Thursday, 30 April 2009


Pork & Cider, you only have to look through a few old recipe books to see that this combo has some pedigree. The two ingrediants have a natural affinity like, say, Sage & Onion, which of course also goes very well with Pork & Cider...

The last two meaty chops from those clever rare-breeders at Crackbottle Road (Keythorpe Rare Breeds) needed something special, and what could be more special than a combination of flavours sourced almost exclusively from local suppliers. The pork was of course sourced from just down the road, the fresh Sage and Rockingham Forest Cider came from even closer to home (our Sage has gone berserk this year, I think it's the coffee grounds I keep tipping around it, that and the fact the hens can't get at it anymore!), the Garlic from wherever it is they grow garlic these days, but via our excellent local farmshop in Ashley.

This is another of my ultra-simple procedures. If it's a choice between a trip to the Red Lion for a pre-dinner pint, or a long cooking session at home, we generally try to do both, so the simpler the recipe is, the better. The chops were trimmed of their rind as I wasn't planning to try and crackle them. Seasoned, and (ahem) pan-fried with a few cloves of garlic until browned. Into the oven with them whilst a good few leaves of Sage are given a short fry-up. De-glaze with a generous slosh of cider, pour over the chops and return to the oven to cook through.

We served the chops with Mustard Mash, seasonal veg from Ashley Herb Farm, all drizzled with the sagey, garlicky, cidery juices. Oh! and a glass of Rockingham Forest Cider on the side too. Yum-yum!

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Campaign for Real Hail

Here's a few pics of the extreme weather which swept down the Welland Valley yesterday evening.

The first signs that something might be afoot were the eerie light created by a low sun under dense thundery clouds, and the sudden urgency in the flight of the Blackbirds and Wood Pigeons seeking shelter. As the storm moved in, hail rained down, blanketing the ground with shiny white marbles of ice. The hens sensibly bolted for their coop, I on the other hand, rather stupidly went for a walk in the orchard! Fortified with a glass of cider, and protected by a wide-brimmed hat, the storm raged around me in spectacular thundery fashion.

I've heard many times of hail storms ruining a grape harvest, but this is the first time I've encountered this kind of damage to our fruit trees. I'd guesstimate around 50% of the leaves on the apple trees are damaged, and the blossom on the James Grieve has taken a knock. I think it's early enough in the season for the trees to recover, none of them are in full leaf yet and most are a few days off blossom-time.

Whilst examining the leaves in the bright sunshine today, I couldn't help but notice the number of Bumble Bees buzzing about. We've always had a good number of these jolly insects in our garden, but it's always pleasing to see them busying themselves about the blossom, particularly as they appear to be in some decline nationally.

The storm has passed, calm is now restored, and a Bank Holiday weekend of gardening and relaxation is nearly upon us. After the recent barreling up of our ciders, the fridge is well stocked too, which is a nice bonus.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

It's a Tannin Thing

I've been comparing and contrasting our two current ciders, Sulgrave Orchard and Rockingham Forest Cider. Perhaps the most obvious difference is in their appearance.

The Sulgrave Orchard Cider was made from a blend of several different varieties of dessert apples. It's pale yellow in colour, and now virtually crystal clear in the glass. In contrast, the Rockingham Forest Cider, which was made from a blend of mostly cider apples, has a very slight haze, and a rich golden colour. In my experience, ciders made from cider apples are often a little hazier than those made from dessert and culinary fruit. I'm not entirely sure why this should be, possibly something to do with the higher levels of pectin in cider apples which can lead to a natural haziness in the finished cider. The colour difference is a little more easy to explain, it's down to the presence of Tannin.

Cider apples are split into four main classifications, Sharps, Sweets, Bittersharps and Bittersweets. It's the latter two that we are particularly interested in, since the 'bitter' part of the classification refers to the high levels of tannin in the fruit. This is the flavour compound which gives West-Country ciders their distinctive rich flavour, but it's also the part which turns the apple juice a deep brown colour when freshly pressed. Fermentation seems to purge some of this oxidised tannin from the juice, but it's the tannin which remains that gives our cider it's attractive golden colour.

Here's my tasting notes from this evening's sampling, though do bare in mind that these ciders are still quit young, and the flavour will change and mellow throughout the year. Also, the current batch of Rockingham Forest Cider contains a higher percentage of sharp fruit than later batches will have, and is perhaps more of a halfway point between the two styles than a pure West-Country style cider.

Sulgrave Orchard Cider (6.4%) - Pale yellow like a white wine in appearance. The flavour is intensely fruity and full flavoured, but the citrusy sharpness makes for a refreshing drink, particularly when chilled. The finish is long, fruity, and the sharpness lingers on the side of the tongue. There is a slight residual sweetness.

Rockingham Forest Cider (6.4%)
- Deep golden colour, sharp and fruity. Quite dry, with some astringency from the tannin. Much less sharp in the finish. A mild spicy bittersweet character, quite well balanced and easy-drinking.

You can try this current batch of Rockingham Forest Cider at the Red Lion, Middleton; and the Criterion Freehouse, Leicester. Both ciders should also be available this weekend at the Jolly Brewer, Stamford.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Local Cider for Local People

The month of May, with it's brace of Bank Holiday weekends, seems to mark the start of the Beer Festival season for many pubs. It's the promise of warmer weather, and the emergence from Winter hibernation of the less hardy Beer Garden Drinker that spurs landlords to go all beery-eyed. Of course, no beer festival is complete without a bit of traditional cider.

We've already delivered our 'LocApple' ciders to the Jolly Brewer in Stamford, ready for this weekend's LocAle Festival, and as you can see from the ever increasing list on the right of this blog, our ciders are well represented at events throughout the area this Summer. We try to keep things as local as possible, there really is very little point in sending our cider the length and breadth of the country.

We're particularly looking forward to this year's Cider & Cheese Festival in July, which is being held jointly at our regular Leicester outlet, the Criterion Freehouse, and the nearby Swan & Rushes. Both of these pubs have an excellent reputation amongst beer and cider drinkers, and it's hoped that there will be up to 30 different ciders and perrys on offer during the weekend of the festival, accompanied by a similar range of tasty cheeses! There should be no overlap of varieties, and our ciders will only be available at the Criterion.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Springtime - It's Official

Sitting up in the orchard yesterday, enjoying the warm sunshine with a glass of cider, eagle-eared Karen was the first to hear a Cuckoo calling somewhere close by. This is of course one of the first signs that Spring has truly arrived, but it's also an important sign for the cidermaker.

Traditionally, the first Cuckoo call signals that the new ciders are ready to be tapped. We tapped our Rockingham Forest Cider last weekend, so as a rule of thumb this tradition appears to have some merit. This is particularly true in the case of West-Country style ciders, which can take much longer to mature than those made from Dessert and Culinary fruit.

This photo of a Common Cuckoo has been kindly made available for use by Sergey Yeliseev under a Creative Commons Licence.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Ciderhouse News - April

The new-season Rockingham Forest Cider (6.4%) is now ready for release, and a box has already been delivered to our local 'Cider-tap' the Red Lion in Middleton.

The Red Lion has recently been awarded Northants CAMRA's Winter Pub of the Season, a well deserved recognition of the hard work Kevin & Fiona have put in since they took over the pub less than a year ago. There will be a presentation at the pub on the evening of the 18th of May. We will of course be in attendance, if only to help Kevin get the certificate on the wall straight!

Dean & Gill of award winning Stamford ale house the Jolly Brewer, have requested a couple of boxes of our cider for their forthcoming LocAle Festival. The Peterborough CAMRA Pub of the Year 2009 will have over 15 locally brewed real ales available during the festival, plus cider from Westons, as well as our own Rockingham Forest and Sulgrave Orchard ciders.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Bottom 'O' The Barrel

Lucky revellers will be able to sample our Sulgrave Orchard Cider at Cressing Temple, Braintree this weekend.

Medieval Re-enactors, and the general public alike will find our cider in the famous Trolls Bottom Bar at this weekend's St George's Joust (18th - 19th April).

For those that can't make the event, this is the sort of thing these jolly re-enactors get up to after a few too many goblets of Mead...

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Blossom Time

It's Spring Blossom Time again. My runny nose and itchy eyes were an early clue, but the village pear tree is the real giveaway.

Cherry blossom has been out in the village for a few weeks now, and the recent warm weather has somewhat predictably triggered off my annual Spring bout of Hay fever. The assorted apple trees dotted throughout the village are still to unfurl their delicate pink petals, but the huge old pear tree is now in full blossom and quite a wonderful sight.

The quantity of blossom would tend to suggest a bumper harvest of fruit this year, particularly as the crop was so sparse last season, but there's still time for poor weather or a late frost to scupper the pollination. One other possible problem is that the only other pear tree of any size in the village that I know of, was chopped down last year! I just hope there are sufficient alternatives tucked away in peoples gardens to provide the bees and other pollinators with a ready supply of pear tree pollen.

An interesting development for this year's Spring blossom time is on Joan Morgan's excellent Fruit Forum. With the aid of subscribers to this useful forum, Joan is hoping to track the emergence of fruit tree blossom across the country. Do have a look on the website to see how progress is being charted, from the earliest southern blooms, to later fruity flowerings as Spring heads ever northwards.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Mussel Power

Good Friday is, I think, the last but one day of Lent. I don't observe Lent, but if I did I'd probably abstain from alcohol, a pretty tough call for a cidermaker but probably a good one for assorted vital organs. Unfortunately, the 'Spit not Swallow' method of sampling doesn't come easy to me, and extensive sampling is obligatory at this time of year...

Good Friday is also traditionally Fish Friday, something I do like to observe, though circumstances (a poorly hen, an absent Karen) meant this had to be re-scheduled to Mollusc Saturday. I was celebrating anyway, a fully recovered hen, and a dramatic last-minute victory by the mighty Leicester Tigers in the Heineken Cup quarter finals. A vintage Bath - Leicester match, ie. two evenly matched teams knocking lumps out of each other. It took a bit of Gallic flair from Julien Dupuy in the last few minutes to decide the game. Excellent result.

Mussels are a real treat for me, Karen doesn't like them so I usually indulge when I'm 'Home-Alone'. It was therefore very thoughtful of Karen to bring a few kilos back from Cheltenham, along with a couple of fishcakes for herself. I cooked them very simply, just finely chopped Shallot, Garlic, seasoning and a generous slosh of Dry Cider.

The cider I used was not our own, but a bottle of JW's Dry Fen Cider, a recent discovery from a trip to Spalding in Lincolnshire. The cider is made by John Walker of Charterhouse Wines, Pinchbeck, where you can buy the cider in very attractive swing-top bottles. John makes his cider from local dessert and culinary apples, some of which come from a small orchard adjacent to the wine merchants. The cider is dry, but not too sharp, and very drinkable.

The cider went very well with the Mussels, the broth was tasty, aromatic, and deserving of a good dunk with crusty bread. Roll-on the next 'Mollusc Saturday'.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Rockingham Forest Red

It's always nice when a well laid plan comes to fruition, even more so when you can drink the results.

Today I bottled up the gallon of red wine we made last Autumn from our Regent and Rondo grapes, and I must say the results are pretty good for a first attempt. Deep claret in colour with a rich fruity nose. Dry, full-bodied, but with a good balance of acidity and a hefty dose of Raspberry and Cherry fruits. Considering how poor the season was last year, this is a seriously rich and fruity wine which may even improve a little in the bottle.

It's a shame we only managed to produce 6 precious bottles of this Rockingham Forest Red Wine. The vines are still very young so yields and quality can only improve over the coming seasons, particularly if we get a 'Vintage' Summer this year to help ripen the grapes. It may even be worth investing in a small wine press to help boost productivity. Our cider press is simply too big to deal with such a meagre harvest, and I don't fancy a repeat of last year's messy, and inefficient squeezing of the grapes by hand. The finished wine may be worth the effort, but I could do without the purple hands.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Springtime Spritz

Early April is a time of eager anticipation. The ciders are very nearly ready, Spring pear blossom is poised and ready to unfurl, and our apple trees are on the cusp of leafing-out.

I had a bit of a tasting session in the ciderhouse today. I was particularly interested in the Rockingham Forest Cider, which matures later than the Sulgrave Orchard Cider we've been busily selling since March. The ciders are clearing nicely and are perhaps a little brighter than usual, but there's still a tiny bit of yeastiness which should fade over the coming weeks. To my taste buds, cider is never better than at this time of year, youthful and straight from the fermenter. It has a slight spritz from the gentle fermentation which often occurs in the Spring, and a lovely freshness which will fade as the cider matures and mellows throughout the year. You only really get to experience this zesty 'Cider Nouveau' in the ciderhouse, and I strongly recommend a visit to one of the many farms and producers which open for sales at this time of the year. I usually get my 'early season cider fix' straight from the cask at Mike Johnson's Ross-on-Wye Cider & Perry Co, but this year I can indulge myself a little closer to home.

Spring blossom time is nearly upon us, the huge pear tree in the village orchard will soon be covered in delicate white blossom. The cider apple trees will flower a few weeks later, but growth continues apace in the nursery. It looks as if we'll have a 100% success rate with the Dabinetts which we grafted earlier this year, and two of the three dessert apples are romping away and leafing-up. The Golden Harvey is the only non-starter, which is a shame as this was the one I most wanted to propagate. Still, seven out of eight isn't bad for a beginner!

News on this year's local Welland Valley Beer Festival continues to trickle out. The poster for the event can be seen on the sidebar of this blog, with a link to the Talbot's website for the latest news. A late addition to the participating pubs is the Marquis of Exeter in the picturesque village of Lyddington. This brings the total for the festival to eight pubs, scattered throughout the Welland Valley and including our local 'Cider-tap' the Red Lion, Middleton. More news as it arrives.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Mansfield - Ciderland's Northern Outpost

Sometimes the search for a decent pint of cider means going the extra mile, or in the case of this year's Mansfield Beer & Cider Festival, around 75 extra miles by bus, train and foot. That's 150 miles as a round trip, and something like 4 hours of journey time, so was it worth the trek?

Well yes, I'd say it was. Mansfield CAMRA cider enthusiasts Ray & Gail had put together a very fine range of ciders and perrys, with a particular focus on local East Midlands producers. This was the main point of interest for me, that and the chance for a good gossip with Ray!

I tried a bone-dry, but very drinkable cider from Lincolnshire producer, Skidbrooke Cyder. This cider would be great chilled on a hot Summer day, and great with food. Ray & Gail's own Hucknall Cider Co Floppy Tabs was a more complex, medium cider, very well balanced and I think this will get even better as the year goes on. The Three Cats Medium/Sweet was quite a young cider, and a little too sweet for my taste. Even so, I was surprised at how pleasant it was, and this will also improve when given more time to mature.

Venturing further afield I tried ciders from Day's Cottage in Gloucestershire, Sarah's of Herefordshire, and Springfield, a Welsh producer. I think the Springfield was the pick of the bunch for me.

Ray reports that trade was brisk over the weekend, and the cider bar had completely sold-out just short of closing time on Saturday. Another successful event, and one I was more than happy to attend, and supply cider to.

An added bonus for me was the 4 hours of largely uninterrupted reading time on the train to and from Mansfield. A rare treat, much like the Mansfield CAMRA cider bar.