With one of the most developed cider cultures in the world, England is home to a vast array of styles. Sweet commercial offerings like Strongbow are in the mainstream, but it’s the small-batch, grower-focused ciders that are the true stars of the show.
A handful of counties in West England produce utterly idiosyncratic ciders that speak to their counties of origin, with Herefordshire and Somerset as some of the most iconic. The common tie between these traditional ciders is the types of apples used. A mix of bittersharp and bittersweet apple varieties, like Kingston Black, Dabinett and Yarlington Mill to name a few, are used for their high acid, high tannin and high sugar content.
Different counties and even different producers within the same counties use their own unique blend of cider apples, but the classic English expression of cider is earthy, gamy and smoky, with a juicy apple tone for balance. Some producers employ the use of barrels, which add hints of warm spice and toffee to the mix, and the final results can be gently sparkling or still.
Courtesy Gabe McMackin, Executive Chef & Culinary Director, Troutbeck, Amenia, NY; Former Chef/Owner, The Finch, Brooklyn, NY
- ½ cup toasted pine nuts, plus more for serving
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- Canola oil, as needed
- Salt, to taste
- 1 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3 cippolini onions, sliced into thin rings
- 1 head radicchio, preferably Castelfranco, leaves separated and torn
- 4 firm pears, such as Seckel, Anjou or Bosc, quartered lengthwise
- 4 sprigs fresh basil, torn
- 2 tablespoons pickled mustard seeds
- Aged Balsamic Vinegar, to serve
- Olive oil, to serve
- Fresh-cracked black pepper, to taste
- Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
Add pine nuts and rosemary to a food processer and purée until smooth, adding a bit of canola oil if necessary. Season with salt, to taste.
Bring rice wine vinegar, Sherry vinegar, sugar and ½ cup water to boil in saucepan. Season with salt, to taste. Add onions and remove from heat. Let sit to make quick pickles.
Heat sauté pan over medium-high and add small amount of canola oil to prevent sticking. Add pear wedges, and sear on all sides until dark in color, about 5 minutes total. Remove from heat and set aside.
Spread pine nut butter on bottom of shallow bowl. Layer in radicchio, pears, pickled onions, basil, parsley and mustard seeds. Drizzle with olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, and season with salt, pepper and lemon zest. Serves 4.
Any dish with orchard fruit will pair well with cider. Here, the caramelization of the seared pears, deep, savory tones of Sherry and Balsamic vinegars and bitter edge of radicchio (use the purple-patterned Castelfranco variety for visual impact) really sing alongside the smoky, bacon-like quality of English cider. It’s the type of pairing Gabe McMackin loved to serve at his recently closed restaurant, The Finch, in Brooklyn, New York. Try with Dunkertons Dry Organic Cider, a bubbly Herefordshire option that deftly balances smoky, savory tones with crisp apple and delicate honeycomb flavors.