Monday, 24 January 2011

2011 - The Year of Perry

All that sampling of perrys on Friday gave me a bit of a thirst. As luck would have it, it was a thirst for more Perry!

One of the great advantages of making your own perry, is that should you get a craving for a glass, there's usually a bottle or two to hand. Good quality cider is now easier to find than ever (albeit mostly over-sweetened and overly commercial in style), but good perry is still as rare as hens teeth outside of its homeland of the Three Counties and Welsh Borders. The supermarket offerings are generally very poor, mostly Pear Ciders as opposed to anything truly Perry-ish. Waitrose Stores are probably your best bet for finding decent perry. They usually have the reliable, half decent, Westons Perry (and the Pear Cider too for some reason!), as well as their own-brand Waitrose Perry (which is probably also by Westons). But if you're really lucky, you'll find the truly excellent Dunkertons Organic Perry, and of course many of our local Waitrose stores are now selling the very fine Hogans Vintage Perry. Allan Hogan has now started to export his ciders and perry to the USA. I just hope our transatlantic cousins don't get too much of a taste for his perry, there's only so much to go round!

Which brings me to our own dwindling stocks of perry. We ran out of our delicate and delicious Blakeney Red Perry way back in the Summer (note to self: must bottle more Blakeney this year), and the rather nice 'Mystery Perry' is long gone (there's really no mystery where that went!). Which leaves us with a small cache of Malvern Hills, bottled and maturing nicely in the ciderhouse, and the last couple of bottles of Green Horse Perry.

Dusty from the pantry, the Green Horse poured with the same opaque, pearly colouring it had when it went in the bottle. Green Horse is one of those pear varieties that produce a naturally hazy perry, resolutely refusing to clear, not for me, not for anyone. For my taste, we really can't make enough of this perry. It's a real Summer refresher. Sharper than the other perrys, with a delicious juicy citrus flavour. Perhaps a little too thin for a true Single Variety perry, but distinctive and delicious nevertheless. It also goes very well with food.

I'll be taking some of this along to an East Midlands cider and perry tasting which I'm running for members of Rutland CAMRA. The last of the draught Malvern Hills will be making an appearance at the forthcoming Hucknall, and Leicester beer festivals (details on the right), and from there on in, our new-season perrys will be available throughout the Summer.

I'm on a mission to sample as many delicious perrys as I can find this year. It's too rare and special not to, so why not join me, and make 2011 your 'Year of Perry' too.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Wild Things!

A year ago today, I posted my tasting notes on our perrys ahead of their first racking. Today I've been in the ciderhouse, sipping, swirling and nosing my way through the fermenters, and what a difference a year makes.

Last year we went over (almost) exclusively to 'wild yeast fermentations', relying on the naturally occurring micro flora on the fruit and in the ciderhouse to initiate the fermentations, rather than the addition of a single strain cultured yeast as we've done previously. Cultured yeasts are preferred by many cidermakers for their tendency to produce rapid fermentations, even in very cold weather, and give predictable results. Wild yeast fermentations on the other hand can be slow to start, and may give unpredictable results. So why do we choose this more risky path?

The short answer is 'complexity'. If managed well, through a combination of good hygiene, and the careful use of Sulphites to control unwanted spoilage organisms, wild yeast fermentations will usually produce more complex ciders and perrys. This is because in the initial stages of fermentation, a range of yeasts will be present, all working slightly differently to each other, and therefore producing a slightly different flavour profile. Of perhaps equal importance is the speed of the fermentation. A cultured yeast will have been selected to do a specific job as efficiently as possible. Under ideal conditions, a cultured 'cider' yeast can ferment out the juice to bone-dry in a matter of weeks. These fast fermentations can often lead to the more subtle esters and aromatic components being 'blown-off' in the froth and fizz. Wild yeast fermentations are generally much slower, and can result in more of the flavour being retained.

Unfortunately, we had some difficulty getting the wild yeasts in our perrys to start fermenting last season, and in most cases we resorted to adding a cultured yeast. I'm happy to say that this seasons perrys were much better behaved, and after a couple of weeks anxious wait, they all started to gently ferment away without the need for our intervention. Then things got very cold! Fermentation all but stopped in the perrys, and even now, things are moving pretty slowly.

So, it's a different season, with different growing conditions, and a generally later harvest than we experienced in 2009. Plus, we've done things somewhat differently in the ciderhouse. It's perhaps no surprise then that things have turned out rather differently, which just goes to highlight the very seasonal, and 'vintage' nature of cidermaking.

Malvern Hills - There's a slight yeastiness on the nose, as you'd expect at this early stage, but this perry has almost completely cleared. It's still quite sweet, with a rich pear flavour, and moderate tannins. I suspect the tannin may be stronger than it appears, due to it being masked by the sweetness. It would be nice if we could retain just a little of this sweeteness in the finished perry. 

Blakeney Red - This has a also cleared beautifully, with a slightly deeper colour than the Malvern Hills. There's no yeastiness present, and this perry is clean enough to drink now. There's a candy-ish sweeteness, and a rich, tinned pear juice flavour. Light tannin and gentle acidity makes this an extremely well balanced perry. I'm very pleased with this, although I would hope it will ferment out a bit more yet.

Green Horse - Wow! This perry still needs a little more time, but the flavour even now is fantastic. It's a hazy, very pale perry, with Lemon, Ginger, and Pear, enhanced by a rich sweetness, and good balancing acidity. A slightly sweetened Green Horse was my favourite perry of last season, and I'm hoping that this will be even better by the time we come to sell it.

I also tried a couple of the ciders, but they really are far too young to assess properly. At the moment the Welland Valley Festival Special is cloudy and some way off being ready, but still shows great potential. It's rich and fruity, dryish, with soft tannins and a slight bitterness in the finish. Vat #22 is a mixed bittersweet cider, which tastes like alcoholic apple juice. Nice, but not nearly cidery enough for my taste.

The next job is to rack off the perrys, which I'll be doing just as soon as I've got some longer 'O's from the 'Fork Handles' shop...

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Chocs Away

Hands-up if you're a fan of dried Figs. Hmm, thought so...

Alright then..... how about the aforementioned Figs, soaked for the best part of a day in Calvados, lovingly wrapped in the finest Marzipan our local Waitrose could supply, rolled carefully to the size of a small Quails Egg, then smothered in a thick layer of Chocolate so dark it could trigger a spell of Seasonal Affective Disorder in the wrong hands. Ok, hands down now.

From small seeds, ridiculously toothsome treats do grow. The marzipan was my starting point, a leftover from the annual Christmas Cake ritual. We love marzipan, so much so that I generally cake the marzipan rather than risk drowning the almondy loveliness in too much fruit'n'nut. A thick layer is essential, but after a bit of a trim there's usually a bit left over. It's been in the fridge for a month now. A golf-ball sized marzi-remnant, calling me like a temptress in the night. Never one to shirk my responsibilities, I simply had to heed the Call of the Sweetmeat. We love chocolate too... and Calvados.

So here's how we made our Calvados Marzi-Fig Surprises:

Roughly chop a handfull of dried Figs, pop them in a bowl and pour over a generous slosh of Calvados, Cider Brandy, or any other lesser Brandy if that's all you've got. We left ours overnight, but a couple of hours should get them boozy and soft enough.

Drain the surplus Calvados off into a handy 'chefs-glass' for later (ahem!) inspection! Take a piece or two of Fig and cover it with a thin layer of the rolled-out marzipan. Meanwhile, melt a huge bar of Dark Chocolate in a small bowl over a pan of simmering water. You're now ready for the messy bit.
Dip each marzipan ball into the melted chocolate, transferring to a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. We used a mini-whisk to lift the dripping delicacies out, but if you're the kind of person who has a Chocolatiers Fork to hand, all the better. Sift a little Cocoa Powder over the chocolates just before they harden completely. They're ready to scoff when the chocolate doesn't burn your tongue....perhaps sooner. We ran out of marzipan, so used the remaining Figs to make a very homemade looking chocolate bar. They both taste amazingly good.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Ciderhouse News - January

Things are fizzing away gently in the ciderhouse, and the time for racking the perry off its sediment draws ever closer. Once again I'm having to buy more fermenters as we've filled every available tub, and have nothing to rack into. Full tasting notes coming soon, meanwhile, here's latest news:
  • The dates for the innaugral Rutland CAMRA Beer & Cider Festival have been leaked to us here at Rockingham Forest Cider. Make a note in your diaries for the weekend of 23rd - 26th June. A wide range of beers, ciders, and perrys are promised, including something fruity from the Rockingham Forest Cider cellar. Venue is the Rutland County Museum in Oakham. More details when we've got 'em.
  • Don't forget, we'll have cider and/or perry available at both the Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival (9th - 12th March), and the Hucknall Beer Festival (11th - 13th February) c/o our friends in the North, Ray & Gail of Torkard Cider.
  • 30 (that's Three-Oh!) Ciders and Perrys are promised at this years Swan & Rushes Cider & Cheese jamboree in Leicester. Start date for this cracking day out is 29th April, continuing until the last crumb has been nibbled. Toast the Royal nuptials with a drop of Prince Williams favourite, and a truckle of what does a Princess good. Check the Swan & Rushes website nearer the date for the all important cider, perry, and cheese listings.
  • Coming soon: Fun Cider Photo Competition. Have a good rummage through your hard-drive, and post your best (clean!) images from the 2010 cidermaking season to the 2011 Cider Workshop Photographic Challenge. For more details and where to upload your images, watch this space....
  • 'Leicester Tigers thrash Northampton Saints in 12-try demolition job....' says Mystic Mark earlier today.
  • Wikio Blog Ranking slips to all-time-low..... Bah!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Three Cheers For Cheese!

Christmas, and the whole jingly-jolly season of goodwill, is not merely about the giving and receiving of presents and stuffing yourself silly with Turkey. No indeed! It's also about Cheese. Lots of Cheese.... and biscuits of course.

We've had some really fine cheeses over the Festive Holiday. The fridge is still full of them. I see a good cheese and just have to buy a nibble or two. Any bit of cheese with a cider or perry connection is an obvious draw for me, but let's not forget that all cheeses have a strong connection with cider and perry, because as we all know, cider and perry are the perfect match for cheeses of all persuasions (other than the really smelly ones), and don't let the wine bores convince you otherwise.

So Christmas was coming, and sacré bleu, the Family Cheese Trunk was practically bare. Certainly there was nothing befitting of a Yuletide cheeseboard. It was time to venture forth and make a Cheesemonger happy...

On a largely fruitless Christmas shopping trip to Nottingham, I spotted a huge round of Camembert au Calvados in the aptly named Cheese Shop. Made from unpasteurised Cows milk, this rich gooey cheese has its rind removed before being dipped in a fruity Calvados/Cidre blend. It's certainly a lovely Camembert, though any 'appley-ness' is perhaps a little too subtle for my taste buds to detect. It was a good start, but sadly I arrived home to freshly baked bread and a bottle of Waitrose Vintage French Cider. One nibble led to another, and it never made it onto the cheesboard.

Talking of French cider, I managed to bag the last bottle of a very pleasant single variety Duché de Longueville Gros Œillet Cidre from the similarly well named Buntings Deli in Thrapston. You can find this excellent Normandy cider in the rather less delightful surroundings of Sainsbury. Cheese features strongly at Buntings, though in the case of a round of Stinking Bishop, rather too strongly I'd suggest. I came away clutching a chunk of fresh, grassy, garlicky Sharpham Rustic, an unpasteurised Cows Milk cheese, all-of-a-speckle with Chives. Yummy!

I can also recommend the garlic & herb loveliness of Scrumpy Sussex. As the name suggests, it's made from unpasteurised cows milk in deepest, lushest Sussex... with Scrumpy. Now I've never been one for the weird and wonderful flavoured cheeses. If I want chillis or Marmite with my cheese, I'm perfectly capable of adding my own thank-you-very-much. There may well be exceptions, but as a general rule of thumb, if the cheese contains something.... well! distinctly uncheeslike, it's a fair bet that the cheese is pretty poor to start with. Not so Scrumpy Sussex, which is a jolly fine cheese, albeit not one where the (ahem!) 'scrumpy' comes through in any obvious way. It's quite garlicky, but subtle and gently herby, and very moreish. This cheese came from the recently opened Cheese Shop in Stamford, which does exactly what it says above the door.

The Christmas Cheeseboard was completed by a generous chunk of Colston Bassett Stilton, acquired from Emerson & Wests of Market Harborough; and a wedge of 'Capstan Full-Strength' Double Barrel from the Lincolnshire Poacher stall at Market Harborough Farmers Market. Add to that some homemade pickles, a jar of our own delicious Quince & Perry Jelly, and it was quite literally a Whey Hey-hey of a Cheesy Christmas!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Cider & Ale in Stamford

Our New Years Eve celebrations got underway a little earlier than usual yesterday. We'd taken the 'Christmas at Home' concept just about as far as it would go. A full week of indulgent inactivity was taking its toll. Man cannot live on Malvern Hills Perry and Dr Who alone. We'd barely left the house since collecting the Turkey from Ashley Herb Farm, it was high time for a change of four walls. After much careful thought, a Sale-ing trip to Stamford seemed like a good idea.

Stamford is a nice day out, ripe with boozy possibilities, and an ideal destination for more active forms of indulgence. It's usually a better than average destination for cider and perry too, so whilst Karen did the shopping thing, I went in search of a comfy sofa and a Perry or two. Plus ça change!

By a staggering coincidence, the Jolly Brewer Beer Festival I'd read about on the Peterborough CAMRA website, was in full swing. What luck! The cider and perry list was pretty reasonable for such a modest festival, and I plumped for a brace from multi-award winning Somerset producer Hecks. The Hangdown Cider and Blakeney Red Perry were in fine fettle, if a little too sweet for my taste. The problem with a pub like the Jolly Brewer is the huge coal fire. It's hard to drag yourself away from it on a cold Winter day, but drag myself away she did, up the High Street to shopping heaven. I'd built up a bit of momentum by now, so continued on past the '50% Off Sale' signs to the Tobie Norris for a bit of a rest.

The Tobie Norris has a lot going for it pub-wise. A beautifully restored Medieval building perched at the top of the High Street, within easy sneaking distance of the main shopping area. Great Pizzas, and excellent ales mean even Karen likes the Tobie Norris (high praise indeed). There's usually bottled cider from Jollydale of Stamford (though not on this occasion) and Aspalls Draught Cyder. I went for a pint of the usual, the zesty, extra pale White Hart from Ufford Ales, one of my absolute favourite session beers.

Time was tight, Karen was almost shopped out and we still needed to do battle with the last-minute panic-buyers in Waitrose. Thinking on my feet I managed to give Karen the slip again, heading straight to Stamfords premier ale and cider house the Green Man. The cider range at the Green Man can be very good, but on this occasion it was a rather ordinary selection from Biddenden, Broadoak, and Westons, none of which I'd travel any great distance for. Besides, winking suggestively from the bar was another hop-driven stunna' from Peterborough's peerless Oakham Ales, the mighty-mighty Citra, all juicy citrus fruit and pungent cat pee aromas, truly the Sauvignon Blanc of the beer world. Lovely!

It was time to wend our way home via the recently opened Stamford Cheese Shop (the excellent Simpole-Clarke Deli, another good reason to climb the High Street, was unfortunately closed for the day). A small slice of Scrumpy Sussex was my contribution to the days shopping, and it wasn't even in the sales! More cheesy stuff later...

We finished the day with mucho Great Oakley Ales at the Red Lion. Naturally. Happy New Year to all our reader and drinkers.