Sunday, 28 February 2010

Chicken Lickin'

Today we celebrated our first sales of the season, a small box of new-season Blakeney Red Perry, delivered yesterday evening to our local pub the Red Lion, Middleton. We're also celebrating this blog slipping to 60th in the WIKIO Wine & Beer Blog listings... Hmm! That's 60th out of 65!... Ok, let's focus on the perry...

Fittingly, we're marking this auspicious day by opening a bottle of our rare-as-hens-teeth 2008 Blakeney Red Perry. It's very good too, and just goes to show that a well-made perry, bottled with tender loving care, has all the characteristics to mature and improve in the bottle for upwards of 18 months. We love perry.

It's been a perry kind of day. When it came to deciding how we would cook this Sunday's Free-Range Chicken (Ingredients listing: 100% Chicken... Why?), perry was top of the list of possibilities. If you've never tried Pot Roast Chicken with Celery, Onion, Carrot, (lots of ) Garlic and Thyme, and half a bottle of the finest perry you can lay your hands on, you really should. Two and a half hours at 170C is just enough time for beer and a natter down the local, and you'll return to a kitchen steamed-up with aromatic chickeny goodness. The juices made the most delicious gravy we've had in a very long time, and of course the whole Sunday Lunch caboodle was washed down with more of the same light, floral perry. Yowzah!

So, in conclusion. Rockingham Forest Blakeney Red Perry, available now at the Red Lion Middleton, coming soon to the Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival, bloody good on its own or with Chicken.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Cider in Leicester - A Pub Guide

As promised, for those visiting the Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival, and not satisfied with the 40 (yes 40!) ciders and perrys on offer, here's a snapshot of the current cider outlets which are within easy walking distance of the festival (correct as of Feb 2010):

Ale Wagon, 27 Rutland Street, LE1 1RE (0116 2623330) - A guest cider is usually available on handpump, Gwynt Y Ddraig Barnstormer on a recent visit.

Black Horse, 1 Foxon Street, LE3 5LT (0116 2540030) - A rare traditional pub in an area littered with style bars. Westons Old Rosie on handpump.

Criterion Freehouse, 44 Millstone Lane, LE1 5JN (0116 2625418) - Perhaps the most eclectic range of draught ciders and perrys available in the city. Up to two guests are usually available, one of which will be on the dedicated cider/perry handpump. Thatchers and Westons ciders feature, but there's just as likely to be something interesting from a smaller craft producer. The Criterion is our regular outlet for Rockingham Forest Cider in Leicester. There is an annual Cider & Cheese Festival in the Summer.

The Pub, 12 New Walk, LE1 6TF - Keg ciders only here, including the better than average Aspall Suffolk Draught Cyder. Personally, I would recommend the range of bottled ciders from Welsh producer Gwynt-Y-Ddraig. A proper draught cider on one of the 15 handpumps wouldn't hurt though. Perhaps if enough people ask...

Rutland & Derby, 23 Millstone Lane, LE1 5JN - Westons Old Rosie on handpump.

Swan & Rushes, 19 Infirmary Square, LE1 5WR (0116 2339167) - Up to two guest ciders, often from smaller craft producers. Recently Crones Organic Ciders from Norfolk have featured. This year's Cider & Cheese Festival has been pencilled in for 21st - 22nd May.

The Western, 70 Western Road, LE3 0GA (0116 2545287) - Aspall Suffolk Draught Cyder, and a bottled house cider from Sheppy's.

Wetherspoon - Both The Last Plantagenet (107 Granby Street, LE1 6FD) and The High Cross (103-105 Hight Street, LE1 4JB) usually have a box of Westons cider in the fridge (note: their Marcle Hill Cider is in fact re-badged Westons 1st Quality!). Occasionally something more interesting from Gwynt Y Ddraig makes an appearance too.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Hard Graft

A busy week ahead in readiness for our first sales of the season. The Vilberie and other late pressings of cider need racking off, which will be a full day's work in the ciderhouse. Barreling and boxing up of the Blakeney Red Perry should be less time-consuming, and will also give us the opportunity for more extensive 'sampling', if you know what I mean!

The delightful mild weather today has coincided nicely with this year's grafting efforts. The rootstock arrived last week c/o Mel Wilson, one of the folk behind the Leicestershire Heritage Apple Project, and a keen orchardist and hobby cidermaker herself.

I've grafted nine different Gloucestershire cider varieties onto ten 'half-standard' rootstock, the varieties are listed below. Last year we had beginners luck with our grafting with almost all taking successfully. I'm not expecting a similar result this time, which may be just as well as I'm none too sure where they're all going to go if we have 100% success!

Dymock Red - Very old cider apple which originates from the village of Dymock in the Forest of Dean. Very highly regarded for cider, with juice of sufficient quality and balance to make a good single variety cider.

Foxwhelp - Very attractive apple, yellow striped with crimson. Foxwhelp is a classic Three Counties bittersharp cider apple. Can be very sharp, and usually forms part of a blend. Foxwhelp cider has a distinctive aroma, and only a small quantity is needed in a blend to impart it's unique and highly desirable qualities.

Hagloe Crab - A real rarity this one. Hagloe Crab is a very old vintage quality cider apple, the cider from which was considered to be so good that it could be '...exchanged barrel for barrel for spiritous liquor'. Whether the current examples of this fruit are sufficiently virus-free to live up to this reputation remains to be seen, but I'm really pleased to have this one.

Hens' Turds - Great name, though probably not for a single variety cider! This cider apple is classed as 'Critically Rare' on the Gloucestershire Orchard Group website.

Old Tankard - Sharp Glocs cider apple.

Pedington Brandy - Lovely name. Sweet or bittersweet cider apple.

Port Wine Kernel - Otherwise known as Port Wine Pippin. Sweet cider apple.

Shepperdine Silt - Bittersharp cider apple, similar, though regarded in Glocs as superior, to Kingston Black.

Wick White Styre - Vale of Berkley sharp cider apple.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Leicester Beer Festival - Cider List

Another Rockingham Forest Cider Blog exclusive, the provisional cider bar list for the forthcoming Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival has been leaked by a 'very reliable source*'.... and here it is:

Brook Farm, Gloucestershire
Medium Cider

Burrow Hill, Somerset
Medium Cider
Dry Cider

Farmer Fear, Leicestershire
Thirsty Farmer Medium Cider

Green Valley, Devon
Medium Cider
Rum Tiddley Tum (Rum Cask Cider)

Gwynt y Ddraig, Glamorgan
Black Dragon
Happy Daze
Malvern Hills (Single Variety Perry)
Two Trees Perry

Hancocks, Devon
Sweet Cider
Dry Cider

Hecks, Somerset
Kingston Black (Single Variety Cider)
Porters Perfection (S.V Cider)
Port Wine of Glastonbury (S.V Cider)
Blakeney Red (S.V Perry)
Hendre Huffcap (S.V Perry)
Medium Perry

Lyme Bay, Devon
Medium Cider
Vintage Dry Cider

Millwhites, Hertfordshire
Organic Single Orchard Cider
Rum Cask Cider

Newton Court, Herefordshire
Medium Cider

Norbury, Worcestershire
Medium Cider

Olivers, Herefordshire
Medium Dry Cider

Rich's, Somerset
Farmhouse Medium Cider
Legbender Medium Cider

Rockingham Forest, Northamptonshire
Blakeney Red (S.V Perry)

Thatchers, Somerset
Cheddar Valley Dry Cider

Westcroft, Somerset
Janet's Jungle Juice

West Lake, Devon
Morgan Sweet (S.V Cider)

Wilkins, Somerset
Medium Cider

Winkleigh, Devon
Sam's Dry Cider
Sam's Medium Cider

*Thanks Sue

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Cake & Jollyd'ale

It's been a bright and sunny day, and I should have been in the garden Grafting, but it's also been a bit cold, so instead I've been in the kitchen baking. In a bid to use up some Dates which didn't make it into our Christmas Pudding, I made a Date & Cider Cake using a recipe from Anna's Cakes of Exeter website.

It's a real 'local' cake this one. The flour is from Claybrooke Mill, butter is Lincolnshire Poacher, local Honey, Northants Cider, Dates from Waitrose...

The cider is from a new producer to me, just down the road in Woodnewton, Northants. Jollydale Cider is made from Shropshire grown cider apples, and has a pleasant, well-rounded, fruity flavour, though even the dry version is a little too sweet for my taste. You can buy bottles of this cider from Amps Fine Wines in Oundle, or the excellent Tobie Norris pub in Stamford.

The cake! Delicious. Anna's slightly alchemical AGA cooking times didn't quite do it for us. An hour in a fan oven at 160C should do the job.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Cider & Cheese - A Classic Combo?

It seemed like the perfect culinary combination. An award winning Welsh farmhouse cheese, rind-washed in cider, matured to a sticky, gooey perfection, and accompanied by one of the finest ciders Wales has to offer. Mwynhewch eich bwyd!, as the Welsh are wont to say...

Wrong, wrong, very, very wrong! As anyone who's read this blog will know, I'm probably 'Cheese & Cider's biggest advocates, but this.... A total gastronomic rail crash. No foody chemistry whatsoever. Like Chalk and ..err.. Cheese in fact.

The cheese in question is the rather (and there's no getting away from this) 'cheesily' named Celtic Promise from Teifi Farmhouse Cheese of Llanddysul, Ceredigion. I bought my modest chunk from the excellent Delilah Deli in downtown Nottingham, along with a sliver of delicious aged Manchego. It's a seriously good cheese, creamy, pungent, and really very smelly. Like it's similarly rind-washed English cousin Stinking Bishop (which is washed in perry), this has the kind of sweaty socks aroma that could be seriously embarrassing on the bus journey home. Stinking Bishop has a little too much 'socks' for my liking, but this is milder, and lovely spread on a bit of bread or a sweet oaty biscuit.

So, the classic combination. Pungent cheese and sweetish Gwynt-Y-Ddraig Haymaker Cider. A good match on paper, but Oh Lord! What a disaster. The cheese has the effect of rendering all flavour in the cider secondary to the taste of sweaty, mouldy, three-week old builders socks. The delicate, fruity cider hasn't got a hope-in-hell of cutting through this thug of a cheese, and quite honestly, I can't think of anything in bottle or on draught that would. I've had a look around on the various cheesy online resources, and they all give varying recommendations for fine wines, ale and cider to partner this cheese. Well, only if you don't particularly like the taste of fine wine, ale, or cider.
My drink recommendation to accompany Celtic Promise cider rind-washed cheese.... Water, Welsh or otherwise!

2010 Leicester Beer Festival.... now less than a month away, and in case you didn't already know, will feature an impressive array of quality ciders and perrys. Yay!

The Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival (Wed 10th - Sat 13th March) will feature over 220 ales, food, including an authentic Leicester curry house, and a carefully selected smorgasborg of real ciders and perrys.

I'll be posting up the provisional cider and perry list just as soon as I can winkle it out of cider bar manager Susan Kite's grasp. I do know it will include ciders and perrys from most (all?) of the traditional cidermaking areas, plus a few not noted for a cider tradition. We will to be supplying our new season Rockingham Forest Blakeney Red Perry, and there may also be a local Leicestershire cider on offer.

Visitors to the festival should have no problem finding a range of ciders and perrys to suit their taste, but I know that people also like to visit a few pubs when in town. So in the next week or so I'll be posting a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to the 'best pubs for real cider and perry' in the city of Leicester. Armed with this, and a festival programme, there really should be no excuse for straying from the orchard path during the second week in March.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Marcus & Andy Got Wood (If You Want It)

It's not too late to take advantage of the free wood on offer at this years National Apple Scion Wood Exchange. We went today, and can heartily recommend what's on offer. Midshires Orchard Group founders, and all-round top men, Marcus Roberts and Andy Howard were on hand to offer sound advice, grafting wood from some rare and unusual apple varieties, plus their well-honed grafting skills for those that wanted to take home a new apple tree.

We went on the vague off-chance there might be some interesting cider apple scions available, and came home with over a dozen Gloucestershire cider varieties, including some real rarities. I was happy enough to get some Foxwhelp, a wonderful aromatic addition to any cider blend, but was particularly pleased to be offered a twig of Hagloe Crab, a variety only recently re-discovered, and with a reputation for making excellent cider. Of course, every orchard should have a Hens Turd, whether you make cider or not, so I'm pleased to say we can now add this unusually named variety to our own orchard stock.

These events are often very social occasions, and I was happy to make the acquaintance of Dennis Bancroft, a hobby cidermaker from near Rugby, who I've previously only known through the excellent Cider Workshop discussion forum. It's always nice to put a face to a name. It was also nice to see on display some of the 80-odd late storing apples which Marcus and Andy had acquired this season.

I must also give mention to the terrific George at Tiffield, a welcome refreshment break on the long journey home. A great village local, and highly recommended.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Cider News

In the absence of any news on our own ciders and perrys, here's a round up of some local (Leics/Northants) cider news:

Our friends in the 'big city' can look forward to a bit more variety in the cider department soon. Criterion Freehouse licensee Russell Hunt (pictured here for no other reason than he'd probably rather we didn't!) informs me that a substantial order of quailty ciders will be delivered to the pub in the next week or so. Names mentioned include Berriew, Newtons, Kennford, Heck's, Sheppy's, and Appledram. This lot should keep things ticking over nicely at Leicester's premier cider outlet until we've got something of our own to deliver in the Spring.

Budgens Store in Mountsorrel is the unlikely outlet for a genuine Leicestershire cider. 'Thirsty Farmer', made locally by ex-Somerset farmer Andrew Fear, is a rich, medium cider, with a good bittersweet character. Mr Fear comes from a long line of Somerset cidermakers, and has recently brought the ancient custom of Wassailing the orchards to this corner of the county. It's hoped that a barrel of Thirsty Farmer Cider will make an appearance at the cider bar of this years Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival.

It's 6 Nations rugby time again, and we'll be cheering on the mighty Leicester Tigers... err!... England, in their opening match against those tricksy Welsh boyos, in what promises to be a humdinger of a match. If any of the Welsh national team are reading this (as if!), 'Just the 15 men on the pitch today lads'...

In the traditional English spirit of D├ętente, we've supplied a barrel of fine Welsh cider to our local the Red Lion, Middleton, which will be on tap for the big match on Saturday. Gwynt-Y-Ddraig Haymaker Cider is described as a '...fruity medium cider bursting with the flavour of apples. A true Farmhouse Cider with a smooth finish'. Yum!

6 Nations supporters from further afield can rest assured that there's plenty of English ale and cider on tap, French and Italian wine, a very good Porter for the Irish.... and a fridge full of IRN-BRU!

Winter Pruning

It's oh-so-quiet in the ciderhouse. Fermentation seems to have all-but finished, and I'll need to think about racking off the rest of the ciders in a week or two. Meanwhile, I've used the welcome break to Winter Prune the cider apple trees.

Those Tremlett's Bitter trees which escaped Rosy Apple Aphid damage have put on a lot of, mostly upright, growth. The leaders in particular have rocketed skywards, and the main job here is to tip back this new growth by around half, remove the 2nd and 3rd buds down from the tip, and hope this will encourage a few more lateral branches to break further down the stem. The distorted growth on the tree which was attacked by aphid has been removed completely. Even if these stunted and twisted shoots recover and put on good growth this year, there will always be a weak point near the trunk which could snap in years to come. I'm also concerned that the Aphids could have introduced a viral infection into the shoots, so all-in-all, best removed and hope for better results this year.

The rest of the orchard needed little more than a minor snip here, and the total removal of a branch or two there, all in the pursuit of evenly spaced branches up the tree. Winter pruning is an ideal time to look for problems with tree shape and possible incidents of disease. The pics above show an obvious crossing branch which needed removal, and the tell-tale flaky bark of a possible fungal disease, which also needed cutting right out. Once again there's a lot of upright growth to deal with, and I'll be looking to tie down a lot of branches to a more fruitful level in the Spring.

A nice bonus from pruning this (mostly) young growth is the plentiful supply of 'scion wood' we now have, bagged up and ready to take to the 2nd National Apple Scion Wood Exchange at Buckingham Nurseries. We have Dabinett, Harry Masters' Jersey, Tremlett's Bitter and Yarlington Mill to take along, and hope to bring back...well something rare and interesting for grafting onto the rootstock we have on order.