Cheese Series: Eating Camembert? Give wine a break and try apple cider instead.
In my opinion, there’s nothing better than a perfectly ripened Camembert! Not too hard and not too runny. As it ages, the Camembert develops a smooth texture and a delightfully rich and buttery flavor. The best comes from the Normandy region of France. It is becoming increasingly more common to see Camembert made from pasteurized milk but it is traditionally made with raw milk. While there’s a bit of controversy in the US regarding raw milk, I think it produces a better tasting cheese with more complex flavors. If I have the option to buy raw milk’s cheese, I always opt for that. The Camembert that I’m featuring in this post is made with raw cow’s milk and is made by E. Graindorge from Normandy. I am serving it with a bit of sweet preserves made from apples and Calvados. Calvados is a traditional apple brandy (made from apple cider) from Normandy. While I’m generally not a huge fan of hard liquor, I do like and enjoy Calvados. My favorite pairing with Camembert is – gasp – not wine, but cider! If I had to have wine, I would choose a light, fruity red, like a Beaujolais. However, I find that apple cider is just a heavenly match with this cheese. Before I go on to my cider choices to go this the Camembert, I want to share a wonderful gem that I was introduced to this past summer: “Xidrectrasex,” a dry apple cider made by Cyril Zangs (the name is a play on words meaning extra dry cider). Even in Paris, this is not that easy to find (I have seen it on the menu at Le Mary Celeste in le Marais). If I could find this here in Abu Dhabi, it would’ve been my preferred pairing with the Camembert. If you come across it, definitely give it a try! Unfortunately, in preparation for this post, I could not find any cider from Normandie (or from France) so I’m going with a couple of alternatives: English and Swedish ciders. These are two different styles of cider with each a distinct flavor and texture. I am curious to see which will work best with Camembert (with and without the apple-Calvadoes preserves). The first is the English cider: Strongbow Original, which is quite popular and really easy to find. This is a dry cider with a rich amber color and fine bubbles. The Swedish cider is the Kopparberg Naked apple. This is much sweeter than the Strongbow. It is lighter in color but the bubbles are larger and more pronounced on the palate. Here’s how the two ciders compare side-by-side: Before I compare the two cheeses, let me first discuss why cider generally works really well with Camembert. As Camembert ages, it acquires stronger and more complex flavors. The intensity of flavors in cheese can be contrasted and balanced by light fruitiness in whatever that accompanies it. That’s precisely the reason why apple-Calvados preserves work well, as do fruity red wines and fruity ciders. If properly aged, Camembert can be quite creamy. You would need a drink that can offset that richness and lighten it up a bit. The cider has can do this in two ways. First, the effervescence of cider works as a great cleanser to refresh the palate between bites so there’s no build up of flavors and richness. Second, the high acidity level of cider provides is another refreshing element that lightens up the creaminess and the rich buttery texture of the cheese, so it is not overwhelming and you can keep on eating it 🙂 Both the Strongbow and the Kopparberg have these refreshing and fruity qualities to be a great match to the Camembert. I found that the sweetness of the Kopparberg to be a bit too much for the Camembert. It overwhelmed and drowned out the flavors of the Camembert. When you’re pairing wine with food, you always want to shoot for an equality of sweetness between the two so there is a nice balance. This same logic applies to cider and Camembert. When I taste the Kopparberg after taking a bite of the Camembert, the flavor of the cheese gets lost. If you like the apple-Calvados preserves with your Camembert, this cider works much better but I find that the Camembert’s flavors still get lost. I actually prefer my cheeses without any preserves or chutneys (there are a few exceptions like Pelardon cheese with honey, or aged Parmigiano with saba) because I don’t want to mask the flavor of the cheese. For this reason, I think the drier cider – the Strongbow – is a better choice for the Camembert. It is quite refreshing to drink with the Camembert and it wonderfully complements the flavors and the texture. It is no surprise that if I add the apple-Calvados preserves to the pairing, the balance is thrown off and the Camembert becomes too sweet for this cider. I think the difference in bubble textures between the two ciders didn’t matter as much because the dryness levels played a much more important role in the pairing. Although I would say that the stronger carbonation in the Kopparberg made it a lighter cider than it’s sweetness level would otherwise produce. But I much prefer less intense, finer bubbles – whether I’m drinking sparkling wine or cider – as it generally amplifies aromas more and it does not provide too much of a tactile distraction from the cheese.