Right after Labor Day I start looking for fresh apple cider.
I know it’s early, but I can’t wait for its refreshing fresh apple goodness. Nothing says the seasons are changing like that first bracing glass. Sweet cider is made from local just-picked apples. Most of what we get in the stores is from New England or New York fruit. Farmstand cider is even more local.
Cider is a treat any time. It’s great with a sandwich at lunch. You can’t beat it with a few cookies in the afternoon or with pumpkin pie. Sweet cider is a traditional beverage for Halloween entertaining and is perfect on the Thanksgiving table. Like apples, it’s great with sharp cheddar. Hot Mulled cider, steeped with cinnamon and clove, is a cold-weather delight. Try it with a shot of rum for even more warmth. I love to make pork shoulder braised in cider. Yum!
Cider’s flavor is determined by the choice of apples to be pressed. It’s the mix of apple varieties both sweet and tart that gives each one a unique flavor. Ciders made from the same apple variety can be as different from one another as wines from the same grape. Often the taste of cider from the same mill will change over the course of the season as the early apples finish and later ripening varieties are picked. I love the range of cider flavors and try as many as I can. The label will tell you where it was pressed. You can bet the apples came from close by. Since cider is not filtered, it may have some sediment in the bottom. Be sure to shake before pouring. Often you see delicious cider donuts alongside the cider. They’ve become a fall staple, too
Since 2001 fresh cider must be pasteurized to eliminate harmful bacteria. This has resulted in a slight change of flavor but much longer shelf life. Cider used to ferment in the refrigerator if kept too long, but that’s a thing of the past. Sadly, a few smaller cider mills closed — unable to comply with the new regulations..
In addition to getting cider in the grocery store or at the farm stand, there are still some working cider mills in Connecticut where cider is made start to finish. B. F. Clyde’s cider mill in Stonington claims the title of “Oldest steam powered cider mill in America.” Cider making is demonstrated on weekends until the end of November. Bishops Orchards in Guilford presses their own cider and makes hard cider too. Beardsley Cider Mill in Shelton presses small batches from their own apples for maximum freshness.
Hard cider — fresh cider fermented with natural yeasts — was a staple of New England life from the time that apples were first cultivated. The cider would ferment with natural yeasts producing a long lived beverage with a pretty good kick that would sustain farmers through the cold winters. When I was growing up, my neighbor used to keep a barrel in his basement. These days, some home brewers make a batch of cider in the fall. Some cider mills do a special pressing for hard cider home brewers. The hard cider apple blend uses some very tart varieties (not eating apples) that add flavor and reduce sweetness to make a tart and refreshing drink.
Europeans have been drinking hard cider for centuries. It’s a very popular beverage in England — on tap in most pubs. In France, Normandy is known for its apples, farmhouse cider and Calvados — the brandy made from hard cider. Cider is found anywhere apples are grown. Hard cider is increasingly popular in the U.S. and is a fast growing category for commercial producers. It’s a refreshing, gluten-free, low-alcohol beverage that is very food friendly. Many American brewers are making cider, and brands from Europe are increasingly available.
An informal group gathered last week to sample four ciders at dinner; three American and one from England. The Americans had more fresh apple character. Angry Orchard Crisp, from the Boston Beer Co. (makers of Sam Adams), had a nice balance of sweet and tart favored by several of the tasters. McKenzie’s Hard Cider, from New York’s Finger Lakes region, had a richer apple flavor and aroma, but wasn’t so brisk. Stella Artois Cidre (heavily advertised of late), a Belgian label made in America, is more dry and has an apple candy aroma. Strongbow, from England, is the largest selling hard cider in the world and has a dry refreshing taste and mild apple character. You may find it on draft in restaurants. Each was unique and each had its advocate around the table. Try them all for a good sample of the range of styles available.
Let me know if you are enjoying hard cider and which one(s) you like at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com