Sip & Savor: Your Guide to Pairing Local Cider With Your Holiday Meal

Local cider is the perfect beverage to pair with your favorite festive foods. • Photo courtesy of Brookyln Cider House

Step away from that bordeaux, it’s time to pair a good bottle (or two) of cider with your holiday meal.

Ciders get a bad rap for being either extremely sweet and therefore not very food friendly, or too reductive, dry and bitter to drink. But pick up the right cider and it’ll be the beverage hero of the rich dishes that grace your table this time of year. It’ll go well with a wide variety of flavors and cuisines.

“When you pick a well-made cider that is balanced and has character one can then enjoy it with a variety of food,” says Roman Roth, Wölffer Estate Vineyard cider and winemaker.

How To Pick The Right Cider For Your Holiday Meal

Standing in the store, staring at bottles of cider, you’re faced with a quandary of choices. To start, look for natural ciders that do not have any artificial apple flavor. You want to drink clean, pure ciders made from 100% apples.

“Cider makes your mouth salivate, which is great for food, especially a big meal,” says Peter Yi, owner of Brooklyn Cider House in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Cider House

After you’ve focused on the natural ciders, pairing is very similar to wine pairing. Yi recommends looking at the acidity, the tannic structure, and the sweetness. Those three criteria will you determine what type of food the cider will work best with. For example, if the dish has a high-fat content, you’ll want high acidity from the cider to balance it and cleanse your palate, so you’re ready for another bite. If the food is spicy, you’ll want a sweetness from the cider to counteract it.

Read more: Wine Writer Lenn Thompson on Holiday Wine Pairings

Decide if you want a cider that’s sparkling or flat. Yi suggests using sparkling ciders, which drink like cava, prosecco and champagne, as aperitifs alongside other appetizers to start off the meal. Whereas, flat ciders drink like wine and should be paired with the main courses as you would traditionally do with wines.

As your typical holiday dinner is usually less of a meal and more of a long, dreamy, day-long celebration, start with a lighter cider and then build on it, adding richer ciders as the courses (or the day) progresses.

“To me, most important is balance,” says Roth. “You want fruit, texture, acidity, alcohol and a bit of sweetness all to be in harmony. This way none of it will overpower your pallet or your food. It should be light and refreshing to cleanse your pallet and animate you to take another bite.”

So, What Holiday Foods Does Cider Go Particularly Well With?

Everything. A good and elegant cider will be versatile enough that you’ll be able to pair it with everything from different appetizers and hor d’oeuvres to the main meal to dessert.

“Cider and cheese are perfect,” says Roth. “Spicy snacks like Thai shrimp and those kind of dishes are perfect too. Also, at the end of the dinner when the pies are coming out, cider can be a nice and refreshing partner and a good finish to a meal.”

Photo courtesy of Wolffer Estate

Here Are Roth’s And Yi’s Cider Recommendations For Your Holiday Meal

Holiday Pasta Course: “There are lots of different types of pastas one might make for the holidays, so this could go a few different ways,” says Yi. “For pasta with red sauce, something with a touch of fruity sweetness from the tomatoes, I’d recommend a cider with a little acid, like our Half Sour. For drier pasta dishes, our Bone Dry would be the best choice.” 

Roth recommends the slightly sweet Wölffer #139 Rose Cider.

Holiday Meat Course: For a honey baked ham, Yi recommends Brooklyn Cider House’s Raw. “The acidity derived from the bitter cider apples helps cut through the luscious fat, and the low sugar levels make sure the meat doesn’t get overwhelmed by anything cloying while still bringing out those roasted, caramelized flavors,” Yi says.

For turkey and stuffing, Yi recommends Brooklyn Cider House’s Kinda Dry or  Half Sour. “Both are amazing with Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinner—pretty much all the items, but particularly with turkey and stuffing. The acidity and touch of sweetness in both ciders hold up stunningly alongside the bold and flavorful foods that are traditional for the holidays.”

Holiday Fish Course: Roth recommends Wölffer #139 White Cider.

Holiday Dessert Course: Go for Wölffer #139 Red Cider, or an “Ice Cider.” Similar to an “ice wine,” the water in the fruit is frozen before pressing. This concentrates the flavor because the sugar particles don’t freeze, resulting in a sweeter natural cider perfect for pairing with desserts. Yi recommends an Ice Cider from Eden Specialty Ciders in Vermont or Eve’s Cidery near the Finger Lakes.