Friday, 30 November 2012

Jake's Orchard; Kent Cider & Food Matching

As mentioned in a previous post a recent visit to Hush Heath Estate meant we came home the proud owners of their range of still ciders - Jake's Orchard. The ethos behind the cider is for a crisp refreshing drink which could act as a substitute for wine - hence the large (75cl) bottles to share. As a cider designed to be consumed with food we thought it would be interesting to try some food matching with each of the four varieties.

Jake's Orchard Pure Still Kent Apple Cider

We've talked about this cider before, but just to recap, it is a fresh, fruity and refreshing cider with a big apple flavour. It's incredibly easy drinking, and you barely notice the alcohol on the taste. For the first food pairing we went with the classic combination - pork - using Marcus Wareing's 'Mum's Pork Chops' recipe from How to Cook the Perfect....

Marcus Wareing's Pork Chop
This picture really doesn't do this dish justice, and we've made it so many times before as we love it. What you end up with is a deliciously moist pork chop, and soft sweet onions, in a herby buttery 'sauce' (for want of a better word). Pork and cider is the classic combo, but it wasn't the best match in this instance, maybe this cider is just a little too dry for it. It works well with the herbs and onions balancing against their sweetness, but it might fare better up against roast pork and apple sauce.

Jake's Orchard Still Kent Cider with English Nettles

The cider has lots of apple on the nose with a dry herbal edge. It isn't as dry as expected, with strong fruit flavours, a floral and slightly sweet taste. It is really well balanced between at the right side of medium dry with a slightly bitter savoury flavour from the nettle. It was very easy-drinking, the alcohol not being at all obvious in the flavour.

Kinda Mac 'n' Cheese with leeks and cider
We paired the nettle cider with a variant on macaroni cheese, made with leeks, cauliflower and (one of our favourites) Montgomery cheddar. The cheese sauce was made up with some of the nettle cider, and this worked really well, the booze taking the edge off the sharp cheddar and balancing the dish out nicely. Apple and cheddar is a classic British combination and it works fantastically well in the dish, especially when served alongside a nice chilled glass of the cider. The cider cuts through the creaminess of the sauce and highlights the sweetness of the leeks.

Jake's Orchard Still Kent Cider with English Elderflower

The elderflower variety of the cider didn't yield much elderflower on the nose, nor is it very pronounced on the taste - which we both agreed was probably a good thing in terms of matching it with food. We paired this one with a salmon salad from Jamie's Great Britain, and it was a good match, nicely balanced and you don't notice the dryness of the cider. In this instance it very much works in the way a white wine would, complementing the dish without overpowering it on flavour.

Salmon and new potato salad, with mint, cucumber and yoghurt
Jake's Orchard Still Kent Cider with Strawberries and Blackcurrant

The cider itself doesn't have a huge punch of fruit flavour (which was a relief), just a hint of the red fruits mingling subtley with the apple. We struggled to taste the strawberries, but the blackcurrant was more pronounced - it may well be that the sweetness of the strawberries balances out the tartness of the blackcurrant. It is still a very dry cider.
Homemade almond macaroons
We weren't really sure about what to pair with this one, and referred to the website which suggested eton mess and pear crumble as food matches. As we had some homegrown Bramley apples in the fruit bowl the recipe we'd spotted in River Cottage Every Day for Bramley apple Eton mess was modified slightly to replace the (usual) meringue with some crushed homemade almond macaroons (the crunchy kind) I'd made a couple of days previous. The result was a rather visually unappealing, but incredibly tasty dessert which had both sour, nutty and sweet elements to it.

When paired with the dessert the cider works surprisingly well - the apple flavours complementing each other, and also cutting through the creaminess/richness of the dish. There's a surprising change when after a while when an almost tannic, lambic-like character comes out in the cider - this emphasized the sour notes, but was still very drinkable. At this point it was starting to remind us of a good quality lambic-based Belgian fruit beer. This flavour 'change' is fascinating, and we'd be really interested if they widen the range further down the line to see the effects of blending this cider with other fruits.

Bramley apple Eton mess
It is great fun to experiment with these cider and food matches, and some obviously worked better than others. In terms of the cider alone, my personal favourite was the nettle, whereas Sam preferred the standard traditional apple cider. When it came to the food matches the nettle/mac 'n' cheese was the most satisfying, but the Eton mess and strawberry/blackcurrant match was both delicious and intriguing in terms of the flavour profiles the dish brought out in the cider.

Some of the flavours were more difficult to match than others and maybe there are some foods which are never going to work with cider in the way wine would - for example a nice rare steak - but it will be interesting to experiment further with these combinations and branching out further than the usual pork and cider suggestion.

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