A few years ago, I met up with a few friends at one of the girls’ home in New Hampshire. It was a beautiful fall weekend, and we took full advantage of the gorgeous setting and great company. After a long hike in the woods, we headed to a nearby orchard to pick apples and to simply enjoy that golden afternoon sunshine. We picked and picked until each of us was laden with bushels of apples, and headed into the orchard store to pay up, not realizing that Poverty Lane Orchard was also home to Farnum Hill Cider. Up until that point, I had only experienced cider in two forms: the unfiltered apple juice that you buy by the jug and the cider you buy in a bar, like Magners or Strongbow. That afternoon, in the cabin-like tasting room, I tried apple cider that was like nothing I had ever tasted–more like a dry champagne made from apples than the sweet, fizzy stuff I had previously known as cider. As I tasted each offering, I fell more and more in love. We each bought a bottle (or two) and later that night, we all managed to have a rip-roaring good time in front of the fire.
While I wish I could get up to that beautiful part of the world every fall (and see those friends more often), I keep those nice memories alive by buying the same cider here in Boston. Farnum Hill Cider offers up a few different types of cider, from their more casual Farmhouse or Dooryard ciders, to the Extra-Dry (which really is comparable to a Brut Champagne), to their unique and earthy Kingston Black. And, as it turns out, these ciders pair wonderfully with my other favorite fall treat: cheese.
With that in mind, I decided to throw a bit of a fall cheese and cider party this season. With a bit of prior research, a lot of nibbling, and the expertise of others (including my friend Jess and the guru behind the counter at my favorite local cheese shop), we pulled together a great-tasting fall cheese plate. I wanted to share a bit of what I learned.
The first cheese that usually comes to mind when serving cider is always include a hearty cheddar, such as Vermont’s venerable Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. Created at Cabot, but aged to perfection at the smaller Cellars at Jasper Hills, this English-style cheddar is nutty, sweet and savory and goes with just about anything. One of the reasons why the Clothbound Cheddar goes so well with Farnum Hill Cider is because it is made within an hour from the orchards at Poverty Lane in Lebanon, New Hampshire.
With that in mind, we also tried a cheese from Landaff, NH (also called Landaff), which is located about sixty miles to the north. This semi-firm cheese is similar to cheddar, but features a milder taste, allowing for the grassy, herbal flavor to come through. We loved tasting the Landaff’s almost buttery quality against the bubbles of Farnum Hill’s extra-dry sparkling cider.
In my goal of having a well-rounded cheese plate, I knew I would have to mix it up with a goat cheese. Lucky for me, the helpful man at the cheese counter suggested the Sainte-Maure Belgique, which is probably the smoothest, tastiest goat cheese I have ever had the pleasure of eating. I had begun to think that all goat cheese was becoming crumbly and tangy, which made me shy away from goat cheese in recent years. Not this stuff. Light, mild, and oh-so-creamy, this is the type of goat cheese you dream about.
We also tasted a really nice, almost-stinky Camembert and a semi-hard, mild cheese from the Basque region of France that was really lovely alongside the cider (makes sense as France makes some incredible cider). And of course, I had to add a good quality aged Gouda to the mix (as I’ve discovered, if Lady Gouda doesn’t bring gouda to a cheese party, we’ve got a problem!) I’ve fallen in love with the aged Goudas–wedges of darker orange cheese, dotted with those little white specks of calcified salt. SO good. These great Goudas are getting easier to find, and I’ve seen them frequently at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and in my local grocery store. This is always a great cheese to add to any cheese plate.
But guess what? You need more than cheese to make a truly great cheese plate. The following are a few suggestions of what goes well with these fall flavors, bringing out the most in your cheese:
- A savory, crunchy side, like these sweet and spicy nuts with rosemary, from an Ina Garten recipe.
- A solid side dish, like the pear and ham crostini that Jess and her husband made while we were sipping cider. They started by toasting up quality bread in a warm oven, then spread each crostini with homemade honey-mustard, thin slices of salty ham, and then topped with pear slices.
- A few choices of additional little spreads or jams, such as good local honey, fig jam or apple butter.
- An assortment of fruit, such as pear or apple slices, or a bunch or two of beautiful fall grapes, such as inky-black Concord grapes.
And my favorite addition to our fall cheese plate was this Apple Compote. Made with local apples, minced shallot, mustard, bay leaves and the same cider that we were drinking, this fall chutney was a lovely addition to our little party.
Final words on putting together a fall or holiday cheese plate: No matter which cheeses you choose for your fall cheese plate, try to find a good variety and let them come to room temperature before you serve them. Most cheese needs about 45 minutes to an hour to warm up enough to impart its full flavor. Don’t be afraid to ask for help at your local cheese shop or at your market’s cheese counter. They are there to help! For more information on the cheese I mentioned above, or to specially order your own, Formaggio Kitchen has a fantastic and knowledgeable guide on their website.
More about cider:
I’m not the only one who has fallen for these new (old) hard ciders. The beverage that was once the most popular drink in America is now experiencing an incredible re-birth, led by small farms from New England to Michigan to Washington state. While I first fell for Farnum Hill, I am excited to taste cider from these orchards:
- West County Cider, from Western Massachusetts
- Bellwether Cider, from upstate New York
- Tandem Ciders, from Michigan
- Alpenfire Cider, from Washington
For more information, see these articles:
- What Would John Adam Drink? Get ready for the rebirth of Cider in America, from Slate
- Our Favorite American Hard Ciders, from Bon Appetit
- The Next Wine Bar: Will Apples Supplant Grapes at Your Favorite Bar? From Tasting Table
- The Hard Cider Buzz, from Food & Wine
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