Chocolate, Cheese & Beer – Recap

It has been too much lately, reading the exploits of my friends who only seem to frolic, never work. My old buddy Rodrigo reportedly has some sort of high-tech job, but all I see on Facebook are videos uploaded from his surfboard-mounted digital movie camera. Another friend, Phil, now living in Oregon goes snowboarding down Mt. Hood when he’s not doing… Come to think of it. What does he do?

Though I have been known to strap on snowshoes, I’m not too keen on drowning in the surf or ending up a crumpled pile of fleshy bones after suffering the effects of gravity. This week I goofed off in my own way. I cooked, I brewed, I ate, I laughed.

I even got in an argument with a drunk guy and called him by a piece of digestive system anatomy… to his face. I’m opinionated, but I rarely share that epithet in mixed company. We made up. He bought me beer. What will our next meeting bring?

It’s Sunday now and I’m basking in the success of being in my own, indefinable way, the champion of un-work.

Here is my nugatory rundown of the week.

  • Monday I ate lunch and contemplated Tuesday.

  • Tuesday was the day for the chocolate and beer. I kept my fingers crossed that chocolates would come from Lincoln’s Chocolatier Blue and they did! The beers were a variable bunch provided by a local distributor. By his own admission, the rep stated he hadn’t much experience with chocolate and beer – and it showed. But the deeper message that was planted in my brain had to do with the biases inherent in distributor-chosen selections. I feel a bitch session coming on that I’ll have to post in my Gripefruit section very soon! However, there were two delicious pairings, both with Weyerbacher beer (Easton, PA):
  1. Belgian-styled quadrupel Quad with the holiday spice chocolate (“You got your apricot in my custard!” “You got your cloves in my peaches!”)
  2. Rum Soaked Currant praline with Weyerbacher Tiny (“Bing, bang, bada bing bing bang.”)

  • Wednesday I brewed my traditional Baltic Porter,  a dark, potent lager that will cold condition towards perfection (what, can’t I aim high?) for a couple of months. Thanks to my new book Yeast (White and Zainasheff, Brewers Publications), my yeast cell counts were (say it like Carl Sagan) in the “billions and billions.” Within six hours of pitching the fermenters were rollicking and spewing stuff that only a homebrewer could love.

  • It was also a good time to save some spent grains from the brewing. I had an idea, actually I thought it to be a revelation, that I could make pumpernickel rye soft pretzels. The trick to using spent grains in bread is to purée them in a blender with some warm water. Otherwise you end up picking coarse grain husks from your teeth. The recipe included stone-ground rye flour, molasses, caraway seeds and a few standard bread ingredients. I won’t post a recipe here, not because the pretzels weren’t good – they were delicious – but because a black pretzel has a rather unappetizing appearance. Judge for yourself…

  • While the infamous pretzel dough was rising I met up with beer maestro Jason to try out a few more of our cheese pairings. We had settled on certain cheeses but were still searching for the specific beers to knock it out of the park. We settled on a date (March 4) and number of tickets to sell (50) and we are sure to sell out early. There is a practical size to a cheese-beer tasting; even this one will have 250 measured portions of cheese, the same number of beers to dispense, plus accouterments. Then everything has to be at the right temperature. I hope we’re getting prep help the day of…
  • Thursday rolled around and there were still pots and pans to clean from beer and pretzel operations. I put off the cheese making to Saturday. But I did stick with the plan to attend a six course beer dinner at a Greek restaurant called The Parthenon. If you read my previous thoughts on beer dinners, you know that I believe it is a good idea to have some moderate strength beers in the mix so you don’t turn into a “pod of beached whales by the fourth or fifth course.” What I failed to estimate were the portions of food. The first course of spice-rubbed chicken drumsticks pressure-cooked to fall-off-the-bone tenderness, sitting atop couscous flavored with lemon juice and blanched almonds was huge. What would pass for a chicken tagine entrée in some Moroccan restaurants was more food than an entire upscale beer dinner. By the fifth course, we were slung over the back of our chairs, our arms akimbo and eyes at half mast. Awesome, filling, soul-warming food. Then the soup bowl sized crème brulée, redolent with vanilla seeds. It had the consistency of melting ice cream. Here’s a similar recipe with a discussion on the key ingredient: vanilla bean paste. Oh mercy. Yes, if you’re wondering, we ate the whole thing.
  • Friday, is it Friday yet? Coasting just a bit. I spent most of the day researching an article for All About Beer magazine. Something about ancient beers and their cultural and ceremonial importance. Now, that is work. Sorry. Didn’t mean to mention the “w” word. I was trying to convince you that I am really just a professional goof-off. Back to being indolent… I made a batch of cider. Although I follow my own recipe, I’m going to let you in on a guilty little secret

  • Saturday – the Day of the Satur. I pause to imagine I know what a Satur is… some sort of man-beast mythic creature. Perhaps the body of a cow, a chalky green hide of lizard scales, angel wings, and man’s head that looks like Wallace. Or maybe I was channeling my inner cheese god. This day was for blue cow’s milk cheese in the British tradition, i.e. Stilton.

  • Saturday night it snowed again. A fair dose. After an hour and forty minutes of shoveling against the drifting snow, icicles on my eyebrows, I returned to the warm interior. No hot chocolate tonight. I have invented a new hot toddy that appeals to my woodland upbringing, my Scottish heritage, and, well, a desire to consume alcohol. I call my drink Woodsman’s Fly Dope because of its memorable aroma. First I make a big mug of strong tea using Lapsang Souchong tea. The tea has a huge pine/juniper smoke aroma and flavor. It brews a deep rust-colored tea with substantial body. So much body, in fact, that a wee dram of Scotch whisky is needed to lighten it up just a bit. The smoked tea and the peaty Scotch merge. Wisps of campfire memories wend their way through your skull like the figments they represent. Sleep will come, and dreams will weave my week into one confusing mural.

So, Rodrigo and Phil, right back atcha!

Cheers, TPJ.

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Moules à la Normande

Here’s recipe number 6 on my countdown to the Feast of the Seven Fishes: Moules à la Normande – mussels in the style of the Normandy region of France. Normandy is well-known for seafood, hard cider, and cheese. Sounds like a plan!

This version came from a fellow who used to live nearby. He was crustier than a stale baguette. We nicknamed him Barnacle Bob. Once a young Italian in New York’s garment business, he endeared himself to his future wife, a British fashion model in the 1960s, by defending her against the advances of a chauvinistic boss. Or was it his classy wool trousers, which never wore out and looked good even on his crooked octagenarian frame? Whenever we got together for a meal he made something with seafood. He did live up to his moniker, even if he couldn’t sail a ship.

This recipe falls into a larger group of expedient steamed mussel recipes often called moules marinière – loosely, “mussels, fisherman style.” Moules marinière typically calls for white wine, but broth, beer or cider are also used. The basic recipe involves heating chopped aromatics and herbs with a lightly acidic liquid, tossing in the mussels and steaming until done. Typically the resulting broth is poured over the mussels, with or without cream added.

When served in northern France, Belgium, or the Netherlands, the classic side dish is French fries, or pommes frites, as they are called. As for the name French fries, I don’t know. The Belgians invented them. Then again, the Dutch invented the Belgian waffle. If you haven’t any fresh, twice fried frites you can serve crusty French bread alongside.

Rope-grown Canadian mussels. (Source: http://www.confederationcove.com)

Moules Savior Faire

Before we get to the recipe, there is a lot to know about mussels. The mussels I prefer are the rope-grown blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) from aquatic farms in the bays of Prince Edward Island, Canada. Mussels grown in this manner are sustainable, do not require additives to the water, and are almost entirely free of silt, since they are grown above the sea floor. The water around PEI is of excellent quality and it is said the blue mussel is the sweetest of all mussels. The New Zealand green lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) is larger and plumper, but I find them not as delicate and usually frozen.

Mussel pots are hard to find in the US, but they really make the experience more complete.

Beyond their aquaculture peculiarities, mussels have a tradition of special cookware and unusual eating methods. In Belgium I was amazed at the portion of mussels, typically about a kilogram. Curious, I counted the shells one time. Six dozen! Mussels are generally steamed in an enameled pot with a dish-shaped lid that fits tightly on top. The pot holds a kilo of mussels in the bottom while steaming and the lid holds the entire jetsam of shells.

Eating the mussels can be messy. The traditional way is to use an empty shell like a pair of tweezers, picking out the mussel meat from another shell while holding each with your fingers. You can try using a fork, but you’ll eventually drop a shell into the broth or fling one accidentally at your dinner companion. There’s a fun little hotel and restaurant called The Old Tom on the main plaza in Ieper, Belgium. There they promote a special fork for mussels.

Once the steamer ingredients are prepped, dinner is only a few minutes away.

Moules à la Normande

Ingredients for 2 Servings

  • 2 pounds fresh mussels
  • 1/4 cup celery, diced
  • 2 tbsp red bell pepper, diced
  • 4 teas minced shallot (1/2 small bulb)
  • 1 teas minced garlic (2 cloves)
  • 2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup finest hard cider or apple wine
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled
  • white pepper to taste

Preparation

Remember: when mussels are raw they should be closed; discard any that aren’t. When cooked they should pop open; discard any that don’t. Begin by placing the mussels in a bowl of cold, unchlorinated water. Next, chop the vegetables as described. Melt the butter in a large enamel pot, add the celery for a minute, then the bell pepper, shallot, garlic, and parsley, stirring to lightly soften, about another minute. Add the cider and place the lid on. As soon as the cider boils, quickly add the mussels (discarding the soaking water). Place the lid on tightly and steam for about 4 minutes.

Arrange the mussels on two deep rimmed plates and keep warm. Immediately add the cream to the liquid in the pot and apply high heat until boiling. Stir in the cheese and bit of white pepper, then using a large spoon, generously divide the sauce over the two plates. Serve immediately with fries or crusty bread and more hard cider. And don’t let the amazing broth go to waste!

Voila! Moules à la Normande avec Cidre de Pomme.

The Countdown

So far:

  • No. 7 – Bacalao con Patates Dulces (Spanish-American salt cod and sweet potato casserole), best served with a hoppy American ale
  • No. 6 – Moules à la Normande (French-style steamed mussels with creamy bleu cheese finish), serve with a semi-sweet hard cider (check out Farnum Hill).

On deck:

  • No. 5 – Ceviché Mixto (Peruvian cold seafood salad with chilis and citrus juice), served with a cocktail I’ll list in my Classic Cocktails category: the Pisco Sour.

That’s it for now – stay tuned. TPJ


Feast of the Seven Fishes

Here's the Pike Street Market in Seattle. I'll have no problems shopping near Boston either. (Source: dailyvignette.wordpress.com)

Seven, nine, eleven – family traditions vary. But the Feast of the Seven Fishes is a Christmas holiday tradition shared by millions of Catholics. Oddly, I’m not one, Catholic I mean. But when someone says “feast” and “fishes” in the same breath they get my attention.

In case you missed it, one of my readers suggested I elaborate on the traditional elements of the Seven Fishes. So here’s the short exchange from Bacalao con Patates Dulces.

for baccala part 2 can we look forward to a holiday discussion on the meal of the seven fishes? [BR]

To which I responded…

How can I say no to this? Okay, here’s the deal. I’ll prepare one fish/seafood dish per week for the next seven weeks. As I go I’ll write about the mostly Italian-American tradition called the “Feast of the Seven Fishes.” The closest I get to being Italian is that my Dad grew up in Boston’s North End. I’m also a long, long way from being Catholic. But I do like the idea of “fasting” where one is stuffed with all these delicacies!

So… I will make seven dishes and they will use some traditional ingredients, but I will not be held to convention beyond that! These dishes will come from the world over, they will be difficult, and they will be freaky. Thanks for the idea, but I can’t help wondering were this will lead. La Vigilia (the vigil) begins! [TPJ]

So… just to chum the waters, so to speak, I am going to let you know what the next recipe is. I’ll have it up by this weekend. That will be my plan, to keep tally of the recipes posted to date and to let you know the next one to come. As I said, it is going to be multicultural and freaky! And it will get stranger and more difficult as we go along. Um huh, there is a plan.

So far:

  • No. 7 – Bacalao con Patates Dulces (Spanish-American salt cod and sweet potato casserole), best served with a hoppy American ale

On deck:

  • No. 6 – Moules à la Normande (French recipe. Steamed mussels in cider, cream, and bleu cheese), served with more hard cider

That’s it for now – stay tuned. TPJ

An Apple Philosophy

I feel the annual cycle of apples. There’s the exuberance of bud-break, the celebration of spring blossoms, the randomness of this year’s pests, and the anxiousness of rainfall, drought and untimely frosts. How badly did the deer attack last year and how severe will the coming winter be?

I thought I should a find a picture to express this, something to represent the cycles of the apple. And this is what showed up…

Ho hum. An apple was a fruit before it was an industrial deity. Sometimes branding pisses me off. A pub in the mountains of western Massachusetts cannot be called Berkshire Beer Works because Boston Beer Works owns the ‘Beer Works’ moniker (after all, that privilege cost them $100 Gs when they were earlier sued by Boston Beer Company for being named ‘Boston Beer’ something). The beers of the Boston Beer Company aren’t even brewed in Boston! The Beer Scribe, Andy Crouch, describes all this in his handy reference The Good Beer Guide to New England. I guess being a lawyer and a beer nerd enlightens one to this aspect of the business – breweries suing one another. War, not peace, seems human nature. Surely I’m rambling.

Times like this make me appreciate the little things in life. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the fact that my Apple computers don’t suffer from downy mildew, attacks by Japanese beetles or deer, or that they work well even in the middle of a drought. I do. I do recognize that. My point being that apples (the carbon-based ones) are pernicious spawn of a complex, temperamental environment. Then again, so are the silicon ones. It comes down to how much we wish to “push” to make things happen.

My pear tree in Nebraska, diminutive thing that it is, produced some beauties this year.

My apple trees in Vermont didn’t fair so well. Heavily browsed by deer and denuded by Japanese beetles, the poor darlings are sending out new leaves in early October. I hope they can put away a little stored energy to make it through the winter. It was also a very dry summer here. That didn’t help. As the old saying goes, “Apples like to have their feet wet.” Oh yes, and the late frost that wiped out most of the blossoms.

As I was expressing my dismay with my struggling orchard, a friend simply said, “Consider it a work in progress.” I like that. It takes off the pressure of trying too hard to make something natural conform to my expectations. I’m not deluded in this. To have an orchard is to prune and graft and fence and fertilize. One necessarily tries to modify the natural order. The balance is in the degree to which you do that.

I try not to take ownership of the universe. It is what it is, and that thing that the universe is, I accept as something I don’t understand. Some people do the that with acts of faith, some by being unconscious. Me, I try not to answer cosmic questions. I define those as pop-quiz questions for which there is no grader to tell me right, wrong, or partial credit.

My paltry effort to care-take, water, fertilize, prune, fence, harvest, patrol, defend, champion, culture, talk to and generally enjoy is just that, a whisper in the winds of the age. Growing apples, for me at least, for my few pedigreed trees and those wild stallions that Dave and I try to rescue from the dark shadows of the meadow’s edge, these are all ultimately beyond our ‘control.’

We can love and caress them, shear them, lighten their load, carve off their rot and suckers… but, as the overused saying goes, at the end of the day, they are apples and we are men. And we cannot make something else conform to an unreasonable reality. So we count the good things that happen and we learn life’s lesson from the things we cannot alter. Humility is a fine headmaster. Just as ontogeny recapitulates philogeny, my friend and I toil to understand the stratagems of a single plant while nations struggle in wielding their people, economy, and political strategy.

We are the single apple blossom and the one bee to their global strategy and their universal manipulation. It reminds me that as individuals we are like the wild tree just discovered, reaching upward in a clogged up mess of overstory, once the farm of an early Vermont settler, now a tangle of regrowth. Apples, after all, did not originate in the Americas, they were brought here to comfort and restore the famished, mostly by way of hard cider. My cider will not be this year and that is perfectly fine. TPJ

The Parlance of Pairing

Much has been said lately about pairing beer with food. The principles include:

• Intensity – stronger flavored beers go with stronger flavored foods.
• Complementarity (or Harmony)– pairing items with similar flavors.
• Contrast – using opposing flavors to create interest.

But the real jewel of beer-food pairing, according to my outlook, is the less predicable creation of flavor synergy. Synergy is the cooperation of agents that produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.

Synergies can occur regardless of whether you’re focusing on intensity, harmony, or contrast. These are flavors that only reveal themselves when the comestibles are brought together. By my reckoning, synergies fall into three modes of expression: mutation, rebirth, and reduction.

Mutation

In mutation, the combination evokes altogether new flavors that seem unrelated to the flavors of either the beer or the food. It seems to me that these new flavors are not hidden in either product, but are a collective sensory reaction to sense organ stimuli interpreted by the brain.

My earliest memory of this experience occurred in high school. A student I didn’t know gregariously foisted upon me a piece of sourdough bread, a slice of lemon, and some salt. She made a little sandwich and fed it to me and said “See, doesn’t it taste like plums?!” Oddly, it did.

I admit to only retrying the experiment once and I was unable to reproduce the effect, but my ingredients were from different sources. I remember thinking about the various ingredients and being unable to reconcile the new flavor. Yes, she was cute. Could it have been the power of suggestion?

I tasted an example of this effect more recently when I enjoyed a cold peanut and shrimp soup with a hoppy Belgian ale. Neither had saffron in it, but the flavor of saffron was evident in the combination.

Rebirth

A second sense of synergy is rebirth. In rebirth we experience the primal ingredients in the beer and/or food. We might detect hops that are unusually bright and green. Or maybe field-fresh grainy or grassy flavors derived from the malt.

Barrel-aged beers with sherry and old wood notes might taste suddenly of pristine, new oak. Or an aged cider might explode with freshly pressed apples. This last example happened to me last week with Farnum Hill Semidry Cider and French cornichons. The acidity, mustard and tarragon of the pickles remained, but the cider went back in time, like biting into a freshly picked apple.

Reduction

Reduction occurs when complementary flavors in both the food and drink cancel each other out. After this neutralization, what is left is an expression of some of the unique ingredients or underlying flavors.

In one event I paired smoked almonds with a smoked porter. I was going for matching intensity and complementary flavors. I thought it would be an easy pairing. In fact, as huge as the smoke flavors were in the nuts and the beer, the smoke almost completely vacated when the two were tasted together. This left a fresh almond flavor from the nuts and a chocolatey-caramelly-nutty malt base from the porter. Those flavors were always there but they were hidden behind the intense smoke.

Another time I was asked to pair a beer with a challenging dessert course: grapefruit meringue pie. I chose Great Divide’s Titan IPA, a beer with an overdose of those hops and high enough alcohol to balance the intensity of the pie. Here again I was shooting for harmony with the grapefruit.

I really was taking a chance, because my audience was more accustomed to wine. I was fearful of the strong bitterness of this beer. But the grapefruit flavors diminished and the graham cracker piecrust came to the fore, nicely matching the sweet malty backbone of the beer.

Synergies do not occur with every pairing. But do be on the lookout. When they do happen you will be left with a lasting impression of your meal. TPJ.

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

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

images

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.
images-1

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).

rep97

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.

Picture 1

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.

keltereien4

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

What to Look for in a Real Cider – Vol. 1, No. 3

• Flavor Profiles and What to Look For
• Tasting Suggestions

On my recent visit to Farnum Hill cidery I was impressed by the palate skills of my hosts, and of course, by their very fine ciders. Cider doesn’t seem to have the established organoleptic terms of art that wine has developed – maybe that’s why cider seems less snooty.

“Do you have a word for that pippy-stemmy thing that reminds you of the apple seed?” The group bandied it about. “Green wood,” they posited. Jess told us in the refrigerated bin barn, “Alright, take a bite of that,” pointing to a bin of kiwi-sized apples. The raised eyebrow meant we were in for a shocking experience. “Chocolate!” I blurted out before the tannins took hold causing me to spit out the rest. LouLou called it “free association” tasting – one just says what comes to mind. (I will abstain from some of the terms I heard, though not in reference to the ciders we tasted there!)

I spoke with Corrie Martin, cider advocate extraordinaire, about this. She knows there is a lack of consumer education. Education leads to consumer appreciation, and that in turn, leads to more informed purchasing and demand. Again, I can’t help but to think back on the beer or wine industries, and how they once had the same hurdle to overcome with American consumers.

As a starting point, following are suggestions of favorable and not so favorable traits of real ciders. If you would like to undertake a group tasting, suggestions for real ciders and some simple tasting protocols are also listed. Enjoy. TPJ

Favorable Traits in Real Cider
• Varietal characteristics of the fresh apple expressed with vitality
• Fruitiness (can be stone fruit, berries, melon, banana, pineapple)
• Floral qualities (lilac, rose, fruit blossoms)
• Spicy or savory notes (cinnamon, vanilla, cocoa, farm terroir)
• Tannin structure and fruity acidity

Undesirable Traits
• Overly green apple or green apple candy flavors
• Vegetative notes of crucifers (broccoli, cabbage, etc.) or squash
• Oxidized (‘reductive’) flavors, such as caramel, wood, leather, although trace amounts may add complexity; new oak barrels may overwhelm a cider and introduce excessive vanillin and oak flavor
• Dull or lifeless cider – even still ciders should have acid zing and aromatic qualities

Suggestions for Cider Tastings
• Taste still ciders before sparkling ones
• A white wine glass is good for nosing and warming
• Rinse your glass with a bit of the next cider first
• Swallowing allows you to judge late palate sensations and whether the acidity agrees with the stomach
• Tasting with cheese may assist in judging the acidity
• Cider can be great with food – explore the possibilities and watch for cuisine à le cidre recipes on this site.

Better Ciders for Your Gathering
Farnum Hill, Lebanon, NH
NH, ME, VT, MA, NY, possibly OR, IL
Wandering Aengus, Salem, OR
OR, WA, CA, UT, TN
Black Star Farms Winery, Suttons Bay, MI
online ordering available to some states
Bellweather Cider, Trumansburg, NY
online ordering available to some states
West County Cider, Colrain, MA
MA, CT, NY
• If you’re lacking enough bottles, throw in a couple of imports for comparison:
Domaine Dupont or others from Normandy region, France
Samuel Smith’s Organic or others from England

A Visit to a Real Cider Producer – Vol. 1, No. 2

• Poverty Lane Orchards and Farnum Hill Ciders

It was an unseasonably mild November day. The low, bright sun warmed. Most of the leaves were down. The last few frostbitten apples, now beginning to ferment, dangled from their perches. This was to be a long overdue visit – Farnum Hill had been on my radar for three years now.

The farm is run by husband and wife Stephen Wood and Louisa ‘Loulou’ Spencer. The short story is that Stephen’s father was a doctor who aspired to be a gentleman orchardist. “Apples are a problem when you’re a doctor,” said Loulou. We saw the pun immediately, knowing “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Her real point, though, was that juggling both careers proved unwieldy. At sixteen, son Stephen was showing interest in the orchard side. At that time the orchard produced stalwart New England eating varieties like Macintosh and Baldwin.

Lady apples

Small and clustered, the Lady apple is a centuries old variety.

Was it foresight to a burgeoning cider industry or a farmer’s practical wisdom that drove Stephen and Louisa to convert the operation to cider apples? Well, the latter, according to Loulou. The writing was on the wall: grocers wanted hard, well-keeping “dessert” apples, and that new fangled green one from Australia (‘Granny Smith’) was all the rage. (More on just how they converted the orchard in the forthcoming Vol. 1, No. 5 – Seeds and Scions.)

Stephen, now in his fifties, showed up in blue coveralls and a Bruegel-esque red felt hat. He was scrambling to get to Cider Days, down in western Massachusetts. We shook hands. He said that Loulou and sales rep Corrie Martin would be taking us around. Then he was gone. When our party had gathered, we idly strolled through first through the original orchard, then over a trickling streamlet to a younger planting surrounded by very tall deer fencing.

Newton with apple

Newton, the dopey farm mascot.

Newton, the so aptly named farm dog, munched on an apple. We too munched. There was the juicy, yet tiny Lady, a very old variety that may have ties to ancient Rome. Lady grows in clusters and looks like large Ranier cherries. We marveled at the fluted, green and waxy Calville Blanc and tasted the sweet-sour, fragrant Ashmead’s Kernel. We were soon joined by Jessica Saturley. Jess is a bright-eyed, wholesome young gal with a talented palate; she works with Stephen in flavor analysis and blending. We assembled at the barn for a tour of the pressing operation and for a much-heralded tasting.
TPJ Calville apple

The Palate Jack gets a surprising mouthful with a Calville Blanc apple.

The juicing operation is straightforward. Bins of apples are dumped into a hopper, ground into a meal, then transferred by pump to a rack and cloth press and hydraulically squeezed. The juice ends up in 300-gallon totes where it is sulfited. The sulfiting process releases sulfur dioxide gas, which kills wild yeast. The gas then dissipates and the juice is ready to be pitched with a vigorous Champagne yeast. In this way, the cidermaker exercises more control over the final flavor profile. Fermentation proceeds at ambient temperatures either in stainless tanks or oaken puncheons.

At the outset of fermentation, most cidermakers are faced with a choice of whether to ferment a blend of apples or ferment each variety singly for later blending. Farnum Hill does both. They ferment a largish quantity of cider as a foundation based on varietal characteristics and tasting of the fresh crop and juices.

Jessica and Tod

Farnum Hill's Jessica Saturley and Portsmouth brewer Tod Mott discuss the ins and outs of blending.

This base may have five or six varieties chosen to supply necessary sugars, acids, tannins, and favorable aromatic and flavor traits. Separately, single varieties are fermented in wood. In the spring, if a cider blend needs a little fine-tuning, some of the barrel-fermented cider can be blended in. There seem to be no ‘hard and fast’ rules about this process. In all, it has taken Stephen and crew ten years to retool the orchard and a second decade to begin to produce the type of ciders they are striving for.

cider barrels

Varietal ciders at work in their barrels. The barrel labeled 'PERRY' contains fermenting pear juice.

Our tasting included nine ciders, some thieved from their barrels, others in bottled form. We began with the Ashmead varietal. Poverty Lane grows the Ashmead because high acid apples are an essential component of great cider. The cider was still (i.e. sans carbonation), very acidic, and wonderfully fragrant with notes of cherry blossom, honeycomb, and green tea. Next we tried a blend of three old-timey apples: Spitzenberg, Dabinett, and Yarlington Mill. It was a bittersweet base cider with some young tannins, a pippy-stemmy woodiness, corn cob, and raspberry fruit on the nose.

The bottled ciders we tried included the Extra-Dry Still and the ’07 Kingston Black varietal. The extra-dry possessed a light wood-leather note, some ‘forest floor’ terroir, and would pair well with foods suited to white truffles – seafood and egg dishes particularly. The Kingston Black would pair better with turkey, venison, or pork. It was leggy at 9% abv, with light caramels. It possessed a subtle and nuanced barny-cheesy-lover’s armpits quality that made our group titter with voyeuristic smirks.

l_farmhouseAfter the tasting Loulou invited us to the farmhouse for a spread of pumpkin soup, hearty breads, beans, and salads. Of course, there was one more cider there – a cider produced by Cisco Brewers on Nantucket. It was notable because it had been dry-hopped, a beer brewing method that introduces aromatic oils into hoppy beers (e.g. IPAs and so on). Speaking of IPAs, Portsmouth brewer Tod Mott pulled out a growler of his IPA to share. What a satisfying day!

Cider, My Old Friend – Vol. 1, No. 1

• Background on Hard Cider
• Making a Rustic Cider

Poverty Lane Orchards 1

Fall is the time when the apples come in and fresh cider surely follows.

Hard cider in America is facing the same identity crisis that beer underwent thirty years ago. There was a time before craft beer when drinkers could only chose from a selection of nearly comparable neutral-flavored lagers. English brown ales and true pilsners were limited to stale imports. Sure, there was a recollection of such beers, but few, if any, domestic brewers made them.

 

In much the same way, the average person’s exposure to hard cider today has been limited to sweet, mass-market versions. Most imports have followed suit. Traditional cider in this country has been kept on life support by an odd assortment of farsighted orchardists, hobby brewers, and determined Luddites. These are ciders with complexity, acidity, and good food compatibility. As the old New England aphorism almost goes… Only good can come of this.

The widely available “cider coolers”[1] have dropped into a convenient pattern, fueled by industrial production methods, product consistency goals, perceived customer preferences, blather blather, in short, the usual assortment of cost-shaving, profit-enhancing, product-dumbing maneuvers that beverage makers are famous for. Granted, there is a segment of the populace that will always favor a sickly-sweet-fruity-something to avert the possibility of tasting alcohol, tannins, bitterness or sourness. But should the entire cider industry be geared to such sacchariphiles? Enter the other ciders.

Traditional ciders, which might also be referred to as hard, real, fine, or artisan, are a very old and very diverse dynasty. You might remember from your ethnobotany graduate studies, that apples and honeybees did not originate in the Americas, but instead were brought by early Europeans. Apples were grown and grafted by the Chinese, the Romans, and most inhabitants of Northern Europe for thousands of years.

apple stamp

Heirloom cider apples are often named for the place they originated or for the person who grew them.

The apples brought here were largely for cider making. Early settlers consumed prodigious amounts of hard cider. The notion that apples are sweet and for eating out of hand is actually a recent development.

 

At its most basic, cider is an extremely uncomplicated drink that one could easily imagine primitive peoples making. Crush some fruit, collect the juice through a basket, and leave the juice to set for a few days. That’s it. Incipient wild microbes and enzymes from the fruit, the terroir, the basket, and perhaps the cidermaker’s sweat or spittle, set the fermentation going. It was, and is, this easy. No cooking, no malting of grains (nor is spittle required). In three to five days you’ve got a cloudy, wonderfully spritzy, fresh cider with a few percent alcohol and ample aromatic properties. It is no wonder than during my high school and college years, I would see, high up on a dormitory window ledge, a jug of cider fermenting in the cool autumn air.

My cider senses have been re-awoken. Triggered by a germinal memory of that tart and carbonated cider of my youth. Or perhaps it was the tannic odor of soggy dropped oak leaves in the woods, or the cider vinegar smell arising from wet grass around a forgotten apple tree. Cider must be.

Cider, at its simplest…

cider nouveau 1

Enjoy a rustic hard cider in only a few days.

    Cidre Nouveau

Find a glass jug, 2 qts or 1 gal in size. Sanitize with a teaspoon of chlorine bleach and a cup of water. Cap, shake, allow to sit for fifteen minutes, then rinse thoroughly. There should be no residual odor of bleach.

Fill the jug 80-90% full with fresh, unfiltered apple cider. Add a sachet of dry brewer’s yeast, cap, shake vigorously until the cider is oxygenated and the yeast is not clumped. Loosen the cap without removing, such that CO2 gas can be released during the fermentation. NOTE: If you fail to do this, the bottle WILL explode during fermentation.

Place in a cool place for a week, checking on it periodically. When the gas production has ceased and the cider tastes tart and fizzy, you’re done.
Cheers, TPJ

[1] Legally, these are probably termed FABs, “flavored alcoholic beverages.” Icky.

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