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Apples and Oranges

Boise restaurants experiment with unusual cider and food pairings

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Ask a sommelier what goes great with champagne and you'll often get an unexpected answer: French fries. Dry bubbly cuts the salty fat of the humble fried potato perfectly. So it should be no surprise that a bone-dry hard cider, with ample fizz and just the right amount of apple acidity, also tackles fried fare effortlessly. And almost all ciders--whether they're dry, off-dry, sour or sweet--pair amazingly well with cheese.

Though most local beer aisles boast a selection of soda-pop sweet hard ciders, a handful of new craft ciders are also starting to pop up on Boise shelves. And as a recent cider dinner at State and Lemp demonstrated, these more complex hard ciders can accentuate an astounding array of foods.

The dinner, which featured cidermaker Nat West of Reverend Nat's Hard Cider in Portland, Ore., matched seven delicately assembled, seasonal dishes with seven varieties of hard cider, some comprised of a single heirloom apple variety and others infused with things like hops, apricot juice, ginger, lime zest and lemongrass.

"For any given taste, any give food, we have a cider to pair it with," explained West.

To start things off, Reverend Nat's Revelation Newtown Pippin was paired with an airy bit of fried pig's ear, pickled mustard seed and fiddlehead ferns. The crunch of the fried pork and pop of the mustard seed were heightened by hints of tart apple in the light-bodied, effervescent, off-dry cider.

And things got more intricate from there. Hop-cured scallops balanced on a jiggly puddle of apple panna cotta and chive gelee were paired with Reverend Nat's Hallelujah Hopricot, a cider infused with Cascade hops, Belgian wit beer spices and fresh apricot juice. Morels stuffed with rabbit tenderloin, bathed in a pool of cedar mushroom broth and drizzled with smoky pimenton oil were matched with Reverend Nat's seasonal Br'er Rabbit, a slightly funky blend of fermented apple and carrot juice. Braised pork shoulder with sous vide leeks, charred ramp pickles and pea tendrils was served with West's personal favorite: the Revival Dry. Made with a blend of American heirloom eating apples and English bittersweet apples, West called this tannic, uber-dry cider "my proudest creation."

According to an article on Seriouseats.com, there are three primary things to consider when pairing cider and food. First, body: "Try to match the dish's heft with the body of your cider." Second, fat: "As the fat content in your dish goes up, so should the carbonation of your cider. The added bubbles will scrape your palate clean and prepare you to try the next bite." And finally, match flavors: "Try to bring out the flavors of the cider in your sauces and marinades, and look for ciders that share the essential flavors of your dish."

Less than a week after the State and Lemp dinner, Bittercreek Ale House also hosted a small cider and food pairing event. The evening featured flights of three Tieton Cider Works ciders--the Yakima Dry-Hopped Cider, the Cherry Blend and the Wind, a brandy-fortified, bourbon barrel-aged cider--along with a menu of suggested pairings, which included the housemade Kasespatzle with crispy onions; the Huntsman Burger with Gloucester cheddar, stilton blue and honey-glazed bacon; and the grilled pork chop with polenta, parmesan and truffle oil.

"We always have one cider on draft and several selections in bottle or can," explained Beverage Manager David Roberts. "Most ciders available to us are a little on the sweet side, limiting what they can be successfully paired with to menu items that are higher impact. Lots of cheeses mainly. A drier cider is more versatile and could venture into fish, salads and brighter deserts but will still stand up to pungent or sharp cheeses."

Chris Oates, owner of Bier:Thirty--which also offers hard cider on tap, along with a selection of bottles and cans--has a few cider pairing suggestions of his own. Though Oates says he cooks his mussels in a blend of cider and hefeweizen, he prefers a less obvious combo.

"The one I always recommend is our banh mi," said Oates. "It is spicy with a lot of herbal notes from basil and cilantro in the pickled daikon and carrots that are on top of the glazed pork. I like a semi-dry cider with it, something with a touch of sweetness to balance out the fat of the Sriracha mayo and tame the spiciness of the fresh jalapenos."

And Oates isn't the only person digging that pairing. Kerry Caldwell, head brewer at Edge Brewing Co., says Edge's house-made cider goes well with both the restaurant's banh mi--packed with Vietnamese pork meatballs, carrot-daikon radish slaw and jalapenos--and the habanero mango burger with sliced avocado and Swiss cheese.

"We try to always keep a cider on. It's made on our pilot system so it's only one keg at a time; sometimes it runs out before the next batch is ready," said Caldwell. "We do currently have one on. It's very sweet and apple juice-like. I'd pair it with the banh mi sando or the mango habanero burger."

For those who'd prefer to experiment with cider and food pairings in the comfort of their own home, Reverend Nat's Hard Cider will soon be available in a few bottle shops and restaurants around Boise. You can also find a selection of craft ciders at the Boise Co-op, Bier:Thirty, Brewer's Haven and Whole Foods.