Food and wine pairings are not an uncommon practice in fine dining establishments. Often a one off event, a special menu is usually created and then wines will be carefully selected to enhance and accentuate the flavours on the plate. Gunter Gosch turned this tradition on its head when he hosted the first ever Cider Dinner at the Lobster Pot restaurant in May, pairing a four course menu with four different ciders.
Not only was he taking a bold step in bringing cider – a beverage typically associated with pubs and therefore considered about as sophisticated as beer – into the realm of fine dining, he also took a fresh approach to the food and beverage pairing concept, by first selecting the ciders he wanted to showcase, and then creating a menu to go with them.
Several years back Gunter, clearly keen to bring new experiences to Cayman’s discerning diners, introduced Austrian wines to the Lobster Pot’s wine list. As a result of the success of this move, he found himself once again in his native Austria on a wine-buying trip last summer. While there he says he was blown away when he was introduced to Leopold Boden’s artisan ciders, and thus decided to try them out on the Cayman public.
These ciders, which are produced on a small scale in southern Austria, are quite unlike the ciders one finds in pubs and bars elsewhere on the Island. Most people in the Cayman Islands probably think of cider as a strong, sharp tasting beverage that is either cloudy or dark yellow to brown in colour and most often drunk by the pint or straight from a bottle.
The Caldera ciders are a far more refined and elegant product, each made from a different variety of apple and exhibiting distinct characteristics. All, however, are very pale and clear in colour, with a smooth, delicate flavour. Unlike ciders produced in the UK or France, these ciders never see the inside of an oak barrel but are instead stored in steel tanks so do not take on the darker tones. The filtration also eliminates any cloudiness, producing a crisp, clear libation that lends itself well to a fine dining accompaniment. The fact that these ciders have only half the alcohol content of wine is sure to add to their appeal as suitable dinner accompaniment for many.
The menu chosen to best highlight the unique ciders started with a refreshing asparagus salad, scallops sautéed in vanilla butter and drizzled with pumpkin seed oil. This was matched with Jonagold, a medium dry cider, very pale in colour with a crisp, clean taste.
The next course was introduced by the Maschanzker cider, the fruitiest of the four, which is made from a unique variety of apple that is not cultivated anywhere else in the world, and has a very distinct flavour. This was accompanied by the chef’s special creation, turtle cake. What is usually quite a tough meat takes on a light, mousse-like texture in the centre, with a crispy exterior in this unique recipe and is served with a crunchy potato rosti and sweet, caramelised apple slices, which brought out the fruity quality of the cider.
The entree was something of a new twist on the timeless surf and turf favourite. In this version, the lobster tail is paired with a honey-glazed pork chop or chicken breast, served over creamy polenta, wilted spinach and crushed walnuts. The richness of the dish was offset by the relative acidity of the Braeburn, the driest of the ciders.
The sumptuous meal ended on an unusual note with a dessert that was more savoury than sweet: brie brulee (dusted with brown sugar and caramelised), pears poached in wine and a sweet and sour onion jam, served with Rubinette, a sweet and fruity cider.
For each course extreme care was taken to achieve the right balance, so that neither food nor cider would be overwhelmed by its corresponding pairing.
The response, says Gunter, has been very positive so far, with many British patrons enthusiastically embracing the fresh, refined and far more elegant version of their traditional beverage. Initially only small quantities of the Austrian ciders have been imported, but if the feedback continues to be positive, orders will no doubt increase.