A lot of firsts happened on March 23 at The King’s Kitchen on Trade and Church streets. It was my first time planning a pairing dinner, Kings Kitchens’ first time executing a pairing dinner, and Windy Hill’s first time having their award winning-ciders featured in pairing dinner. For a bunch of first-timers we didn’t know what to expect.
It goes like this: a few months back I had the idea for a pairing dinner but wanted to create a unique experience outside of the norm. So I talked with the fine folks at King’s Kitchen, a nonprofit serving Southern-inspired cuisine from Carolina farms and purveyors with proceeds used to feed the homeless. We came up with the idea to use Windy Hill Cider to be paired with dishes custom-crafted by Chef Cody especially for the occasion.
The first course started with Hoppin Johnny, a dry-hopped cider with perle, saaz, and cascade hops added in the secondary. This gives the cider a floral aroma and bit of an earthy flavor but no real bittering as there is not heat to extract the resin in the hops. Paired with the Hoppin Johnny were North Carolina clams braised in the cider, merquez sausage from Harmony Ridge Farms, fennel, tomatoes, and fresh herbs. Full disclosure, I had to google what Merquez sausage was. Apparently it is a North African sausage made with lamb and spices. The closest thing I can relate it to would be chorizo. The spiciness of the merquez sausage and the Hoppin Johnny braised clams was something special.
The second course had the Rusty Gold five-spice cider along with a benne seed crusted salmon, Anson Mills farotto, and Boy and Girl Farm peas and carrots. Rusty Gold was a fall seasonal cider that turned into a year round selection after demand quickly rose for it. Cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, orange peel, and clove all go in this cider to make it smell like fall and taste like Christmas. I had always thought Rusty Gold would go well with salmon and Chef Cody echoed that thought. The spiciness of the cider and the smokiness of the salmon paired nicely and were contrasted by the creaminess of the farotto.
Finally, dessert and let’s not kid each other – my inner fat kid was pretty excited. I have a strong sweet tooth so anything put in front of me with chocolate and strawberries I’ll pretty much destroy. That said, it’s not hard for me to write nice things about the King’s Bakery chocolate mousse, strawberry gel, and mint whipped cream paired with strawberry cider. Pureed strawberries are added pre-fermentation so the sugars can aid in the process and to dilute the flavor of the fruit so it doesn’t come off as strong. The chocolate mousse and sip of strawberry cider was probably the best pairing of the night. I usually need a glass of milk with my sweets but I could definitely see myself drinking this again with some chocolate cake.
All and all is was a fun night. Nine people, most of them strangers; at one table enjoying great cider, food, and conversation while learning about the ciders from Matthew Gusmer, the owner and cider maker from Windy Hill. Head down to Windy Hill Orchard and Cidery in York, SC to see the place, sample the ciders on site, and grab some to pair with your own dinner. You won’t be disappointed. Nor will you be disappointed in King’s Kitchen a one-of-a-kind non-profit restaurant with a purpose to help the homeless in Charlotte. From the proceeds from sales going to charities, afternoon prayer groups, or hiring second-chance candidates, they do some great things. If you do go try the fried chicken. It might be better that Price’s Chicken Coop.