How to Pair Cider, the Jewish Way

I’m back! The posting schedule is still a bit less frequent due to Sukkot, but there is a Sukkot treat I did want to remind you of: cider! It may seem very much like a non-Jewish beverage, but cider and other apple-based beverages in fact have deep Jewish roots: “wines,” particularly for sacred use, were often made from the fruit in an Eastern Europe where grapes were not readily available. (These would be understood as ciders or liqueurs today.) Going back even further, the word for cider derives, via Latin, from the Hebrew word shekhar, which means both “liqueur” and “hooch.” (It is the origin of the Yiddish shikker.)

Ciders on my windowsill
Two of my cider acquisitions: Gurutzeta Sigardoa from the Basque Country, and Aval Cidre from France. (Photo mine, October 2016)

On a recent weekend, I had the opportunity to go to a cider tasting held at the Astor Center, led by the wonderful Tess Rose Lampert. (This was a birthday present from a dear friend.) During the workshop, in which we tasted seven delicious ciders, we were given tasting recommendations. Naturally, my mind wandered to the Jewish culinary traditions…and the ciders were so good that I couldn’t resist sharing these with you! Thus, in this table: our ciders!

The Cider The Taste We were told… The Jewish pairing
Wölffer No. 139 Dry Rosé Cider – it’s from Long Island and a mix of apple cider and a bit of grape juice. (NB: if you follow many interpretations of kashrut on wine, this is not kosher.) It’s a slightly bitter, but crisp cider with a nice fizzy aftertaste and simple aroma. The taste is quite light. This can go with anything – cheese, meats, salads – or even on its own. This would go well with some dishes that have delicate flavors – for example, sambusak, pumpkin fritters, or keftes de prasa. The bitter and crisp flavors would balance out the earthiness of leeks or chickpeas quite nicely.
Gurutzeda Sagardoa Sidra Natural – a cider from the Basque country that is cloudy. The smell is very fermented – a bit like kombucha or a very aged sauerkraut. The taste is incredible – an exact balance of bitter and sweet with a mysterious and dancing richness on the tongue. This cider is one of the best I have ever had and there is now a bottle in my pantry waiting for Sukkot. (On my notepad this cider is marked with “!!!!!!!!” and “This is the herring cider.”) Funky cheese and fatty foods – one example given was a rich risotto. This is the cider that would go well with herring – especially matjes herring, which is quite fatty and salty. (Or a herring marinated in beer.) I could also pair this with something served with gribenes (an upcoming blog recipe).
Pilton Somerset Keeved Cider – this one is from England and is produced using keeving, a slow and cold fermentation method. (The method is similar to how Lithuanian Jews would make fruit wines in the 19th century.) The cider itself is very clear and sparkly, and has a very musty smell. The taste is a bit like an alcoholic bitter apple, with a pleasant acidic twang. This is another cider for easy drinking. This cider is easy to pair but would go well with roast meats, soups, and cheeses. I would pair this with the “traditional” Ashkenazi canon – chicken soup, potato kugel, tzimmes and brisket, or p’tcha (another upcoming blog recipe). The lightness of the cider balances out the heaviness of the food.
“Lost and Found” Cider, Shacksbury – this cider is from Vermont and made with foraged heirloom apples from early 20th century varieties. The smell of this cider is a very pleasant one – a honey or floral smell, like that of quinces. The taste is clean and tart, with a hint of caramel. Turkey, smoked meat, and roasted vegetables – very American pairings for a very American cider! I can see this one going well with two sets of Jewish dishes. One is the salty side – lox or the beloved Sephardi dried cod come to mind. Then there are the smoky-rich dishes: red cabbage with apples, a good shakshouka, for example, or even a corn kugel.
Millstone Cellars “Hopvine” Cider – this is a cider from Maryland brewed with hops, like beer, and honey. It is somewhat cloudy. The first smell that hits you is the hops – and hence this one has a vegetal, wheaty smell. The taste is earthy, crisp, and bitter, with some similarities to rhubarb. We were suggested sausage and cheese, since this cider would go well with the richness of Central European food. This one was a bit harder to pair, but I could see this going well with cabbage soup, stuffed cabbage, or cholent (yet another upcoming recipe, though I’m not the biggest fan).
Aval Cidre – this French cider is a dark caramel color, like other Norman ciders This cider smells like apples and quinces. The taste is a sweetish, caramelized one, with a hint of bitterness and a good dose of wild gamey-ness. In short, absolutely delicious. (This one also has “!!!!!!!!” and there is a four-pack waiting for Sukkot in my pantry.) Our teacher gave us a multitude of options: cheese, mushrooms, pastries, lighter meats, and even desserts. Or on its own. This cider is versatile and can go with so many things! The first few I thought of were kugels, tagines, and the Tunisian fish dish hraime. This is the cider I would pair with the chickpea, collard, and pumpkin stew I made for Rosh HaShanah.
Poiré, Cidrerie du Vulcain, J. Perritaz – this is a fizzy Swiss pear cider. The odor is musty and a bit tart, but the taste is incredibly sweet and has a jam-like and fatty quality. Our two suggestions were fatty and spicy food, or desserts. This is the cider to serve with noodle kugel or qatayef. The  sweetness would also make it a good pairing with latkes. Who is ready for Hanukkah?

Nota bene: some Orthodox kashrut traditions require that any cider consumed have a hechsher, or kosher seal. None of these ciders do. I, like many Jews, hold to a less stringent interpretation of kashrut and consider these ciders kosher. 

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