- Tuesday, 25 September 2012
We’re sitting around the table in a bright and cosy Herefordshire farm kitchen. Our daughter’s on the apple juice from the Dragon Orchard which surrounds us. We’re on the cider; bottles of it are lined up for our delectation. The bottles are tall, slender and elegant, revealing the winemaking background of their creator Simon Day.
Simon modestly tells us that he wanted to use his skills to “see what he could do” with cider. In his first year he took three first prizes with his Once Upon A Tree products. He claims that there are no great secrets to winning; “We just happen to have one of the very best orchards providing us with the best quality fruit,” he says.
I confess to having drunk a lot of cider during my lifetime, but the experiences and the taste were never like this. In that literary classic, Cider With Rosie, Laurie Lee called this amber nectar ‘golden fire’. We don’t dare take more than a few sips from each bottle because we’re on the road all day following the Cider Trail. Once Upon A Tree is one of more than a dozen producers along the route.
It’s very relaxing meandering around Britain's 'Big Apple' country. This area, with 9.500 acres of orchards, churns out over 63 million gallons of cider every year. That’s more than half the UK’s production.
Our search for cideries takes us from the foothills of the Malvern Hills, to just below the Marcle Ridge, almost in to Wales and to Hereford itself. Here, the cathedral even has a cider bible in its magnificent chained library.
The ciders have delicious names like Roaring Meg, Making Hay, Autumn Harvest and Putley Gold. Most producers offer orchard walks. Some are slightly more commercial than others and sell local crafts and produce as well as what we’ve really come for. The most interesting tastings are those from the small producers like former agricultural engineer Paul Stephens, of Newton Court Cidery. We wander in to his 15 acre orchard where cows and sheep graze, amazed that he seems to do an awful lot of the work himself – picking, milling, fermenting and bottling.
Some of the other producers on our cider route ask that we ring first to make sure they can be around. It’s all very informal and friendly. By the end of the day our boot is rattling with bottles.
Another explorer on the trail urges us to visit Westons Cider at Much Marcle. This is an altogether different crate of apples; a vast, commercial operation turning out 10,000 bottles per hour. Westons is a real eye opener because everything is so big, right down to an enormous pit into which the apples are tipped at harvest time. I’m suspicious that a fellow visitor has already had too many of the samples on offer when he says that he thought the pit was the staff swimming pool.
The Cider Museum in Hereford is in the old Bulmer’s factory and we get a real feel for how the whole cider-making process has evolved over 350 years. We walk through chilly cellars, past coopers’ workshops, vat houses and a bottling plant. There are films and photographs showing people lopping the cider apples off the trees with a ‘panking’ pole. What’s amazing is that no one seems to be getting knocked senseless as the fruit rains down on them.
The Cider Making Festival is from October 20-21 at The Cider Museum, Pomona Place, Hereford. www.cidermuseum.co.uk
*Westons Cider, The Bounds, Much Marcle, Ledbury. www.westons-cider.co.uk
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