The golden age of cider and perry

The golden age of cider and perry

It was with great pleasure that I attended the inaugural Artisan Cheese and Cider Summit at Little Pomona just outside Bromyard recently.

It was one of the most inspirational events I have been to in recent times. Artisan cheesemakers and leading cider makers came together to share knowledge and expertise, looking to find ways to cement links between their industries.

Producers were in the majority at the event, sharing their passion and delicious wares with one another. Writers and journalists like myself were the outliers, so I was greatly honoured to be given the chance to witness what I hope will transpire to be a pivotal moment for British cider, perry and cheese.

The day was beautifully choreographed. Although the room was full of seasoned experts, no prior knowledge was assumed. We were taken on a journey through the history and production of both the food and the drink.

I was particularly taken with Stichelton Dairy founder Joe Schneider’s engaging and effortless presentation of the minutiae of cheesemaking. He spoke about the process down to the molecular level, explaining the actions of milk salts and negatively charged ions. In the moment at least, I understood it all.

I couldn’t repeat it to you verbatim right now, but I came away better informed than I have from any number of dairy tours I have attended in the past.

I hope that we see more of this spirit of collaboration in the future such as 750ml bottles of quality cider in specialist cheese shops.

Perhaps the odd local maker offering cheese at CAMRA beer festivals to complement the cider and perry bar? It feels like there are a lot of opportunities to grasp.

Little Pomona is certainly not resting on its laurels. It already has been sowing the seeds of wonderful partnerships. Its new release, the Thankful Receiver (7.5 per cent ABV) is a dry sparkling cider made to celebrate local fruit and the seasonal nature of cider making, produced with Webbs Garden Centres in the West Midlands.

The two family-run businesses have selected a blend of Discovery, Egremont and some barrel-aged Dabinett for the cider, giving a velvet mouthfeel, fearless tree fruit flavours and a hint of bitter marmalade.

The bold acidity and the light natural sparkle of the drink lift it in the mouth. It will cut through even the richest and strongest British cheeses to create an excellent pairing, that I hope we will now see promoted by chef Myles Matthews in the garden centre cafes.

These collaborations make it feel like an exciting new chapter for British cider and perry is beginning. This sense of a hopeful future is bolstered by the success Adam Wells has seen with his CAMRA Kickstarter project for a forthcoming book on perry.

Perry: A Drinker’s Guide will be the first dedicated and comprehensive guide to this rare and special liquid – and the fact that the initial target was reached within the first 24 hours of the crowdfunding project launching shows that there is really a thirst for discovery among the public.

But as bright as the future looks, it also feels like a good time to stop and reflect. I heard the sad news that campaigner Mick Lewis had passed away recently. Mick was one of the driving forces behind CAMRA’s decision to campaign for cider and perry.

Mick and Ed Fahey put forward the motion at the 1988 AGM to formalise that support: “This AGM welcomes the Campaign’s increasing commitment to the cause of real cider, as evidenced by the production of the Good Cider Guide. However, if involvement is to continue, it is essential that recognition be given at a national level, and accordingly, this AGM instructs the NE to set up the Apple and Pear Produce Liaison Executive (APPLE) along the lines of the Mild Marketing Board.”

We are all lucky now to have cider and perry widely available in a way that would have been frankly unbelievable back in the 1980s. We are learning more about traditional varieties from the wonderful single variety ciders that are being produced. And CAMRA’s role in that cannot, I think, be underestimated.

I was speaking to the chair of the Gwent CAMRA branch, Jon Hallam, who summed up one element of the achievement: “One of the things that CAMRA has contributed to is the spread of people making cider all over the country. If you hadn’t had cider promoted like mad at festivals, then you would not be seeing people now making cider in Northumbria and Lincolnshire and places like that.”

Thanks to all the hard work that has already been done by both producers and campaigners, we find ourselves in a golden age, a truly exciting time. At the Ross on Wye Cider Festival in September, CAMRA member and long-time cider champion Dick Withecombe told me: “We’re probably drinking the best cider today that has ever existed.” And I think he’s probably right.

So why not get out there and try some? Preferably with a hefty chunk of Stichelton cheese.

Try it for yourself. The cheese and cider makers at the summit were:

Appleby’s Dairy; Hancocks Meadow Farm; St Jude Cheese; Montgomery’s Cheese; Neals Yard Creamery; Norton & Yarrow; Keen’s Cheddar; Stichelton Dairy; Thornby Moor Dairy; Ticklemore Cheese Dairy.

Blue Barrel Cider; Cidentro Cider House; Find & Foster Fine Ciders; Little Pomona Orchard & Cidery; Oliver’s Cider & Perry; Ross on Wye Cider & Perry; Townsend Farm; Welsh Mountain Cider; Wilding Cider.

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