Sunday, 26 July 2009

Feast for the Senses

Cider to the left of us, cider to the right. It was a tough call whether to visit Barry, Liz and their team at the Cow & Plough Cider Festival, or try somewhere totally new to us at Thurning Feast. Exceptionally fine weather, and other important business to attend to in Oundle meant Thurning won the day.

Thurning is a bit of a drive for us, so we took the opportunity to visit a pub on the way, the excellent Kings Arms at Polebrook. The Kings Arms is a picture-postcard thatched village pub, which specialises in Spanish Tapas, and usually features beer from the nearby Digfield Ales brewery (a nice pint of Shaklebush on this occasion). A winning combo for us, and we'll definitely be returning to give the tapas a try in the near future.

On to Thurning for the Feast, and straight to the Digfield Ales beer tent for a refresher. The full range was on offer, March Hare and Fools Nook were my preference. There were also a couple of beers on the other bar, and our barrels of Rockingham Forest Cider and Sulgrave Orchard, both of which seemed to be selling rather too quickly. Perhaps we should have brought some more! We managed to get a sneak preview of the tapas from the Kings Arms team who were running one of the food tents at the Feast. The Paella was very good, but the Chorizo & Butter Beans were outstanding, we need the recipe please!

Munching on tapas and guzzling ale, we had a great view of the action on the main stage. There were vocal harmonies from the terrific Delicateers, and Appalachian Clogging from a group who's name escapes me now. They were terrific too.

A really grand night out, congratulations to all the people who helped put Thurning Feast on. We'll be back next year, possibly with a bit more cider.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Thurning Feast

Every year on St James' Day (25th July), the sleepy village of Thurning has a bit of a do! Hardly news you might think, most villages put on a Fete or Gala in the Summer months, but Thurning's 'do' is a little bit special.

The village of Thurning is located a few miles South/East of Oundle, in proper rolling Northamptonshire countryside. There doesn't appear to be a pub or shop in the village, and perhaps this is the reason why the village's annual 'Feast Day' is so well supported, and punches above it's weight in terms of ambition and attendance. I'm led to believe that attendance at this event is often counted in the thousands rather than hundreds!

In the shadow of the church of St James, the marquees and tents are being erected today, in readiness for tomorrows big day. In addition to the usual stalls and good food you'd expect at an event such as this, there will be a full programme of entertainment, and also two bars to keep the party swinging until midnight. Local brewery Digfield Ales are a long-standing supporter of the event, and the festival organisers will also be running a full bar. This is where barrels of our Rockingham Forest Cider, and Sulgrave Orchard Cider will be found. We're new to Thurning, and I hope that the locals enjoy a taste of Northamptonshire made cider along with the local ales.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Big Cider Hootenanny's

Another weekend, another cider festival bonanza. Here's the provisional list for this weekend's Cow & Plough Cider Festival in Oadby, Leicestershire (24th - 26th July):

Bollhayes - Supreme Devon Champion
Brook Farm - Hereford
Butford - Hereford
Chant - Somerset
Days Cottage - Gloucester
Govier - Somerset
Hunts - South Devon
Meare - Somerset
Millwhites - Somerset
Naish - Glastonbury
Newton Court - Leominster
Rathays Old Goat - Sutton St Nicolas
Rockingham Forest - Leicestershire
Rockingham Forest Sulgrave Orchard - Leicestershire
Sarahs - Hereford
Upper House Farm Cider - Hereford
Westcroft, Janets Jungle Juice - Hereford
Plus a range of bottled ciders.

And here's the list for the Time Bar Cider Festival in Leicester the following weekend (30th July - 1st August), including assorted amusing typos, see if you can spot them:

Westcroft - Janet’s Jungle Juice’s - Somerset
Rockingham Forest - Leicester - Middleton
Salgrove Orchard - Leicester - Middleton
Saracens - Hereford
Brookfarm - Hereford
Clives - Worcester
Ben Crossman - Western Supermare
Grays - Exeter - Devon
Hartland - Lambourne Valley - Gloucester
Moore - Somerset
Naish - Glastonbury
Orchards - Wye Valley
Parsons Choice - Taunton
Upper House Farm - Hereford
Wilkins - Lands End Farm - Wedsmore

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Cider & Cheese (Cheese Optional)

I managed a good six hours at this year's Leicester Cider & Cheese Festival, split rather unevenly between the Criterion and the nearby Swan & Rushes. More importantly, I had the pleasure of ten ciders and perrys, halves of course, before having to catch the train home.

The ciders at the Criterion had a distinct West-Country theme, Devon and Somerset making up most of the numbers. Here's what I tried:

Bollhayes - This cider comes from the people behind the Vigo, the cider and wine making equipment suppliers. If anyone should know how to make a good quality cider it's them. The cider was rich, dry, and full of spicy bittersweet character. The tannic, slightly bitter finish put this firmly in the enthusiasts category. An excellent cider, but perhaps a little too heavyweight for pint drinking.

Gray's - Another excellent, classic Devon bittersweet. Dry, full-flavoured, but more tangy than the Bollhayes. This tangy quality is quite common in West-Country ciders, the result of a controlled level of acetic acid which can lend the cider a more 'drinkable' quality.

Green Valley Cyder - This cider has a much more 'commercial' flavour. Smooth, fruity, easy-drinking, with a slight sweetness and a more restrained 'tang' than the Gray's. Another winner.

Reddaway's Whisky Cask - I'm not a huge fan of Whisky Cask matured ciders, so I was pleased that the Whisky character was barely perceptible in this one. A smooth, subtle cider, with a very slight vinegar taint. Not bad.

Upper House - A good dry and smooth, bittersweet cider, suffering with a slight 'Mouse' taint. Mouse is a common fault in ciders, giving a slightly musty flavour which can add a welcome complexity at very low levels, but this was a little too pronounced.

Swallowfield Perry - A lovely subtle fruitiness, in a very well made, rich perry. Excellent.

Heck's Brown's Apple - A very pleasant, richly sweet cider, which unfortunately didn't show much in the way of Brown's Apple character to my taste.

The 4 O'Clock alarm was the signal to move the party onto the Swan & Rushes, where the cider and perrys had more of a 'Three Counties' theme. Time was short, and tasting notes had been abandoned by now. I tried the Ross-on-Wye Foxwhelp Blend, the Minchews Perry, and a Westcroft Dry Cider. Three cheers for the bar staff, (un)suitably attired as they were in full 'Country-Bumpkin' regalia. Except Richard who perhaps wisely refused!

Another excellent festival from both pubs, and there's still plenty of time to try the ciders yet if you haven't already had the chance.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Best Cellar

The cellar at the Criterion, Leicester, stacked with tasty ciders and perrys for the Cheese & Cider Festival which started today. Now why can't all pub cellars look like this? .... all the time!

A sneaky Swallowfields Perry was enjoyed during the taking of this photo. More extensive sampling commences tomorrow.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Swan & Rushes Cider & Cheese List

As promised, here's the cider list for the Swan & Rushes half of this weekends Cider & Cheese Festival (from Thurs at the Criterion, 4pm Friday at the Swan). All ciders and perrys are £2.70/pint at the Swan, and I understand that third pint measures will be available there too.

Brook Apple Farm: Yarlington Mill Med
Brook Apple Farm: Dry
Hartland: Med
Hartland: Perry
Minchew: Dry
Minchew: Perry
Oliver: Med
Oliver: Dry Perry
Oliver: Med Perry
Rathay’s Old Goat: Michelin
Rathay’s Old Goat: Yarlington Mill
Ross-on-Wye Whisky Barrel
Ross-on-Wye Med
Ross-on-Wye Foxwhelp Dry blend
Westcroft Janet’s Jungle Juice
Westcroft Dry
Wilkins Dry
Wilkins Medium

also Day’s Cottage Organic apple

And for 'Curd-Heads' here's the Swan's Cheese List:

Camembert Jean Verrier
Cerney Pyramid
Denhay Dorset Drum
Dunsyre Blue
Hawes Mature Wensleydale
Isle of Mull
Lanark Blue
Lightwood Farmhouse
Lightwood Smoked
Lightwood Rhapsody
Lincolnshire Poacher
Quickes Cheddar
Mollingtons Red Leicester
Ribblesdale Superior
Simon Weaver Cotswold Blue
Simon Weaver Cotswold Brie
Stinking Bishop
Webster’s Stilton

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Leicester - Capital of Cider & Perry

Leicestershire's pubs are going cider crazy in July, and we're muscling in on the act with our own ciders featuring at three of them.

This weekend sees the start of a joint Cider & Cheese Festival at the Criterion Freehouse and Swan & Rushes, both in Leicester's city centre. The ciders and perrys have arrived, and the cheese knives are being sharpened for what promises to be a celebration of one of the culinary worlds greatest combinations.

Why the food and drink media so consistently ignore this combination is beyond me. Cheese and wine is just so Abigail's Party. Beer and cheese, do me a favour! Since when did the bitterness of hops enhance a cheese? No, it's the sharp, fruitiness of cider that cuts through and compliments cheese, and the sooner the legions of pretentious wine and beer writers get up to speed with this fact, the better for everyone's digestive systems.

Hot off the press we have the cider and perry list for the Criterion's weekend offering. There's even an Apple Wheat Beer so that un-reconstructed hop-heads don't feel left out. There's also a box of Rockingham Forest Cider in reserve, and there may be an additional Thatchers cider or two on the day.

I'll try to add the Swan & Rushes cider list when Grant pulls his finger out and writes it up. Going on past form, there should be some rare and interesting ciders and perrys at the Swan. Grant's a bit of a Cheese-Geek too, so expect something creamy and special to spread on your crackers...

I'll be weaving between the two pubs all-day Friday (though note that the Criterion's festival kicks off on Thursday), and may bring a bottle of our Rockingham Forest Slider for sampling. If you see me, stop me and try one.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Single Varieties - The Spice of Life?

The cupboard was bare. I hadn't racked any of our cider for a couple of weeks now, consequently the 'House Supply' of Rockingham Forest Cider had dried up.

When the urge for a 'proper' cider takes you, nothing else quite hits the spot. We could of course pop down to our local the Red Lion for a pint of home-made cider, but it's a matter of principal for us that when we deliver cider to the pub, it should stay there for the enjoyment of other customers and not return home with us one pint at a time! This frequently raises a wry smile with customers who find it strange we don't drink our own cider in the Red Lion. We prefer the excellent Wot's Occuring from Great Oakley Brewery. The cider is for other customers to enjoy, we've (usually) got plenty of our own to drink at home.

The cupboard, as I've already mentioned, was indeed bare, but in the dark and seldom visited recesses of the pantry there can often be found a few bottles of hidden treasure. Secret supplies of 'rainy-day' cider, stashed away at times of glut, and now called upon to relieve an unexpected cider-drought.

Hidden behind an assortment of fancy Sloe Gin bottles I discovered the attractive label of a bottle of Severn Cider single variety Dabinett. Quite a find. Severn Cider are a small-scale, craft cidermaker based in the mysterious Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire. Three generations of the Bull family have made cider and perry in the village of Awre, though only recently as a commercial concern. In a short time, Severn Cider have gained an enviable reputation for the quality of their ciders and perrys, and I've certainly enjoyed their produce whenever I've tried it at the Three Counties Show and the Ross-on-Wye Cider Festival. I love their branding too, which is quirky without resorting to any of the lame stereotypes and silliness associated with some West-Country ciders.

The Dabinett apple is one of the most widely planted varieties of Vintage Quality cider apple in the UK. We've got a few in our garden orchard, and I'm reasonably sure that a few Dabinett's made it into this year's Rockingham Forest Cider. It's a bittersweet variety, high in tannin, and low in acid. The tannin is soft but full-bodied, and Dabinett is widely considered a must-have variety when planting a new cider apple orchard. So what does it taste like as a Single Variety cider?

I'd have to say that this is one of the best single variety Dabinetts I've tasted, and I've tasted quite a few over the years. Rich, full-flavoured, and with a nice fruitiness to balance the spicy tannins, this cider really shows the quality of this cider apple variety to the full. So, a ringing endorsement of single variety ciders then! Well not quite. For all it's quality, there's one thing I find that's missing from this cider.

The very best ciders are a result of the cidermakers skills in blending different apples to give a well balanced, full flavoured cider. One crucial part of this delicate equation is acid, too much and the cider will be mouth-puckeringly sharp, not enough and the cider can be a little cloying, and lacking in the sharp 'bite' needed to balance the rich tannins. This Dabinett is really very good, and I'd definitely try it again given the chance, but a little dash of acid from a sharper variety of apple would take this cider from good to outstanding.

I'm certainly not criticising this cider in particular, more the whole concept of Single Variety Ciders, and the very idea that a Bittersweet cider apple might possess all the properties needed to make an excellent cider. There are very few cider apples capable of achieving this excellence on their own, perhaps some of the better quality bittersharp cider apples such as Kingston Black or Stoke Red come to mind, Dabinett is in my opinion not one of them.

Having said all that, I've met one or two people with a definite preference for pure bittersweet ciders, so perhaps the lack of acidity is not such a big issue. One thing I do know is that despite the temptation to experiment with SV's myself (apart from anything else, they're a very good commercial proposition), it's not something we're likely to be trying here at Rockingham Forest Cider.... probably!

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Txotx! *

We came over all Spanish again last night. Calamares Fritos (Fried Squid), big juicy Gambas (Prawns) sautéed with plenty of Ajillo (Garlic), and our current garden glut, Habas (Broad Beans) with Chorizo and a rich tomato and olive oil sauce. All washed down with a bottle of Spanish Sidra Natural (Cider).

The sidra is one of a precious few bottles which remain from our last holiday to Spain. I can't remember where we bought it, possibly on a day trip to San Sebastian since the ciderhouse, Sidrería Eula, is located close to the city.

Cider from the Basque region of Spain is typically quite robust in flavour. The traditional bittersweet and bittersharp apples used give a cider which is similar in style to that from the English West-Country. What makes Basque cider different is the tendency to let the cider acetify a little, giving a sharper, slightly vinegary edge. I've had Spanish ciders where this has gone a little too far and the cider has been unpleasantly acetic, but at it's best the process adds complexity and depth of flavour, whilst still being a refreshing drink. The traditional pour with the bottle held above the head, and the glass at waist level, aerates the cider, and helps to lighten the flavour experience.

I didn't risk the traditional pouring method, choosing instead to decant the cider from the sediment into a jug and pour from a more modest height into my thin-glassed sidra glass. I'm pretty hopeless at pouring the correct way, and this bottle is too precious to go spilling it all over the floor. It's an excellent full-bodied sidra, and when combined with the aroma of sizzling Calamares, Garlic & Prawns, makes me yearn for a holiday on the North coast of Spain.

* Txotx is apparently the plug/stick/bung, or possibly the little tap found in the huge Chestnut barrels used to store and mature sidra. This is where the fresh, new-season cider is drawn off in a thin jet during the highly sociable Spring sampling sessions. The term Txotx is now synomomous with this ritual, and is shouted aloud whenever a new barrel is tapped in the ciderhouse.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

When Twigs become Trees

A recent discussion on the excellent new Cider Workshop forum prompted me to take a closer look at my apple tree grafts. The question on everyone's mind was, when to remove the tape protecting the grafts?

The tape serves to add a little strength to the join before the wood has callused over and provided a strong union, but perhaps more importantly it also keeps the graft from drying out before the join has healed sufficiently. Take the tape off too early and you could be jeopardising this healing process resulting in a failed graft, but leave it on too late and the tape may restrict the swelling of the wood which will form the trunk of your infant tree.

I'd been keeping a watchful eye on our grafts for some time now, and thought all was well. The two dessert apple varieties I grafted under tuition had already expanded beyond the confines of the rapidly degrading tape, but on closer examination I discovered one of the Dabinett's had become quite restricted by the freezer bag tape I'd used. I decided it was time to remove the tape from all of the trees and hope for the best.

As you can see, the grafts are all looking good, and they seem strong enough. I'll be keeping all these trees in a sheltered spot for the rest of the Summer, just in case of high winds, and they'll also need staking when I plant them out in the Winter. The restriction on the Dabinett is quite pronounced, though I'm sure the tree will recover. The tape we used on the grafting course seems to have done a better job, degrading as the union swells from the callousing. Freezer bag tape needs to be removed earlier, perhaps even as early as late May or early June, as it doesn't seem to stretch in the way I thought it would.

The more careful examination of these trees also helped me to spot a small patch of Woolly Aphid tucked into a leaf axil. Ray & Gail of Torkard Cider have had these for years, and I was starting to feel a bit left out, so I'm pleased to say we now appear to have the full set of Aphid pests to contend with, and something new to bitch about when next we meet.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Orchard Update - July

We could do with a bit of rain. The orchard is looking like the centre court at Wimbledon; parched, dusty, overrun with Posh Birds guzzling expensive Strawberries. The pampering of Karen's hens knows no bounds!

The trees look OK for the most part, a little more of the Powdery Mildew has appeared, but the only things really thriving are the Aphids. The growing shoots on most of the trees are covered in Green Aphid, and two of the Tremlett's are badly infested with the dreaded Rosy Apple Aphid. They're also infested with hungry Harlequin Ladybird Larva, and Earwigs, which is a good thing, but sadly the battle has already been lost.

The problem with Rosy Apple Aphid is that when the critters latch onto the underside of a leaf, it curls over to cover them. Whilst this makes an infestation easy to spot, it makes the job of control that much harder. I've been forced to restore the balance on these trees with a dose of fatty acid insecticide spray, but even so, it's probably an early bath for these Tremlett's and we won't see much more growth from them now. As you can see from this pic, the damage extends to the shoot itself, the growth of which is now distorted and will probably need pruning out this Winter.

One irritating side effect of all this Aphid squishing is a condition I'll call 'Bug-Squish Finger'. The Green Aphid are bad enough, dying your fingers an unpleasant shade of browny/green, but the Rosy critters add their own hue to the mix, and I'm now left with disgustingly orange stained digits. It's persistent too, resisting all attempts at washing off, so for the next day or two I'll have the look of a particularly lazy right-handed chain smoker.

Your Weekley Cider

It's been a busy weekend of barreling up ahead of the July Cider Festival glut. Today we delivered cider to the Montagu Club in Weekley near Kettering, ready for their beer festival next weekend (10th - 12th July).

The club itself is a fine traditional village club, and obviously an important social centre for this tiny village and beyond. There will be 8 beers on offer, all sourced from local micro-breweries, plus our Sulgrave Orchard Medium Cider. On Sunday there will also be a Motorbike Show by the Two-Wheeled Wanderers.