Real Cider in Europe – Was it Ever Lost? – Vol. 1, No. 4

• First Some Apple Basics
• Give Cider Some Latitude
• Classic Cider Nations

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Wild rose blossom.

Apple Botany 101. Apples and similar fruits are classified in the rose (Rosaceae) family. Fruits of this family are thought to have originated in western Asia. They are sometimes called ‘pip fruit’ in reference to the small seeds in the core. Fruit containing a single large seed, peaches for instance, are called ‘stone fruit.’ While also part of the Rosaceae family, peaches, plums, apricots and cherries fall into the genus Prunus.
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Apple blossom.

Apples (Malus sp.), pears (Pyrus sp.), quinces (Cydonia sp.), and loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) are termed pomes: fruit in which a fleshy, edible hypanthium layer surrounds a seed-containing core (ovary).

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It's true that most people don't like to eat apple ovaries.

Next time you have the chance, slice a rose hip in half and notice how much like an apple it is. In many foods (nuts, citrus, squash, etc.) it is the ovary we eat, but with apples, it is this sweet but vitamin-deficient swollen floral tissue.

In better real ciders one might detect aromas or flavors of pear, rose, raspberry, cherry, and more. It is not that strange considering these fruits are all relatives of the apple.

The Latitude of Cidertude. Cidermaking is climate-driven. Apples tend to grow in a certain climate, one with a suitably long growing season and (typically) a winter with some freezing temperatures. Since fine cider is made from recently picked apples and apples are a bulky commodity to ship, pressing cider at or near the orchards makes sense.

In this country, the greatest apple growing regions are the Northeast, the mid-Atlantic states, the Great Lakes region, and the Pacific Northwest. In other words, apples seem to grow at between 40 and 50 degrees latitude in North America.

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Popular cider-producing regions around the world. (Captured from Google Maps)

Apples were not a native crop; they were brought by pioneering souls to the New World. Apples and cidermaking were old arts in Great Britain, lower Scandinavia, France, Germany, Poland and surroundings countries. In Europe apples thrive at latitudes of 45 to 55 degrees – a little farther north than here, but the climate isn’t as cold as it would be here due to Gulf Stream warming. In the southern hemisphere, apples grow well in South Africa, southern Australia, and New Zealand, all at around 30 to 40 degrees south.

Cider Nations. Do you know that cider traditions are alive and comparatively well in other countries? Some have speculated that Prohibition or the post-WWII urban migration undermined real cider in this country. That discussion isn’t part of this article, but would be worth visiting in another installment.

TPJ cider and perry

The Palate Jack and some merry Welsh lads at the Welsh Perry & Cider Festival, at the Clytha Arms, near Raglan, Monmouthshire, Wales.

South central England and Wales have a very lively artisan cider culture. If one knows where to look, one might have the chance to explore a regional cider festival, as the Palate Jack did a few years ago. The most active region includes Herefordshire, England and Monmouthshire, Wales. These ciders are not the commonplace, canned ciders from Britain, but are rustic, highly scented, farmy enigmas served from plastic carboys in a sawdust-strewn stone barn. Wonderful, if not lacking somewhat in finesse!

savannah cider

Savannah Dry Premium Cider - an astonishing aroma.

While in Wales we noticed a South African cider called Savanna Dry Premium Cider. Made of Granny Smith apples, it burst with incredible floral and spice aromas. It is marketed for the mainstream, but bears little resemblance to the mass-market English, Irish, and Vermont ciders. It can be tough to find in this country.

It is true that on a hot summer’s day a can of Strongbow or Magners hits the spot. Although to visit their websites, one imagines that soccer is more important than cider… but is it? Bulmers, who have diversified / bought out cider producers in several markets, have also been known to produce some dry, more traditional ciders. Good luck finding them.

Another region with a profound cider history is near Frankfurt, Germany. Here, along the confluence of the Main and Rhein Rivers, Frankfurters have established their own beverage identity – not with the beer of Franconia to the east, or wines of the Rheinland just west – but with appelwein. Known to us as cider and to locals as ebbelwoi, Frankfurt cider houses serve a small, but dedicated following.

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A bevvy of bembels.

Cider establishments in Frankfurt are centered on the south bank of the Main in an older neighborhood called Sachsenhausen (‘Saxon houses’). The cider is traditionally served in a potbellied stoneware pitcher called a bembel. Traditional tumblers into which ebbelwoi is poured are called geripptes – with textured grips that help you hold onto your cider with pork-fat-smeared fingers. Bembels come in all sizes; one orders the pitcher based on how many glassfuls of cider they want. For instance, an achter holds eight 250-300 ml glasses worth. The cider itself is not as reputed as Germany’s beers and wines, and with good reason. It is, well, just okay. A splash of good fizzy mineral water is often added to pick it up a little.

Back here in chilly New England, writing about cider makes one yearn for a taste, a taste of tart and sparkling local cider. TPJ

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