous cheese.
  • The cheese is mild and fairly neutral, providing a creamy backdrop to show off the flavors in the cider. Apple or other fruit flavors when mingled with the cream flavors are likely to create the taste and mouthfeel of a fruit custard or cream pie.

The way I approach pairing is through the comparison of what I call Sameness or Differentness in the possible mates. I think about some traits of the focus item (in this case GRAVIVA! Cider), then scan through my taste memories in search of things that either share these traits or are very different. This particular pairing is an example of Differentness. In the case of Graviva! and Mt. Tam the cheese and cider have aspects (texture and flavor) that are opposite. Combining them brings more variety and enjoyment to the overall tasting experience. Opposites really do attract! Well sometimes. Too much differentness can produce negative results. One characteristic may overpower and obliterate the others or there might just be too many clashing flavors. It’s tricky; you’re looking for that perfect mixed doubles player who is going to complement your game, not a sparring partner to knock around.  Mt. Tam is a straightforward (albeit superb) little cloud that should showcase the cider without sacrificing any of its own flavors.

Laura Chenel CHABIS (Sonoma County, CA)
Fresh, Goats Milk
Tasting notes: Sweet Cream, Lemon
Why this pairing?

  • The textures of fresh goat’s milk cheeses are chalky, flaky and light.  The light and lively characteristics of both the cheese and cider should keep either from overpowering the other. Acidity in the cider and the tangy lemony flavors in cheese are evenly matched. This is an example of Sameness. There is no struggle between the two.
  • The effects of acidity may even get a lift from the combination, intensifying the trait in the cider without destroying the cheese.
  • Sonoma County terroir. French production methods. (Note: not all herds are in Sonoma County, some are across the border in Nevada.)

Another aspect in which Graviva! and Chabis share sameness, is in their origins. This is a tried and true pairing technique used for all sorts of foodstuffs and drinkstuffs everywhere. The influences of the soil and atmosphere somehow create an understanding among things even though they may express the effects differently. Things that grow together rarely brawl. The use of Old World methods in the New World is another parallel that appealed to me for this match up. Laura Chenel was a pioneer of chévre bringing the wonderful French tradition of goats’ milk cheeses to the USA in the 1970s. The beet and goat cheese salad craze we appreciate today may not have happened without her. Tilted Shed is utilizing traditional European cider making methods to preserve apples and a piece of American heritage a la the cider revival. Food can be very philosophical. Thought provoking pairings should not be underestimated as they may add another layer of satisfaction to the already enjoyable experience of consuming two virtuous cohorts such as cider and cheese.

Uplands PLEASANT RIDGE RESERVE (Wisconsin)
Firm, Aged, Raw Cow’s Milk
Tasting notes: Nutty, Grassy, with a hint of Sweetness
Why this pairing?

  • Both the dry, slightly crumbly cheese and the effervescent cider are on the light side, nothing heavy or dense in either.
  • The nut and vegetal tones in the cheese may tame the acid and tannins in the cider and bring out some fruit notes. Just a hunch.

This pairing has both sameness and differentness. Sameness in the textures.  Differentness in flavors. More complex than the other two cheese selections, Pleasant Ridge Reserve (especially the Extra-Aged editions) is fairly savory, and not at all tart. There is some sameness in flavor however with a “touch” or “hint” of sweetness described for both the cider and the cheese.  I am hoping this flavor echo is the thread that stitches it all into one very jolly amalgam.

If you are lucky enough to have Graviva! and any of these cheeses available to you I would love to hear your comments on the actual results of these pairings. Is it a cheese and cider dream come true? Nightmare? Somewhere in between? Only tasting will tell. Please share your experience.

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Turophile

Turophile- a connoisseur or lover of cheese
Example: the author of this blog

Rind

Rind(s)- the rind (also called crust) is a cheese’s outer covering, often a distinctly different texture from the interior (or paste), the purpose of which is to protect the interior and enable ripening. Rinds come in many forms- thick, thin, hard, soft, coated with ash, herbs, or spices, or covered with cloth or wax. There are many styles of rinds, the most commonly discussed are:

Bloomy Rinds- formed by a soft surface mold (penicillium candidum or penicillium camemberti) which “blooms” into a white fuzz then compressed or patted into a velvetty layer. Examples: Brie, Camembert, Robiola, Kunik

Washed Rinds- created by brushing or washing the surface of a cheese with liquid, which encourages development of a friendly bacteria (brevibacterium linens) which colors the rind orange or red. Examples: Epoisses, Grayson, Tallegio

Natural Rinds- form from contact with air, creating a hardened surface that can range from thin to thick. Examples: Gruyere, Caerphilly, Pecorino Toscano

Artificial Rinds- such as wax or plastic are used to prevent the growth of unwanted mold on the exterior of a cheese and also help the cheese retain moisture. Examples: Gouda, and most products from Yancey’s Fancy

One of the most debated topics and frequently asked questions at cheese counters around the world is “Do you eat the rind?”.

With the exception of Artificial Rinds all other rinds are technically edible. They may not however be very pleasing to you and you must judge for yourself whether or not to consume them. I always have at least one taste of the rind with a cheese and usually opt to keep eating it. The thickest natural rinds often have dank, musty, earthy flavors evocative of the caves and cellars they were aged in. Bloomy rinds are generally mild in flavor unless they’re overripe then can be bitter and salty. Washed Rinds can be sticky and sharp or slightly tough and earthy depending on the cheese. If these flavors distract you from enjoying the experience of eating cheese then I would never insist you force yourself. For me though, the rind is a reminder of the many layers of work, time, and tradition, that go into the making of a cheese and how those factors determine the miracle that becomes a specific cheese. I once heard a cheese maker respond “I worked hard on that rind” to an inquisitive cheese enthusiast pondering whether or not to eat the crust of his award winning wheels.

In my small circle of turophiles “Rind Eater” is one of the highest ranks we bestow upon each other. So before you discard the hard work of cheese makers (both human and microbial) everywhere, at least consider the rind.

Definitions Adapted from The Cheese Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst

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Microbial Diversity & Interactions Neals Yard Dairy Films

Fascinating chat about Microbial Diversity & Interactions from Neal’s Yard Dairy Films. See more cheese related content at Neal’s Yard Dairy YouTube channel.

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