Hard Cider + Cider Braised Pork Shoulder

Oct 23, 2016

How’d ya like them apples?

Fall is here… for the most part. We are halfway through October and yet it still feels like July. But the trees know. Cool, crisp nights are converting the starch in the apples to sweet sugar as they ripen on the trees. Every year we observe the change in the leaves… they start out vibrant green and slowly the fall canopy is set aflame with fiery shades of red, orange and gold, the warm colours easing us into winter after a long, hot summer.

As kids, we counted the days until the class trip to the orchard. The trip signalled the kick off to all the best of fall…Halloween, bobbing for apples, running through the pumpkin patch to find the perfect jack o’lantern, launching ourselves head first into a freshly raked pile of leaves. And best of all, seeing your breath outside for the first time then running into the house rosy cheeked to be rewarded with a glass of fresh pressed cider.

We still like to be rewarded with a cold drink at the end of a work day… now it’s with a glass of hard cider.

Cider House Rules !

What is cider? Simply, it’s crushed and fermented apples. Ciders are anything but a one size fits all beverage; some are made from eating apples while others are made from apples specifically grown for the purpose. Cider apples provide the flavour, tannin and acidity needed to produce a drink with more complexity.

Sweet or soft cider refers to fresh non-alcoholic cider, basically crushed ripe fruit, pressed and bottled. Sweet cider can also be used as the base to produce large batch commercial hard cider year-round. Hard cider is made from fresh pressed juice with the addition of wine yeast to kick start fermentation. How far the fermentation process goes defines whether the cider becomes a dry or off dry style.

England is the world’s largest consumer of cider per capita, where it is traditionally known as scrumpy. We are seriously diggin’ this word. The Oxford English Dictionary confirms the existence of a word “scrump” applied to “anything small or undersized”, particularly apples, and notes a related word scrumpling for a small apple.

Here is how we plan on working this word into conversation:

“Hey, your ride is scrumpin’!” Meaning, I like your sub-compact vehicle.
“One scrumpy, non-fat, decaf latte.” Seriously, what is with the Venti anyway?!
And that one co-worker that drives you crazy… definitely a case of scrumpy man syndrome.
The possibilities are endless…

In all seriousness, it was the Norman conquest of England around 1066 AD that brought lots of new apple varieties from France. Cider quickly became the second most popular beverage in England. Beer holding steadfast at number one. Colonialists brought their taste for the beverage as well as the seeds needed to plant the apple trees throughout North America. At that time, cider was cheaper to produce than beer and safer to drink than water. It was prohibition that brought the boozy apple production to a halt. The bitter cider apple trees were chopped down and replaced with sweeter eating and baking apples and never replanted. Varieties such as Dabinett, Ellis Bitters, Browns and Somerset Redstreak became nearly extinct.

 A fermentation revolution is upon us.

Cider is the fastest growing alcoholic beverage category. In the past, you might have found one lonely cider on a bar menu, bridging the gap between wine and beer. These days, cider is a stand-alone category often divided into styles by endless producers. There are even bars that specialize in serving hard cider. The first cider bar to open in the U.S., Bushwhacker’s, in Portland Oregon, produces and serves its own small batch cider.

The reason for this cider explosion: it’s incredibly food friendly.

The apple of our eye…

We were so inspired by our Farmer’s market, this was one of those meals that we knew was going to great from the get-go.

 Local organic pork shoulder, some sweet local cider to braise it in, and rosy Honey Crisp apples, parsnips and sunchokes to roast alongside.

Add some buttery spaetzle and uncork a few bottles of hard cider; scrumpiest Sunday night dinner ever!

Herbed Spaetzle 

serves 6


2 cups flour
2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 cup milk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped mild herbs (parsley, chive, dill)
1/4 cup unsalted butter

  1. In a medium bowl combine the flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the milk and eggs. Whisk until smooth, then fold in the chopped herbs.
  2. Fill a large pot half full with lightly salted water and bring to a simmer over medium high heat.
  3. Put the batter in a spaetzle maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions and slide the hopper and drop the spaetzle directly into the simmering water. Alternatively, hold a colander with large holes over simmering water and use a spatula to push about a cup of the batter through directly into the water below. Cook about a minute and then using a slotted spoon or mesh strainer, transfer to second colander in the sink, cooling the cooked spaetzle under cold water. Drain well. The spaetzle may be made to this point 4 hours ahead, covered and refrigerated until ready to serve.
  4. Just before serving, in a large skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter. Add the spaetzle and sauté, stirring frequently, until they become golden and crispy.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.

Spaetzle translates to ‘little sparrows’ in German and refers to the shape of these delicious little dumplings. 

Cider Braised Pork Shoulder + Roasted Apples, Parsnips and Sunchokes

Sear it and forget it. Get your braise on!

serves 6 to 8

for the cider braised pork shoulder:

3 1/2 pounds pork shoulder-boneless and tied
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
10 shallots, peeled and sliced in half
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 to 5 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups apple cider
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup hard cider
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Pat the pork shoulder dry and season with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.
  3. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large oven-proof pot or Dutch oven with a lid. Brown the pork shoulder on all sides and even the ends. Transfer to a plate.
  4. Add the halved shallots and 1 tsp of salt and sauté over medium high heat until the shallots have softened, about 8 minutes.
  5. Add the garlic and thyme. Cook another minute or so and then stir in the apple cider, deglazing the pan and scraping up any brown bits..
  6. Return the pork shoulder to the pot and pour chicken stock over to cover. Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover pot and place in oven. Reduce heat to 325 F.
  7. Braise until the pork shoulder is very tender, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Your whole house is going to smell amazing!!!!
  8. Remove the pork shoulder to a cutting board and cover with foil to keep warm.
  9. Return the pot to the stovetop and bring the cider/stock liquid to a rolling boil. Continue to simmer until the liquid has reduced by half and thickened (this may take about 10 minutes).
  10. Add the hard cider and mustard and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  11. Cut pork shoulder into pieces and arrange on a serving platter with roasted apples, parsnips and sunchokes around. Serve the reduced cider jus alongside.
for the roasted apples and veggies:

6 to 8 parsnips, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
6 to 8 apples, such as Honey Crisp, cut in half
2 pounds sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed well and cut in half
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut in small pieces
kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the parsnips, apples and sunchokes in a single layer (you may need two baking sheets if they are smaller).
  3. Drizzle with olive oil and dot with the butter.
  4. Roast until everything is tender and golden, about 25 to 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste

‘For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am over-tired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.’

– Robert Frost, After Apple Picking

what we chose to pair and why

Pork and apples? It’s a classic combo. An apple a day… you know the rest.


(what we wrote down when we tasted)

  • Light, crisp, off-dry
  • Golden, amber, foamy head with lacy edges
  • Oxidized, toasted nuts, complex, malty, beer-ish, creamy, bready, honey-ed
  • Grippy tannins on the teeth
  • Smells like the woods in the fall, wet leaves, compost, logs, mushrooms


  • Salty, earthy pork, reduced cider jus, balanced by the natural fall apple flavours.
  • Crisp clean and bubbly nature of the cider is naturally palate cleansing.
  • Notes of earthy barnyard flavour, think funky in a good way, like Kombucha.
  • Basically, all the best of the harvest season on one plate.

The Verdict 

Fall ‘hard’ for cider and upset the apple cart. It’s time to start drinking cider. Cider has all the complexity of wine and thirst quenching drinkability of beer. It’s a food pairing workhorse and it’s easy to find so many dishes it tastes great with. The best place to start is to think about dishes and ingredients that you would cook with apples and go from there.

‘It’s time to walk to the cider mill through air like apple wine, and watch the moon rise over the hill, stinging and hard and fine.

It’s time to cover your seed pods deep and let them wait and be warm.

It’s time to sleep the heavy sleep that does not wake for the storm.

Winter walks from the green, streaked West with a bag of Northern Spies, the skins are red as a robin’s breast, the honey chill as the skies.’

-Stephen Vincent Benét, John Brown’s Body

our ciders…

Eric Bordelet Brut Tendre Sidre

Normandy, France

Eric Bordelet’s Sidre, from the old French spelling for Cider, comes from Charchigne in the heart of Normandy’s premium cider producing region.

A former sommelier at Alain Passard’s 3 star Parisian restaurant ‘Arpege’, Bordelet’s approach to cider making is similar to winemaking.

In 1992 he took over the family property in Normandy with over 20 heirloom varieties of apples and 15 varieties of pears.

His artisan cider is produced biodynamically, from 40 to 50 year old trees that are all hand picked.

Lots of ripe apple and honey notes with a hint of barnyard. Very beautifully made cider with a balance of acid, tannin and sugar.

Twin Pines Hammer Bent Red Sparkling Hard Cider

Thedford, Ontario

The Hammer Bent Red was awarded ‘Best in Show’ at the 2014 Great Lakes International Cider Competition out of 327 entries.

A blend of Red Court Cortland, Northern Spy, Ida Red and Golden Russet Apples, the cider was produced with no additives and little filtering.

Located on Kennedy Line in Thedford, Twin Pines Cider House and Orchards were first planted in the 1970’s.

Open on the weekends through the fall for tastings.

A very approachable lively cider with baked apple sweetness and bursts of acidity that keep it fresh, crisp and light.

Like a good friend…we are just trying to push you outside of your comfort zone.

Live a little and expand your palate.

Scrump on!


Christie Pollard

Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers

After 10 years as a restaurateur, culinary instructor and caterer, a trip to France sparked an untapped enthusiasm for all things wine.  I gave up the restaurant life,  made a huge u-turn and dove head first into the vast world of wine.  I have never looked back and achieved my Sommelier certification with the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers in 2015.  I love sharing my pursuit of the perfect pairing in a fun, unfussy and ultimately delicious way with my friends, family and those I teach.


Josie Pontarelli

Red Seal Chef, Culinary Instructor

I graduated from the Stratford Chefs School in 1999 and achieved Red Seal Certification shortly thereafter. With this strong foundation laid, an opportunity to spend time in California presented itself. While there, I was intoxicated by the seasonality and quality of the ingredients everywhere I looked. This experience proved to be a turning point for me in how I thought about food. It inspired me to have a deep and enduring respect for the people, food and culture that go into the perfect dish.

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