The Pairings

A wise man once said – “Cider is Apples pathway to Eternity”.

Ok, it was me. And the phrase stolen from Wills dad, who said the exact same thing, except swap in Cheese and Milk. He also said that what grows together goes together, and here in Devon, we are blessed to be both pasture and orchard rich.

As a cider maker, and cheese fan, I can see the similarities between the two. They are almost two different sides of the same coin. With cider you want to separate the liquid from the solid, keeping the juice, but with cheese it’s the opposite. You want to remove the whey (the liquid) and keep the curds.

Cheeses vary widely in flavour depending on the treatment of the milk, the cultures in the cheese, the length and storage conditions. The makers playing pivotal roles and allowing flavours to flourish.  And it’s the same with cider. In the hands of true artisans, the choice of apple varieties, how they are fermented, how they are stored will produce a range of different flavour profiles. We are not talking industrialised made from concentrate, pack it up and get it out stuff (which exists in the cheese world too).

And, of course,  the environment – for animals the diet is critical. Blind tastes consistently pick out natural grass fed cows cheese compared to silage. Even north side grazing compared to south. Their product is intrinsically tied to their place. The narrative embedded from ground to finished product. And with cider, imagine a traditional Devon orchard, unsprayed, widely spaced in the deep red soil, and the biodiversity living among it. The rain providing hydration, the sun its warmth. The terroir. During the summer maybe the same animals are freely roaming among the trees.  

“Its the Terroir, Stupid. “


Cider and cheese both have history. Thousands of years across many continents. And in the last few decades both crafts have suffered to the power of industralisation. But things that are valued are not lost, and recently there has been an upsurge in conscious appreciation, of less but higher quality, of interesting and unusual and full of flavour. Tastes maybe subtle or sculptural, and maybe even challenging – I haven’t given up on washed rinds quite yet!

Real artisan cider and cheese’s time is now. Its strange to thing this combination is simultaneously thousands of years old and yet bang on the zeitgeist.

And of course, and I initially based this on myself and Wills family, Cider and Cheese people are really nice! But the more cheese producers and mongers I meet, and the more ciderists I talk to, the more I know this to be true. These people work with the land, they are connected to nature, they are humble, and they love what they do. Sometimes they argue but all that shows me is that they care. They are producers with love and passion, that truly care about what they are offering.

So lets pick out some of my favourite cider and cheese combinations. Forget wine and cheese, where the flavours can clash. A great cheese and cider pairing for me will elevate both elements. Sometimes the cider releases a component in the cheese – like a nuttiness becomes much more obvious, and sometimes is it the cheese that enhances the cider – a fruitiness is exposed for example. And sometimes, they can both offset and enhance. Maybe an acidity is just dialed down, or a bitter note is softened.

NB. I am a cider maker at Rull Orchard and have included some of our own creations, but I also included some other Devon ciders that I really enjoy.

1, Lets Get the Party Started

Bubbles. Nothing says Welcome to the party like a bottle of sparkling. Not just because the sound of the cork, and the compulsory “WOO” that results, or even because it’s a bottle to share, but mostly because of the energy that it brings. The effervescence, those fiery fleeting and fugacious mouth tingling bubbles, the life and lift and slight light headedness. And as you clink glasses, and sit down to share stories, its customary to provide some nibbles. Olives are ok, crackers go well, but the perfect pairing is some cheese.

Fiery, fleeting and fugacious mouth tingling bubbles.

Creamy up front, with a punchy lactic twang

SHARPHAM’s Rustic – On its own this is a flavour journey. Creamy up front, with a punchy lactic twang. And then comes the earthy savoury salinity that gives me rock pools at the seaside and coastal walks vibes. Pair this is RULL ORCHARDS Starlight. Supreme Champion Reserve at the 2023 Bath and West Cider Awards. The initial creaminess of the cheese is balanced and cleansed with the fruity flavour and the fizz, and there is just a smidge of Brut sweetness to offset the cheese twang. The soft dryness and 8% alcohol works with the long finish of the cheese.

NORSWORTHY Goats – I love this soft giving textural feel, with its clean and milky flavour. Theres a gentle sweetness backed up with nutty notes and a taste sensation of frangipane. This is not a funky barnyard cheese, but rather dried grass and herbs giving the illusion of walking through a hay meadow on a warm summers day. Pair this with BOLLHAYES Perry. Real authentic perry shouldn’t be confused with pear cider, the latter being cider just with pear flavouring. This perry harvested in 2016 and bottled the following year, starts with a beautiful champagne-esque bubble, with a honeyed pear and almond cake vibe. But its layered with an outdoors, summer grass and herbs note, like having a picnic with a view of the rolling Devon countryside, that matches the goats cheese perfectly. For a Brut Nature (bone dry) this is a very soft and gentle perry, the lower sweetness complementing the less fat found in the goats cheese, with a citrus note that just helps to cut through.

2. The Late Weekend Lunch.

Small indulgences when they are properly savoured are part of fully enjoying life. And on the weekend I match simplicity with the full gourmandise. Two pieces of lightly toasted rye bread with some thick cuts of SHARPHAMS Brie. Platinum winner at the 2023 Food Drink Devon Awards. Pop in the microwave for 12 seconds and watch longingly as the plate completes its revolution and a half. You will see the cheese just start to bubble, and then as you cut it long thin strands cling to the knife and then to your fingers. It should just have started to melt and fill out any gaps on the toast.

This particular Brie won Platinum at the 2023 Food Drink Awards and its easy to see why. There is classic soft cheese creaminess, and an appealing mushroom flavour. Not as simple as a bag of white button mushrooms, its much more subtle and intriguing than that. Like an autumnal walk in the woods. Its dry and the crepuscular rays of dabbled sunshine feel warm. Yet you still reached for the big coat. Theres a carpet of orange and auburn, and you cant help kick some leaves up. Just off the path is the unmistakable scent of the season, with logs, moss and the certainty that out of sight they are hundreds of mushrooms.

We open and share a bottle of RIDGE + FURROW, Naturally sweet Medium. A cider made using the tricky technique of arrested fermentation, slowly reducing the speed of the yeasts conversion of sugar to alcohol. When done well you are left with a naturally sweet full juice cider, with relatively low alcohol. No water or sugar is added, so its full of flavour. And this particular bottle is a delight at just 5% ABV. Full of apple, with a hint of spice and a melt in the mouth pastry vibe, like opening a box of Mr Kipling’s exceedingly good pies. Theres a full bubble and a velvety soft feel, that just offsets the texture of the cheese and rye toast. The freshness and fruitiness of the apple found in this drink, pairs delightfully with the slighty earthy and more complex cheese.

3. Its been that Kinda Day.

I always keep a few SANDFORD ORCHARDS The General in the cupboard. That situation when you get in after a hard day and need a drink. Its not a session, or a situation where you want to open a bottle to share, but you feel like you deserve a drink. If its just the one, it needs to be a good one. The General is 8.4% alcohol, and you can feel its spiritous nature as it warms, but without any of the fiery alcoholic burn you get from spirits.  Theres a lot going on, baked apple and spice, burnt orange, soft oak you get from a used barrel. Theres a deep stone fruit flavour, with a rum and raisin richness. Sweetness, with just enough acidity for lift, and a soft grip on your cheeks. At the 2023 International Cider Challenge this scooped best tannin led cider. This is a sipper, so it needs a corresponding nibbler.            

I cut myself a big chunk of Curworthy – Devon Oke. This a hard cheese, made at Stockbeare Farm on the edge of Dartmoor. I love its firm texture that allows me to nibble, without making too much of a mess, and when paired with the General it needs to have a punchy full flavour of its own. One of the key rules with cider and cheese pairings is to try and match intensities. There is a deep nuttiness, dried rather than fresh, and somewhere between cashew and hazelnut. It doesn’t melt in your mouth, rather you have to savour each chew, and if you close your eyes it creates a gustatory hallucination of being out on the moor, at dusk with the wind gusting across the granite hilltops and heather.

4. The Nice meal.

Life can be busy, so we try and make moments to cook something nice. Not many things cannot be improved with cheese and cider. I make sure I use great cheese, and I always buy a bigger chunk  than I think I need. In a proper cheese shop when the monger offers up the knife say “just a bit more”. Scrambled eggs sprinkled with small cubes of cheddar just as you turn the heat off. A soft cheese tossed with tomato, basil and pasta becomes the most incredible yet simple weeknight meal. An autumnal pear and ewes cheese salad. A brilliant blue added to a peppery marrow and potato soup not just taking it up a level but a route straight to the top tier. The salt of the cheese balancing the peppery note, the cheese proving a deep rich creaminess.

Pair these meals with great ciders. For something big and hearty look at GREEN MAN – Major and Ellis Bitter. Both classic Devon apple varieties, ripening nice and early so can be picked in the sunshine. But needing time to soften. This is the 2019 vintage.

Ellis Bitter is chameleous, taking on the attributes of the apple varieties it is fermented with, or the barrel it is aged in. So it is the Major apple that is really showcased here. Plenty of fruit – late autumnal almost over ripe apple, pumpkin, spice. Theres a petichor note – rain on dry surfaces, but if I let my imagination take me I feel like its called Major as there is an almost battlefield esque note. Wet tyres, just the faintest smidge of piston grease and dirt, a waft of the night after a bonfire. Like the sort of scent Sly Stallone would wear. Its complex and intriguing. Theres a slight bitterness but it feels balanced with the mouth filling fizz. It needs the nice meal, but as we have discovered the meal can be better for the cider too. The dryness of the cider showcasing any sweetness.

For something fresher and lighter then try SANDFORD ORCHARDS – Katya. It’s been made using the Martinotti method, so secondary fermented in the tank and then transferred to bottle. There is a nice crisp bubble, which highlights a fresh late summer aroma. Apple, but also berry, possibly strawberry but there’s a slight sour freshness that takes me to raspberry. Theres a salinity in there, with the pink tones taking me to a sunset on a tropical island beach. In the mouth, theres a nice sweetness, with an underlying acidity to give it backbone, and a the slightest hint of tannin to make the tongue do a salsa roll. This would be mega with any earthy cheese/food combination you can come up, or even something with a little spice.

5. The Cheeseboard

Everybody loves cheeseboards. The connection, the moments of togetherness, and taking time to enjoy are all brought together with a few really good cheeses and a serving platter. We sit and we nibble, and we chat, and we allow ourselves to consciously appreciate. They are very simple to put together, so it’s a shame we don’t bring out the cheeseboard more often. To paraphrase  – Families or Friends that Enjoy a Cheeseboard with Cider Together, Stay Together.

For a normal evening with friends, we clear the plates away and choose 3 Really Good cheeses. This provides enough variation, and nice aesthetic on the plate. At Christmas I have been as high as 9, and need to pull out the big board. Add in the crackers and the chutneys, a bit of fruit, some sweet peppers, gherkins or cornichons, maybe some nuts and it starts to take over the table. It ebbs and flows over the two week festive period, sometimes even featuring a hunk of Christmas cake.

Whatever the scale I suggest always including a really good cheddar and for this choose QUICKES Vintage Clothbound. There are some lovely rich and creamy cheddars around, but for full on depth of flavour this is hard to beat.  Quickes cheddars are traditional clothbound, with a flavour that transcends any normal cheddar. Its creamy with a melt in the mouth texture, with savoury notes like lifting the lid on a complex slow cook. It finishes with a piquant eqsue note that triggers the synapses and makes the mouth water.

Add a Blue. If Roquefort, Stilton and Gorgonzola are considered the 3 Kings of the Cheese World, then this is the shooting star leading the way.  TICKLEMORE DAIRY and the Devon Blue. This recently won Super Gold at the World Cheese Awards. To say its incredible may be an understatement – it’s the 8th best cheese in the whole world.  Crumbling and so soft it melts in the mouth, you cant help but close your eyes in enjoyment. Theres a salinity and it takes me to a new place. It feels like I am standing in glistening caves, but its definitely not the Wookey Hole experience of my childhood. We are not speleologists crawling along damp potholes. As I close my eyes I feel the scale of the cave. Its tall, three of more double decker buses and deep. Theres a feeling of grandeur. More Dark Knight Rises, than dark and dingy. There is a stunning waterfall in one corner, and a humidity, but the clean freshness take me by surprise as cool air passes through. I love this cheese. Its hard to describe, its complex, but its super rewarding. You lick your finger and ensure every morsel is captured.

And for the cider pairing there is only one. Its hard to match the intensity, the complexity, the character across the cheeses

If you can, I suggest adding a washed rind to the cheeseboard. I have travelled across the border into Somerset with Merry Wfye from the Bath Soft Cheese Co. This cheese is washed in cider every other day for four weeks, feeding the natural microbiome found on the rind. Classic orange hue, with an aroma that’s like a walk through the farm. Theres a giving pliant texture, and taste of a roast dinner, slighty meaty with a side of green autumnal veggies. Its certainly a cheese to consider and discuss.

And for the cider pairing there is only one. Its hard to match the intensity, the complexity, the character across the cheeses. RULL ORCHARDS Pomological. It just Works. The cheeses are made better by the drink, and the drink is made better by the cheeses. I am happy to admit that when I first tried it, it tried to pull my teeth out of my gums, with its tannic structure, but two years in a ex Rum barrel has, in the mother of all humblebrags, transformed it into something rich and decadent. Big spirituous rum and raisin on the nose, and time has softened the tannins into just the most velvety smooth flavour. Theres enough sweetness to balance the salt of any of cheeses, and a dark rich stone fruit vibe that’s reminiscent of Port. But its better, and made and grown here in Devon.


The timeless tropes of friendship, team-mates, wingmen have endured for a reason. What makes us human, and what brings meaning to our lives, are our connections to each other. Friends or partners lift you up, they give you confidence and make you better. It’s a relationship that complements each other. It brings out the best in each other. Its reciprocal and its symbiotic. One plus one is more than two. From our story –  McGrath and Warne, Adams and Keowne, Maverick and Goose. Cider and Cheese, of course. Mike and his best friend.