Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
It’s an alcoholic beverage almost as old as civilization itself.
The Thracians made the earliest wines and declared Dionysus the “god of wine” and the Egyptians made beer 5,000 years ago, the Incas made corn liquor (chicha) 3,000 years in the past. The first recorded reference to cider dates back to Julius Caesar's Britain where he found the native Celts fermenting crabapples and making cider as well as fermenting honey to make mead. There were cider-drinking Normans and Anglo-Saxons.
Norman means 'North Man', and most of them were Vikings that had traveled south from Scandinavia in the late eighth century settling in what is today Western France. Vikings were cider makers and drinkers and this explains why in France, a land usually dominated by wine, there is a tradition of high quality cider production in Normandy and Brittany, which exists to today.
Nowadays, there is alcoholic (hard cider) and non-alcoholic cider, sweet or at various degrees of dryness. Cider is very popular in the British Isles, Western France, Scandinavia and Switzerland.
During a recent visit to Geneva, Zurich, Basel and Lucerne I had M÷hl, Cidrerie du Vulcan and Ramseier Apple Ciders with many of my meals, exhibiting various degrees of fizziness and sweetness. In actuality, the Cidrerie du Vulcain's Trois PÚpins is made by pressing together apples, pears, and quince.
In recent years in Britain there has been a revival of interest in artisan cider production utilizing regional apple varieties and a variety of fermentation and ageing styles. In Yorkshire, historic orchards are producing some impressive ciders using a mix of dessert and cooking apples.
Calvados is an apple brandy produced exclusively in Normandy that has attained AOC status. The base cider is made from apples, but sometimes a few pears are added at the pressing stage. The fruit must be grown in Normandy, where more than 200 varieties of apples are cultivated. The fruit is pressed and fermented, then distilled into an eau de vie and aged for a minimum of two years in oak. A good Calvados is respected as much as a good Cognac.
In the United States there is a very nice, demi-sec cider from Washington State as well as a non-alcoholic sparkling one produced in California.
Personally, I drink during the hot summer months Zeigler's Old-Fashioned Apple Cider, a sweet and refreshing cider made from New York State grown apples pressed fresh; it comes in seasonal varieties such as Gala and Honeycrisp blends.
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