Ciders from Virginia pair up nicely with food

In metro Atlanta, you can try Foggy Ridge ciders, and see how well they pair with food, at Lusca, H. Harper Station, the Spence and Ration & Dram. Look for the ciders to purchase at Hop City, H&F Bottle Shop and Tower. For more information on Foggy Ridge Cider:

When Diane Flynt was growing up in West Point, she spent most weekends at her grandfather’s farm in nearby LaGrange.

As she tells her story, she never angled to leave behind her rural Georgia background for a long career in international banking that took her around the world. Nor did she ever position herself as an “escapee” from the corporate world when she decided to return to an agrarian life in the Southern countryside.

“I just knew there was a part of me that always wanted to have a farming career,” she said during a recent phone conversation from her apple farm in the southern Appalachians, where she makes Foggy Ridge fermented (i.e., hard) ciders.

She began thinking of cider making while she was working as a consultant in England, where she found the farmstead craft ciders had a delicacy and complexity far beyond mass-market commercial brands. The whole process, from nurturing the fruit to fermenting its juice, appealed to her.

“I knew I wanted to grow something, but I also wanted to make something,” Flynt recalled. She and her husband purchased property in southern Virginia’s apple belt in the late 1990s and began planting a wide variety of cultivars.

Some of the varieties — Winesap, Stayman — are good for eating out of hand. But others, what Flynt calls “the real true cider apples,” can be too sour, bitter or astringent to ever darken a lunchbox.

“We grow some English apples like the Dabinett and the Tremlett’s Bitter. Those are the apples you call ‘spitters,’” she said.

Today, Foggy Ridge produces four different sparkling ciders as well as two kinds of apple port — a sweet dessert beverage fortified with Virginia brandy.

I have yet to try the port, but I find the ciders themselves pretty ravishing.

I first encountered Foggy Ridge at a great tapas restaurant in Durham, N.C., called Mateo. I recall the evening as a blur of food and wine, all good. But there was a sudden moment of taste clarity when fantastic clams steamed in garlicky boiled peanut broth with ham arrived at the same time as a lively bottle of Foggy Ridge First Fruit. It was bright, spicy and acidic, with a sneaky complexity that made the food that much tastier.

I remember thinking it struck me more like good wine than my previous hard cider association of mediocre beer. (Not that there’s anything wrong with mediocre beer, but a pint of Amstel Light and a pint of Strongbow cider kind of scratch the same itch for me.)

After trying the tart, dry First Fruit again, it seems like it could be a versatile accompaniment to salty, umami-rich dishes like those clams.

Another Foggy Ridge bottling, the off-dry Stayman Winesap, gives you a bit of the honey and sweetness you might expect. It might go quite well with spicy Asian food or a cheese plate, but I’m guessing its chewable soul mate would more likely be potato chips. This cider, which is finished with a bit of unfermented apple juice, seems more like something you’d want to sip on the deck on a warm day.

I asked Flynt if she was ever tempted to add any, say, hops or other flavorings to her cider. She didn’t exactly growl under her breath, but the answer was a clear “no way.”

“That’s what I call the ‘beerification’ of cider,” she said firmly. “The market for cider has been growing by about 100 percent a year over the past three years, and a lot of people are buying the juice of Gala and Fuji apples, which don’t make good cider. If you don’t have any good ingredients to start with, you’re going to have to flavor the juice.”

Flynt paused for a moment and concluded, “We make cider the traditional way. We’re more like winemakers.”