Why Asturians Throw Their Cider—And the Best Cheeses to Throw Alongside It
In a breezy wind-swept corner of northwest Spain, you’ll find yourself encountering peculiar statues. In these larger-than-life figures cast in bronze, a man grips an upside- down bottle high over his head, pointed toward a glass in the other hand, which he holds just below his hip. This figure, found in the Asturian cities of Oviedo, Mieres, and Gijón, is “throwing” cider—or sidra, as they call it in Spain.
The practice, known as escanciar, is meant to carbonate the still beverage, and it dates back to the eleventh century (when, presumably, SodaStreams were in low supply and champagne fermentation methods were a few centuries away). Technically speaking, the long fall into the wall (never the bottom) of the glass volatizes acetic acid, the compound responsible for the drink’s characteristic sour flavor. Theatrically speaking, it is quite dramatic—bartenders at El Quijote, an Iberian restaurant in New York’s Hotel Chelsea, have taken to “throwing” cocktails as a nod to the suspenseful methods of their countrymen.
Spanish sidras are thrown in both the Asturias and Basque regions, and Spaniards often express a strong preference between the sour, fruity nature of sidras from the former and the earthy, tannic quality of those from the latter. That said, there’s no contest when it comes to output: Asturias is responsible for 80 percent of the country’s cider production. Their sidras were awarded PDO status in 2003, stipulating specific production methods and apple varietals that must be used to label a product “Asturian Sidra Natural.”
On the production side, this means fermenting apple juice in stainless steel or chestnut barrels to near dryness. On the farm side, it means that juice must come from very specific apples grown only in Asturias and picked at peak ripeness (overripe apples produce a cider that is oily and dense—“filado” en Español). These apples, not suitable for eating, include sharp/bitter breeds like Blanquina, Limón Montés, Teórica, Raxao, Xuanina, Clara, and Regona, as well as sweet cultivars like the Verdialona and Ernestina.
Though not stipulated by the PDO, throwing is an essential part of the process, too. You want to achieve a very thin stream, pour in only a little at a time, and refill often. It’s not easy, but it is worth it. (Reader, I practiced in the shower.)
To understand how to pair this unique drink with cheese, I spoke to Rachel Freier, ACS CCP, founder of social curd community the Cheese Club, former Murray’s monger, and self-proclaimed sidra obsessive. “I like to compare sidra to a vinaigrette when I pair it,” she says, calling attention to the drink’s acetic and sour profile. She recommends serving it with anything you’d have with vinaigrette, notably fatty dishes like shellfish and steak.
“It has a cleansing quality to it [that’s great] for rich foods.” She also says throwing is absolutely indispensable to bringing out the nuanced flavors and textures of sidra, advising tipplers to always “pour it long and short!” Read on for a few of our favorite Asturian sidras to pour from on high, and the cheeses to enjoy with them.
Aged in famed Asturian natural caves that impart spice and funk, Cabrales is a natural neighbor to Asturian sidra. Freier calls it “one of the best terroir pairings I’ve had,” which she attributes to the peppery blue and acetic sidra softening each other’s hard edges to arrive at a surprising harmony. This sidra, full of bovine funk and forest-floor warmth, can stand up to the Cabrales heat.
Hailing from the Finger Lakes’ esteemed cider region, ACS winner Cayuga Blue is a bit less intense than Cabrales but still full of savory mushroom flavors. Pair with Fanjul’s hazy, unfiltered sidra to bring out its mild notes of banana and citrus.
The Asturian Sidra, PDO allows for Sidra Natural Espumosa—ciders that undergo tank or secondary fermentation for guaranteed bubbles—and the fizz in Viuda de Angelon’s comes with amber hues and a nose that’s all barnyard. Use it to wash down a stick-to-your-ribs soft cheese like this fudgy triple creme from Four Fat Fowl.
Aged underground along the banks of Asturias’ Nalón river, Rojo is a firm surface-ripened pyramid made in the style of one of Spain’s oldest cheeses, Afuega’l pitu. Yeasty and bright, it’s an excellent match for Apple Blossom Buzz—a semi-dry sparkling cider that’s sweetened with honey from bees that pollinate the very orchards where Viuda de Angelon grows their apples.