Crispin and Cheese: Anatomy of a Pairing

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Cheese is a uniquely companionable food — beyond pairing with wine and beer, it also teams up nicely with artisanal hard cider. Here, two local cheese experts weigh in on pairing Crispin Hard Cider with complementary cheeses and other flavors.

Victoria Potts is the owner of Grass Roots Gourmet. Her fromager philosophy: The cheese does not stand alone — it likes company. And the best company is the hometown crowd. Whether you’re in Paris or Peoria (or the TC), artisan cheese is happiest with other local product raised in the same soil and climate.

Crispin Light strikes me as tart but delicate. My favorite pairings with Light are:

Chevre (Donnay Dairy, Kimball, MN) topped with a dab of Ginger-Pear preserves (Lucille’s Kitchen Garden, St. Paul): The cheese and cider have a nice interplay of fresh and tangy flavors, the preserves add a little spice and fruit to keep the whole thing from puckering your tongue.

Prairie Breeze (Milton Creamery, Milton, IA): technically a cheddar, but really just a classic Heartland farmstead table cheese with a direct but well-behaved pasture flavor that works beautifully with the refreshing qualities of the cider. Produced by an Amish co-op, the cheesemaker just turned 18 (we’re very proud of him).

Cranberry Summer Sausage (Prairie Pride, Mankato, MN): LOTS of cranberries in the sausage make a nice sweet-tart complement to the cider, not to mention the classic affinity between pork and apples (the pork seems to accentuate the apple in the cider).

Smoked Almonds (Barsy’s Almonds, Minneapolis): Barsy’s takes care to retain the basic flavor of the nut during roasting, so the smoke flavor kicks in as a nice finish — the first and most important taste you get is the affinity between almonds and apples. Again, this is a case where the complement (the almond) brings out the apple flavor in the cider.

Crispin Brut strikes me as dry but not tart, with a mild-to-medium apple flavor. My favorite pairings with Brut are:

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Mellage (Carr Valley Cheese Company, La Valle, WI): a fairly miraculous cheese that combines cow, goat, and sheep milk. Under the right conditions, you can taste the distinct flavor of all three milks. Crispin Brut is one of those conditions: The apple flavor is strong enough to enhance all three milks individually, not so strong that it competes with any.

Apple Smoked Cheddar (Carr Valley Cheese Company, La Valle, WI): a medium white cheddar very lightly smoked with fruit wood, then hand-rubbed with a deeply flavored smoked paprika. The balance of smoked flavors in the cheese is special on its own, but the Brut marries the two at a crazy-good level.

La Rossa Prosciutto (La Quercia, Norwalk, IA): buttery, acorn-y, a little more porky, a little less salty than most imported prosciuttos. Brut seems to me the perfect complement: I taste apple in the cider like I taste pork in the proscuitto and the two flavors really talk. Also, the cider’s just dry enough cut the buttery quality of the meat, which is lovely but can get a bit gunky with richer bevvies.

Dried Apple Chips (Ames Farm, Watertown, MN): These chips have clear apple flavor like Brut, a crisp texture like potato chips. This pairing is all about exploring how mouth feel affects your experience of apple flavor. May thru October, spread your apple chips with Granite Ridge (slightly aged goat cheese, seasonal specialty at Donnay Dairy, Kimball, MN) – THE best.

Crispin Original strikes me as very apple-y, a little musky like wind falls. My favorite pairings with Original Crispin are:

Marieke Fenugreek Gouda (Holland’s Farm, Thorp, WI): buttery, nutty flavors of classic Dutch-style Gouda with a mind-blowing maple-y / butterscotch-y finish; works magic with the slightly musky flavor of the cider.

Dante (Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Co-op, Strum, WI): classic medium sharp and salty bite of an aged cheese with the slightly earthy (mushroomy) flavors of sheep milk – exceptional counterpoint to a fruity-earthy cider.

Smoked Trout – plain or maple (Star Prairie Trout Farm, Star Prairie, WI): When I order trout from Star Prairie, that fish is still swimming. The fish is just fresh but trouty enough, Crispin’s Original is just fresh and fruity enough — this is a particularly special local pairing.

Hazelnuts (good luck finding them): We don’t produce a lot of hazelnuts in this part of the country, but what we produce is stellar. If you can find them, lightly toasted hazelnuts would be THE perfect complement to Crispin Original and anything — trotters, head cheese, Kraft Singles, I don’t care. Local hazelnuts and local cider rock like oysters and champagne can only dream of.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Crispin Honey Crisp (man! this stuff is good!) strikes me as rich, mildly spicy, but there’s still a very fresh, unprocessed flavor of apple. My favorite pairings with Honey Crisp are:

Bent River (Alemar Cheese, Mankato, MN) topped with Cranberry-White Balsamic Chutney (Lucille’s Kitchen, St. Paul, MN): a downright naughty cheese (gooey, full-flavored), paired with spicey-fruity pickle, paired with fragrant warm cider – all grown together in the same soil and climate. We’re talking serious affinity.

Northern Lights (Joe Sherman, St. Paul): great balance of earthy (think mushrooms) and mineral (think salty) and fresh, grassy milk. Blues and dessert wine are a classic European pairing: rich and funky. For my money, Northern Lights and Honey Crisp are the new classic from the Heartland: rich and fresh.

Bison Summer Sausage (Big Woods Bison, Nerstrand, MN): Bison and honey have two things in common that few other foods share: They’re equally rich but clean in flavor. Bison sausage and Honey Crisp Cider are a match ordained in heaven. If you want to take it up to the next level, toss in:

Pickled Beets (Angelica’s Garden, Elmwood, WI) – organic, pricey, and worth every penny. Exquisitely compatible with Honey Crisp — clean and spicy.

Becca Dilley is a Minneapolis-based photographer who shoots weddings, food, and products. A native Wisconsinite, she’s also the photographer and co-author of
The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin.

Crispin LightThe challenge with Crispin Light is to play with the flavor without overpowering it, and also to build off of the light texture.

Pairing – Crave Brothers mascarpone. Made on a farmstead creamery in Wisconsin, this mascarpone is sweet, delicate in texture, and incredibly fresh. It’s light on its feet in a way that matches Crispin Light’s delicate taste.

Crispin Original Apple flavor is more pronounced in this Crispin varietal.

Pairing – Bucheron from the Montechevre creamery in Wisconsin. The burcheron has a creamy and slightly funky umami flavor. It pairs with the sweeter notes of the original without enhancing the sweetness or making the cider too cloying.

Crispin BrutThis is a drier varietal.

Pairing – Emmentaler-style Swiss cheese from Edelweiss Creamery in Wisconsin. The Emmenthaler has some dry and sour notes that complement those elements of the brut.

Crispin Honey CrispThis is a stronger flavor than the other varietals, more robust and layered.

Pairing – Billy Goat Blue from Carr Valley Cheese Company in Wisconsin. This blue has a lot of the creaminess of a chevre, and none of the real ammonia flavors of some blue cheeses — the blue cheese umami is a great counterpoint to the sweet cider without overpowering it.

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