Each year around October, the arrival of freshly ripened apples awakens us to the coming of fall. As busy students, we often forget about how blessed we are to be surrounded by a region of readily available, locally sourced produce every season, and most abundant of all: apples. This year, on top of my annual visit to Applefest, I decided to explore beyond the apple cider donut lines and signed up for Monks and Makers: A Cider & Food Pairing Salon, a free cider and food pairing event hosted by The Downtown Ithaca Alliance and New York Cider Association as part of the Finger Lakes Cider Week.
According to the Finger Lakes Cider Week’s website, New York is a state with one of the richest cider histories, from abandoned orchards to seedling offspring built into the unique landscape surrounding us in the Finger Lakes region. By introducing local cider makers to the public, this event offered a one-of-a-kind opportunity to learn about the production methods of cider-making and what makes New York ciders unique.
I signed up for the first session, located at Monks in the Commons (right inside the newly opened Downtown Marriott hotel), and rushed in to see the venue. The conference room was set up in a circle-like setting, with plenty of walking space for tasters to choose their cidery of preference. Nine cider makers brought in their customer favorites and we had small group tasting sessions as we wandered from one table to the next. Since each session’s time was limited to 40 minutes, I felt slightly rushed and did not have the opportunity to taste all four delicious food pairings or all the ciders, but I was happy with the event overall since it opened my eyes to the variety of ciders in the Finger Lakes region and the passion each cider-maker puts into their products.
Before this event, my knowledge of hard cider was pretty limited — after all, they’re just apples, right? Through this experience, my taste buds and my mind got enlightened by the complexity in hard cider’s flavors, from dryness, sweetness and acid levels (tannin), to aroma due to the differing production methods and apple varieties. For example, the Soundpost cider from South Hill Cider tasted more smooth and full-bodied due to the English Bittersweet cider apple varieties used with bourbon barrel aging, while the Crabapple Cider from Rootstock Cider had a lighter taste with subtle sweetness due to the Dolgo Crab and Ginger Gold apple variety used.
The apple-themed food pairings I sampled, such as the shucked oyster with apple mignonette and apple smoked bacon and camembert on endive, were great combos with the ciders. The fat and salt content in the food samples balanced well with the fruitiness and lightness of the ciders, and the incorporation of apples in each dish helped highlight the cider flavors themselves.
And this wasn’t the only opportunity to learn about New York ciders: Throughout the week, restaurants and cideries collaborated to celebrate another great year of apple harvest with specialty “cider-infused” menus. With the official kick-off of apple season, get ready to eat an apple a day!