Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Sausage and Cider: Perfect for Fall

Fall has arrived! With it comes a little chill in the air, a little color in the trees, and a little bit of pumpkin spice in everything (along with seasonal allergies if you’re among the unlucky). Fall also means it’s time for the apple harvest, and that always reminds us of hard cider.

Hard Cider History: Worldwide Favorite, American Classic

Even though it still may seem new—at least when compared with old favorites like beer—cider has actually been around for a very long time, with some strong-drink historians alleging that it dates back to at least 55 BC, when invading Romans found the local Britons drowning their sorrows in fermented apple juice. Even here in the states, hard cider was a staple as far back as colonial times. In fact, almost all the apples grown in America before the Revolutionary War were used for fermenting and drinking rather than baking or eating (Johnny Appleseed wasn’t thinking about pie). George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and other founding fathers all enjoyed their cider.
Here at the Sausage Maker, we appreciate well-crafted beverages, especially those with a strong and properly equipped DIY element. And for simply drinking while enjoying the crisp autumn tang in the air and admiring the changing colors of the leaves, good cider is hard to beat. But because sausage is never far from our minds, we also find ourselves pondering the question: Can cider pair with sausage as well as beer does? (Spoiler alert: Yes. But read on for details.)

How to Make Hard Cider

First: What makes good cider, and what makes cider good? As with most food and drink, the ingredients used will determine the characteristics of the finished product. With hard cider ingredients, the main distinctions in taste come from the amount of acid (mostly malic acid), tannins, and sugar found in the apples themselves. There are a few different classification schemes for cider apples, but one of the oldest and most used (and definitely the most fun to say) is the Long Ashton system, established by one Professor B.T.P. Barker while he was the inaugural director of the Long Ashton Research Station in Bristol, Southwest England (long recognized as one of the chief cider-producing regions of the world). Prof. Barker set up a four-way grid based on two attributes—malic acid content and tannin content—and named the quadrants Sweet, Sharp, Bittersweet, and Bittersharp. Incidentally, cider apples have amazing names: To choose just one example from each quadrant, you have Slack-ma-Girdle (Sweet), Tom Putt (Sharp), Brown Snout (Bittersweet), and Foxwhelp (Bittersharp).
In general, hard cider is produced by combining these types of apples in varying amounts. More Sharp or Bitter apples produce cider with a drier, more acidic flavor and mouthfeel, like some European ciders that are closer to dry wine, while going heavier on the Sweets gives you the kind of sweet cider that Americans are usually more familiar with. You can experiment with balancing apples from the different categories to produce cider that is more or less sweet (classifications range from Sweet through Medium-Sweet, Medium-Dry, and Dry) and has a higher or lower “sharpness” from the tannins and acidity.
Read our comprehensive homemade cider guide if you’re interested in choosing your own apples and going the DIY route. For the best results in pressing your apples (or other fruit), we recommend our Harvest Fiesta Fruit and Wine Press.

What to Serve with Sausage

So now that you have your cider—either purchased or homemade—what should you eat with it? From Sweet to Dry, and with variations in sharpness, a lot of ciders share certain characteristics which make them a good fit for particular foods. Steve Stradiotto, the brewmaster of Molson’s cider lines, has developed three simple rules for cider/food pairing: cut, contrast and complement. There are other schemes and recommendations, but we like this one for its directness and for how well it works in setting cider up with sausages. Below are some sausage suggestions to match each aspect of your cider, along with examples of hard cider brands that showcase the different flavors. Keep in mind that most ciders (including the homemade variety) will have some degree of cut, contrast, and complement, and will therefore probably match well with any of these sausages.

Cider and Pork (Swine)

“Cut” refers to the acidity in cider (even the sweetest ones), which can cut through rich fatty foods like cream sauces, heavy cheeses, and—of course!—pork sausage. To bring out the cider’s cut, we recommend making and serving pork-heavy Eastern European sausages like fresh Polish sausage or this Slovenian take on smoked kielbasa called krainerwurst: The fatty pork and bacon will resonate deliciously with the with acid tang of your cider. Another excellent pork-forward recipe that will match well with cider is Bad Bob’s “Brown ‘N’ Serve” Breakfast Sausage; not that we are recommending drinking hard cider at breakfast (although if it was good enough for George Washington…). For a cider on the dry end, which should have no trouble standing up to the rich porkiness of these sausages, try Crispin Browns Lane.

Cider and Spice

“Contrast” describes the ability of the carbonation, acidity and “sharpness” (tannins) in cider, working together, to contrast with spicy foods like the soppressata dry-cured hot pork sausage from Chuckwagon or this El Salvador chorizo. For a nicely balanced cider whose acidity and sharpness keeps pace with the sweetness, we like Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider (the same folks who make Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, among many other brews).

Cider and Sweetness

Food that cider will “complement” is anything sweet enough to harmonize with the apple-y goodness of Sweet to Medium-Dry ciders.  Fruit is the classic example here, and anything made with it. An excellent sweet sausage to complement your cider is the (simulated!) salamini Italiana alla cacciatora. The taste of this cacciatora sausage is “…sweet and delicate, gently enriched with a little salty touch and with the scent of garlic and pepper”.  A good example of a well-crafted sweet cider that would match the flavor of this sausage is Woodchuck Original Amber.

So wherever on the Sweet-Dry range your taste in cider falls, we’re sure you can find (or make!) one that will satisfy it. Pairing your cider with a good sausage makes the perfect cozy meal for autumn. Enjoy!

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