Alas, fair summer, we knew you well. Adieu, sweet begonias; greetings, hearty mums. So long, barest flip-flops; hello, cozy Uggs. It’s time to toast a new season, and one of its glories can now be filling your glass. Cheers—it’s hard cider time. And we’re not talking Mott’s.
Forget the filtered, preservative-laden, pasteurized apple juice and sweet cider mainstream. This is the venerable, the unadulterated, the alcoholic. Beloved in Europe for ages, hard cider, like craft beer, is having its moment here. And October is paparazzi time. Apples have been harvested, pressed, blended, and fermented, and are ready to leave their barrels for the klieg lights of artisanal-focused taverns and restaurants. And lucky us: some of the best cider is made in neighboring Orange County, at Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery (114 Little York Rd, Warwick, NY 845-258-4858). Its semi-sweet, robust Doc’s Draft cider epitomizes the American Craft style, a combination of the heartier, beer-like English cider and more delicate, wine-like French.
“I use up to twelve apple varieties to get a consistent flavor, acidity and sweetness throughout the year,” says Warwick cider maker Jason Grizzanti. And right now is his busiest season, since “most varieties are freshly available and at their peak flavor.” Grizzanti, who trained in England and majored in fruit science at Cornell, also makes hard pear, black currant, and raspberry ciders, and two distilled apple products: an apple brandy akin to French Calvados and an apple liqueur, both widely available at liquor stores.
Like good wine and craft beer, hard apple cider belongs at the table as well as at the bar. (And feel free to indulge: its antioxidants rival those of red wine.) Its complexity and body is especially suited to spicy foods, so bring on those Indian curries and Sichuan hotpots. And it’s ideal for autumn braises. At the farm-to-table-focused Restaurant North (386 Main St, Armonk 914-273-8686), Chef Eric Gabrynowicz simmers pork cheeks in a bath of Doc’s Draft, whose acidity and sweetness is, he feels, “an ideal partner to pork’s luscious fattiness.” Around here Doc’s reigns, but other hard apple ciders like Vermont’s Woodchuck, Sweden’s Koppaberg, and Ireland’s Magners are runners up. Sample them from the taps and bottles of our artisanal-focused pubs Lazy Boy Saloon (154 Mamaroneck Ave, White Plains 914-761-0272), Birdsall House (970 Main St, Peekskill 914-930-1880), Bridgeview Tavern (226 Beekman Ave, Sleepy Hollow 914-332-0078), and Pumpernickel (925 Saw Mill River Rd, Ardsley 914-479-5370), all meccas of cider worship. Ask for apple, pear, or raspberry/apple Framboise, and you shall receive. There are sure to be “amens” all around.
Cider-Braised Pork Cheeks
Courtesy of Eric Gabrynowicz, Restaurant North
4 Tbsp canola oil, or enough to coat
bottom of pot
2 lbs pork cheeks (pork shanks or large-
cubed pork shoulder can be substituted)
2 12-oz bottles hard apple cider (Doc’s
3-4 cups chicken stock
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to
season meat and to taste
Preheat oven to 300° F. Cut excess fat from pork. Remove as much silver-skin membrane as possible. Season pork with salt and pepper.
In Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed braising pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sear pork on both sides, then remove onto plate. Add chopped vegetables and herbs to pan and sauté for 2 minutes. Add cider to pot, stirring up brown bits from bottom. Place pork back into pot and add stock. Cover and braise in oven 4 hours or until fork-tender. (Alternatively, cover and cook on stovetop over low flame.)
Remove pot from heat and let rest for 2 hours. With slotted spoon, gently remove pork and set aside. Strain liquid from pot into bowl, discarding vegetables and herb sprigs. Pour liquid back into pot and simmer until reduced and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Place pork back into pot and spoon sauce over it. Remove pork onto platter with sauce. Serve with mashed potatoes or parsnips.