Q-and-A with Chuck and Diane Flynt

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Chuck Flynt.

On April 24, Chef Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood Joint and Chef John Eisensmith of Six Plates Wine Bar will team up to present a four-course, Basque-inspired dinner paired with The New York Times’ “America’s Favorite Cider Award Winner,” Foggy Ridge Cider from Dugspur, Virginia.

The evening will begin with a cider-inspired cocktail on the greens of the gorgeous Sarah P. Duke Gardens, which will be made even more beautiful at the hands of Ninth Street Flowers. Tickets are on sale now – click here.

Foggy Ridge’s Chuck Flynt will then personally pair each course with one of his delectable ciders and educate diners along the way, taking them on a journey that started in 1997 when he and his wife, Diane, planted their Virginia orchard with quality fruit. Tickets are

We asked Chuck and Diane about their craft – and how it’s trending nationally.

Give us a brief background of Foggy Ridge and your mission. 

Diane: We planted our cider apple orchard in 1997, and it was the first orchard south of Massachusetts devoted fully to hard cider apples. Our vision was to grow great ingredients. And to make fine cider. In 1997, we had to call it hard cider because people didn’t know what alcoholic cider was.

Chuck: I was in the manufacturing business for many, many years, and one of my mentors told me: “There’s no way to make the finest product if we start with the lesser ingredient. I’m willing to pay a few cents more to get the best ingredient.” That’s true of almost anything you do.

Diane: The other part of our vision has to do with place. We’re in the southern Appalachians, 20 miles north of Mount Airy, at 3,000-feet elevation. Our climate is dramatically different even from Mount Airy. This is just ideal apple territory. We can grow apple varieties that don’t flourish even in the N.C. foothills or the Shenandoah Valley. Our mission has been to grow great ingredients and make cider with a lot of care and skill, in a way that reflects this place.

What are the common misconceptions about cider? 

Diane: People think it’s one thing. You wouldn’t go into a bar and say, “I’ll have the wine.” Or, “I’ll have the beer.” People say, “I’ll have the cider.” The second misconception is people think of beer when they think of cider. You don’t brew cider. It’s fermented. It has nothing in common with making beer. Most of the cider is sold by beer companies – like Woodchuck and Crispin. They’re marketed like beer because they are owned by beer companies. Cider is an agricultural product like wine. Most of beer is water. It’s cheap to make. Cider is not. At its best, it’s 100% fruit juice. I’m hoping cider makers will differentiate their ciders based on the type of fruit and how they make it versus additives like ginger flavor and pumpkin flavor. We’re seeing that because cider makers getting started don’t have access to any good fruit.

The final misconception is that in the cider world, local does not equal good. Chefs love local tomatoes and local green beans and local asparagus because when you ship them, the flavor deteriorates. But with apples, the local apples that you can find in N.C. and Virginia are not good cider apples. Very few are. Variety is more important than where it’s from. That’s another way that cider is like wine.

Chuck: Another misconception is that all cider is cider. We interpret it as cider fruit grown to be made into cider. Some folks use cheap concentrate to make an apple-based drink and call it cider. Identity and prominence are a big challenge in the cider world.

What’s your best advice to someone who has never tried cider before? 

Diane: Taste it and think about it a little bit. Buy several ciders at the same time and get some friends; taste them together and talk about the differences. We really believe quality is visible if you taste side by side. One of the things we do is regular blind tastings. We get five or six ciders, put them in brown paper bags – we’ll taste all of them and talk about our reactions. Some of our cider will be in there. It’s very educational.

On April 24 at Sarah P. Duke Gardens, you’ll be pairing different ciders with different courses. What foods go best with cider? 

Diane: A great way for the general public to think about pairing any beverage is to think in two categories – a contrast pairing, where the food is one flavor profile and the beverage is another. Or a “like and like” pairing – where they have similar characteristics.

So a contrast pairing I really like is our dry Serious Cider paired with really fatty food like fried oysters or pizza. You have a lean, elegant, acidic beverage cutting through and contrasting.

One “like on like” pairing that’s really good is our Sweet Stayman Cider – it’s a great thing to drink with barbecue. A full-flavored cider with residual sugars is paired with a very fatty pork shoulder. It’s a “like and like” pairing if you have a sweet barbecue sauce. It’d be more of a contrast pairing if you had a vinegar sauce.

Cheese pairings are a good place to start. A full-flavored, aged Gouda that’s really rich and caramely – a like pairing would be our Sweet Stayman. A contrast pairing would be our First Fruit, which has a lot of tangy, crab apple acidity in it, with cheddar or manchego.

The cider industry is growing. Why do you think cider is having a moment right now? 

Chuck: It’s very trendy, and it’s the beginning of a moment. We hope it’s not a 15-minutes-of-fame kind of deal. Mass-market cider – while it’s provided a gateway for people to learn about cider – it’s also provided the opportunity for people to get serious about cider. They can start exploring other levels of cider. We think it’s a building process. We think it will lay the foundation for a real growth business for fine cider.

Diane: People are more experimental about drinking. And eating. They don’t just drink chardonnay and Cabernet. They’re being gluten free, [which cider is].

What is your favorite of your ciders? 

Diane: Our Serious Cider. But sometimes a cider that dry is a challenge for new cider drinkers. Two years ago, we started making Handmade. That’s really grown in popularity. You could call it light. If I’m going to drink without eating anything, I would choose that one.

Chuck: It’s kind of misleading that we call it Handmade because everything we do is handmade. [laughs] I like First Fruit because it’s so universal. I’m a real middle-of-the-road-type person. I’m not prone to extremes.

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