America is in the midst of a hard cider boom, with upstate New York — a region known for its apple orchards — producing some of the finest, most delicious small-batch hard cider out there.
No matter where you turn — from Williamson’s Embark Craft Ciderworks and Rootstock Ciderworks to Rochester’s Blue Toad Hard Cider and Seed & Stone Cidery to Interlaken’s Finger Lakes Cider House — you’ll find somewhere great to sample some hard cider.
Why the surge in cider popularity? Contrary to the overly sugary and chemically suspect concoctions masquerading as hard cider in years past, today’s small-batch hard cider hits several sweet spots: it’s all natural and handcrafted, it comes in a variety of unique flavor profiles, and it’s gluten-free. What’s more, it’s not as sweet as you may think, with many ciders registering downright “dry” on the sweetness scale.
This fall, I’ve decided to host a cider tasting to celebrate my favorite fruit, introduce hard cider skeptics to this delicious libation and pay homage to our region’s orchard-based cider. While many area supermarket chains now feature a decent selection of regional ciders, I found the best selection at Beers of the World in Henrietta.
As the host, I’ll provide a few ciders, encourage guests to jump on the cider bandwagon (no cider: no entry!) and serve up some delicious food that goes well with cider. In keeping with the local spirit of the tasting, I intend to go the same route with the food.
What comestibles can cider-revelers expect?
We’ll start with two appetizers: salty bread from Fairport’s Amazing Grains Bread Co., thinly sliced and topped with artisanal goat cheese from Interlaken’s Lively Run Dairy, and honeycrisp apples from Webster’s Schutt’s Apple Mill, sliced and paired with some New York state sharp cheddar.
Moving on, we’ll feast on Flour City Pasta’s handcrafted basil garlic fettuccine enlivened with a creamy Gorgonzola sauce and Pontillo’s thin-crusted buffalo chicken pizza. Naturally, I’ll have Peppernutz’s small-batch hot sauce on hand for those seeking more heat!
We’ll finish with two desserts: homemade fried cakes (available throughout Rochester at many farm markets) and Cheesecake Eddie’s pumpkin swirl cheesecake.
Should the conversation ever falter and go uncomfortably quiet, I’m prepared to liven things up with a barrelful of fascinating facts that I encountered during my rigorous cider research. Figuring you’d be keen to have these conversation jump-starters, too, here they are: Hard cider has an alcoholic content similar to that of beer, with most ranging from 4.5 to 6%. In early America, its alcohol content made it safer to drink than the available (rancid) water, rendering it the “drink of the people,” from farmers to fighting men. President John Adams drank a tankard (16 ounces) of hard cider nearly every morning. Cider fell out of favor in the mid-1800s as immigrants arrived with their lagers and wines. Prohibition didn’t help, nor did unusually cold winters that destroyed millions of apple trees. It takes 36 apples to make one gallon of cider!
Finally — are you sitting? — this last juicy fact will shake you to the core: the iconic red delicious apple, America’s most popular apple for over 50 years, no longer holds that coveted title. According to the Apple Association, the gala apple is our new favorite.
Note: More information about all the products mentioned above can be found on the respective company’s websites.
Anne Palumbo writes this column for Messenger Post newspapers. Her email is avpalumbo@aol.com.