It was East meets West at last Sunday’s hard cider and cheese pairing event at the SHED in downtown Healdsburg.
Kay Michaels, cheesemonger at New York’s wildly popular Eataly, joined local Sonoma County cidermaking stars Jolie Devoto Wade (Devoto Orchards Cider) and Ellen Cavalli (Tilted Shed Ciderworks) to present this tasting workshop which featured six different craft ciders paired with various artisan cheeses.
Michaels, who is also a cider enthusiast and blogger (@United States of Cider), served as facilitator and used her expert palate to lead attendees through a series of pairing suggestions.
“Cheese is like a rabbit hole,” she waxed poetically when asked about her fascination with it. “When I look at a wheel of cheese, I see our entire cosmos at work. I see the divine energy in plant life that takes nutrients from the earth and turns it into food for animals. I see the goats, sheep, and cows that need to eat good quality grass to produce the best milk. The artisans who make cheese from that milk embody the best of what we can be and achieve.” That kind of enthusiasm is what connects people with food!
Both Devoto Wade and Cavalli described their distinctive, hand crafted ciders and talked about their philosophy, process, and farming methods before fielding questions from the audience.
“The last thing I want to hear when you taste my cider is ‘hmmmm, tastes like apples,” said Tilted Shed’s Cavalli, who is passionate about her craft. “Cider can be as compelling and nuanced as any fine white wine out there.” A self-professed “cider geek”, she and her husband Scott Heath are obsessed with elevating the apple to greatness by making unique ciders from 100% locally grown heirloom and traditional cider fruit.
Workshop offerings from Tilted Shed included semidry Graviva!–a blend of Gravenstein and bittersweet apples that make a crisp, refreshing cider with a hint of sweetness and barnyard funk–and January Barbeque Smoked Cider that mixes wood smoked heirloom apples with fresh pressed traditional cider apples for a dry, slightly austere drink that finishes with notes of mellow smoke.
Jolie Devoto Wade of Devoto Orchards Cider pointed to Sebastopol’s historic legacy as a world-class apple growing region. The maritime climate and long growing season mean she and her husband Hunter are able to dry farm their organic apples–a method which yields concentrated flavor and higher sugar content in the fruit. Tastings of their cider included Cidre Noir–a dry, refined cider with bright acidity and tannin made from heirloom “black” apple varietals–and semidry 1976; a slow fermented field blend that combines 17 different apple varieties for a fruit forward, lush-bodied beverage.
The ciders were paired with some standout artisan cheeses, including local favorites like Gypsy Rose–an intensely flavored washed-rind raw goat cheese from the Gypsy Cheese Company in Valley Ford; Cowgirl Creamery’s buttery world-class triple cream Mt. Tam; and a tangy, semi-soft aged sheep cheese called Saint Rose from Weirauch Farm & Creamery.
If you missed out on this event, don’t despair! These cidermakers and others will be celebrating and tasting at this weekend’s annual Gravenstein Apple Fair in Sebastopol (Saturday, August 9th & Sunday, 10th). Be sure to stop by the Craft Cider Tent for a sip!