The following article was originally published in Issue 5 of inCiderJapan magazine.
There are myriad ways to enjoy cider, and the purpose of &Cider is to explore as many as we can with you. It goes without saying that one of the easiest ways to do so is with food, for a successful pairing can elevate any decent meal into an unforgettable experience. With regards to cider, foods like nuts, cheese, curries, roast chicken or pork, and cream sauce dishes usually spring to mind; anything that complements well with apples is generally a safe rule of thumb to follow.
But what to do in a country where cider isn’t yet part of the culinary culture? Can Japanese cooking, which is ordinarily associated with beer and sake, be eaten with cider instead? We believe, as you can read for yourself in our review of Noge West End (page 12), that the answer is an irrefutable yes. And in case you didn’t know, we’ve done many popular cider tastings with Asian menus including sushi, gyoza, and grilled shiitake. Like any other effective pairing, the secret is understanding the different characteristics of various ciders and the apples that are used to make them and then apply that knowledge to food.
Perhaps more importantly, however, and what we aim to help you achieve is to overcome the stoicism of believing that A should only go with B and C should only go with D. Yes, there are definitely foods that cider is better off to avoid, as well as guidelines to help us avoid making gastronomical faux pas, but to enjoy means to have fun – and oftentimes the fun comes from experimenting, and that’s something anyone can do on their own, and we encourage you to do so.
Case in point, last winter I traveled to Kochi Prefecture in Shikoku for a few days on business (If you’ve never been there, I highly recommend you visit, Kochi is incredible). Although I didn’t do much shopping, I did manage to bring back two personal souvenirs with the sole purpose of trying them with cider. The first, a 300 ml bottle of 100% pure yuzu juice that I picked up at Kochi City’s famous Sunday Market; the other, a small jar of miso blended with katsuobushi (bonito) – a brand new product, I was told, that was introduced to me during a tour of a coastal katsuobushi smoke and drying facility. Both yuzu and katsuobushi are tastes that I love, so my first thought was to see if I couldn’t find a way to appreciate them with cider.
The yuzu juice was easy because 1) it’s an ingredient that’s already found its way into several American ciders, 2) many ciders can be mixed into delicious cocktails with a variety of ingredients, and 3) it just sounded like a great idea. I chose a Japanese cider on the drier side so that the yuzu flavour would be more pronounced and have a chance to stand out, I didn’t want it to blend into anything with a heavier apple profile (although that also sounds like it might be worth a go).
I started off by tasting the yuzu on its own to test how sour or not the juice was. Wow! I wasn’t prepared for that amount of tartness, certainly no added sugar there! So I poured a tablespoon into a glass of cider and stirred, and then sipped. I ended up pouring another to get the exact punch I was looking for. Delicious! Definitely a match.
The katsuobushi miso took a little more time to consider, but not by much. Again, I sampled it first on its own only to find it wasn’t nearly as salty as I thought it would be. Instead, the addition of katsuo contributed a savouriness that enhanced the miso’s saline nature, so, I thought it might pair better with something slightly carbonated and more acidic to help cut through its mostly creamy mouthfeel.
I tried the katsuobushi miso with two different Japanese ciders, one slightly more piquant than the other. With the help of a few cucumber and carrot sticks and some raw cabbage to add texture and freshness to the mix, I was delightfully surprised by how well the ciders balanced the complexities of the miso. Suffice to say, it was another delectable match – one I’ll no doubt make a regular habit.
The moral of my story is when it comes to drinking cider, live a little and relax! Don’t be fooled into thinking that cider only goes well with specific foods (or that certain ciders only go well with certain foods). Yes, I’ll admit I am probably more apt to choose an English cider with a pork pie or a Spanish sidra with Pollo al Chilindrón, but I am not bound by that thinking and neither should you be.
Cider has the advantage of being unburdened with gainless preconceptions due to its current low profile in Japan. Some may argue that this hurts the image of cider by limiting its appeal, but I say it liberates it instead, allowing cider a far broader appeal than other alcoholic drinks.
It always makes me smile when I hear a first-time cider drinker express their shock and surprise at how different cider tastes from what they’ve imagined. And it’s this novelty, this uniqueness of cider, that can and absolutely should be celebrated by experiencing cider in as many ways possible. That’s why we look forward to more &Cider with you. See you next issue!
In the meantime, feel free to share with us your own adventures with cider by either emailing us or use the hashtag #andcider