Cider Making in Europe
It’s apple season in many parts of the world, and that means cider! No, we don’t mean American apple cider, which is simply unfiltered apple juice. We mean that wonderful alcoholic beverage made from fermented apple juice.
In the U.S. cider (or “hard cider”) is ever gaining in popularity, but in Europe it was been a staple for centuries, particularly in Great Britain, northern France, the Spanish Basque country, and parts of Germany.
So what is cider? It’s usually made from the juice of cider apples, which are higher in sugars than eating apples to aid in the fermentation process. They are pressed, or “scratted” to release the juices‐quite literally ground to a pulp. The pulp is pressed to extract the juice, which is then subject to fermentation in vats or casks. Toward the end of fermentation, the liquor is siphoned off into new vats to remove the sediment, and it then finishes its final fermentation in sealed casks, producing a small amount of carbon dioxide that gives ciders their traditional carbonation (although it is possible to find “flat” ciders).
Culturally, cider has long played an important role in local traditions. Perhaps the most known is that of “wassailing,” or the ancient English practice of visiting the apple orchards to sing songs and incantations to the trees to encourage a good harvest. (This is not to be confused with the Christmas wassailing, or carol-singing.)
The cider of northern France is both fizzier and more amber in color than British cider. On a cooking vacation in Normandy you can visit an organic cider farm for a tasting of this staple, perhaps with some of the famed creamy dishes of the region. Or, if you visit Brittany, pair the cider with crêpes or galettes as the locals do!
In Spain the cider is both flat and tart, very unlike its French and British counterparts. In the Basque country, cider is served in sidrerias (known in the local dialect as sagardotegi, or sagardotegia, singular), wonderful establishments full of simple but delicious dishes made to accompany the beverage (cod omelettes, grilled meats, and Spanish cheese feature prominently). In neighboring Asturias, which has one of the highest per capita cider consumptions in the world, the cider is poured in a remarkable way: the special, ultra-thin glass must be held at an angle below the waist, the bottle held as high as possible above one’s head. The pour must be slow, and the cider must hit the side of the glass, not the cider already on the bottom. Sounds hard, right? That’s why even seasoned pourers often end up with their shoes wet!
By Peg Kern
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