As I type this I am sipping Virginia cider and snacking on Virginia cheese. It’s December first, and I guess I just can’t let go of cider week, but why should I? Autumn has given way to the Winter holidays and it’s a wonderful time to not only celebrate with local cider but to relish in all the bounty of our great state. Chef Travis Milton, of Comfort restaurant in Richmond, who wears his love for the state of Virginia and his Appalachian heritage on his sleeve, honored both in a collaboration with Foggy Ridge Cider in what was for me, the highlight of the VA Cider Week’s festivities.
“I was happy to be able to feature a lot of heirloom apples, some of which are used in the ciders made by Foggy Ridge. Most of the food came either from local growers or folks in the South Western part of the state.” Chef Travis Milton
The eventing started with a cocktail from Comfort barman Derek Salerno. A play on the fabled Sazerac, a rye-based cocktail, Salerno subbed in Foggy Ridge Pippin Gold, a dessert cider, as the sugar element. It was spiced up with some house-made apple bitters, a hit of Peychaud’s, and finished with lemon peel and a mist of absinthe.
Our appetites well stimulated, it was time for the first course: venison tartare with quail egg, Winesap apples, smoked salt, sorrel, and bourbon mustard. The winesaps were easily recognizable in that opening dish, their deep crimson skins outlining the luscious tartare. This was paired with a second cocktail by Salerno, The Seelbach, featuring Foggy Ridge’s First Fruit as a stand in for the classic’s usual champagne. It was a favorite and much to my delight (and yours, trust me) he shared the recipe and you can find it below.
A salad of duck confit and Hewes crab apple was next, accented with cherries and bacon in a sorghum and green peanut vinaigrette, it was the perfect combination of rich, sweet and tart and a nod to Virginia peanuts.
Smoked trout, with pickled Albemarle Pippin apples, preserved lemon, and sorghum berry crackers was made even more excellent paired with Foggy Ridge’s Sweet Stayman. A rule of thumb when pairing, cider loves smoke…BBQ pork, I’m looking at you!
Speaking of pork, it wouldn’t be a proper dinner at Comfort without at least a cameo by the South’s most beloved animal. We dug into Cheerwine-vinegar glazed pork, Candy Roaster squash with Gold Rush apple puree, bacon braised Brussels sprout greens, and apple mustard jus. A symphony of Fall flavor, this last course caused quite the buzz as some diners were unsure of just what a Candy Roaster squash was. Fortunately, Chef Milton and Diane Flynt modeled a handsome specimen for the crowd:
Just when I was positive nothing else could possibly fit into my happy belly, dessert was served. Not one, but TWO variations on Appalachian staples, vinegar pie and apple stack cake re-imagined as ice cream! It was a glorious, if ample, end to the feast. A few last sips of Foggy Ridge Pippin Gold to close the evening and I was off into the night, already looking forward to what next year’s events will bring.
adapted by Derek Salerno
1 oz Laird’s 7 1/2 year apple brandy
.5 oz Grapefruit cordial (or sub Cointreau)
4 dashes house cherry-spice bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
3oz Foggy Ridge First Fruit cider
Flamed grapefruit peel, garnish
Stir first four ingredients briefly over ice, strain into a chilled highball glass, top with cider and garnish.