The Cider Press: Pairing Pizza and Hard Cider

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Pizza has long been my trusty food companion, for evenings of celebration and all-night college cram sessions. And for every wood-fired D.O.C.-certified pie that I have savored, there have been five times as many I'm-broke-and-it-time-to-pay-the-rent $1 cheese slice dinners. But does my go-to last meal on earth (Neapolitan-style with extra basil and mushroom, in case you were wondering) marry well with cider, my go-to beverage for just about any occasion? They do work well together, but it takes a little planning.

Tips for Pairing

There is quite a bit of common ground between cider and pizza. They're both essentially simple: cider is basically made from one ingredient (apples) and pizza, at its core, is just sauce, dough, and cheese. Both aim to balance richness and brightness to make for an enjoyable mouthful. The balance is delicate, so you don't have much of a margin of error when you bring them together.

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Earlier this year, Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein explored the nitty-gritty of pizza-pairing considerations in his post on pairing wine with pizza, but here are a few cider-specific considerations.

When choosing pizza:

  1. Think about the sauce. Tomato sauce is acidic, pesto is rich and earthy, white pies are often fruity from the olive oil.
  2. Think about the cheese. Buffalo mozzarella is rich but subtly tangy, cow's milk mozzarella is creamier and sweeter, goat cheese is sharper with more tang. Cheddar cheese should be on a hamburger (unless its hamburger pizza...I guess)
  3. Think about the toppings. Mushroom and peppers can add an earthy quality to your pie while pepperoni adds heat. If you're going simple, the sauce and cheese will be more prominent.

When choosing cider:

  1. Think about the body and level of sweetness. Is your cider full and rich, or light and fresh? Is it honey-sweet or super-dry? Sweet ciders, particularly French ones, can complement slightly sweet toppings (such as sweet sausage) and cut through sharp, acidic toppings like green peppers. The tannins in dry ciders can often balance the fatty character of mozzarella.
  2. Think about the cider's flavors. Is your cider rustic and vegetal or floral and delicate? Rustic ciders—those made with a fair amount of bittersharp apples—are an ideal complement for more vegetal, earthy toppings. Floral ciders with tropical fruit flavors are ideal for simpler pies finished with quality olive oil.
  3. Think about bugs. We don't talk too much about wild bacteria in cider but it can be a real winner when it comes to pairing with pizza. The added bitterness and musty character of a Basque cider can both cut the fatty character of soft cheese but also add an additional complexity to the acidity in tomato sauce.

Your Pizza and Cider Cheat Sheet

While experimenting with pairing pies and pours can be a fun way to spend the evening, sometimes you want a pre-tested grab-and-go solution. Here are a few foolproof pairings.

Pizza Margherita and Farnum Hill Semi-Dry Cider The Farnum Hill semi-dry has sturdy tannins and a brightness that allows it to cut the fat of the cheese. The cider's clean finish really lets the simple pizza shine.

White Pizza and Snowdrift Orchard Select
This delicate, floral cider is a great complement to good olive oil and will float on your palate somewhere between the cheese and the garlic. A white pie won't overpower the cider, and the cider won't overpower the pie.

Mushroom Pizza and Sarasola Sagardoa
Our favorite Basque cider is acidic enough to hold up to the cheesiest pie, and the barnyardy, wild bacterial character of this cider will add to the complex earthiness of the mushrooms.

Pesto Pizza and Cyril Zangs Sparkling Cider
French cider provides rustic herbal flavors that latch into the similar notes in a pesto-topped pizza.

Pepperoni Pizza and... er... West Coast IPA
There are some times when cider just doesn't cut it and, for me, a hoppy beer works better with a spicy pie. If you do want to go the cider route with pepperoni, I recommend playing the cider down and letting the pizza shine by selecting a bone dry cider. Foggy Ridge Serious Cider comes to mind, but I still think that I'd prefer a nice Blind Pig any day.

About the author: Christopher Lehault is a New Jersey-based cider journalist, craft beer documentarian, and home brewer. Follow his cider adventures on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

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