Having eaten way too much blue cheese this Christmas (Partridge Blue, Dorset Blue Vinney and Cropwell Bishop Stilton), I decided to put the remainder into a soup yesterday. So into the pot went chopped leeks, onion, garlic, fresh sage and parsley, vegetable stock and the aforementioned blue). Soup, it seems to me, always tastes better the day after it is made so we had it for lunch today, served with Dorset Blue Vinney croutons and a glass of my father-in-law’s 2008 farmhouse cider . The cider was a great pairing but winelovers may prefer a crisp, inexpensive, dry white. Go French if I were you, with something light and fresh from Savoie or try a personal favourite of mine – white Saint Pourçain.
At this time of year father-in-law’s cider is often used for mulled cider, a refreshing and (I find) lighter alternative to the ever-popular mulled wine. I use a similar mix of ingredients as I would for the wine-based version – a few cloves, cinnamon sticks, orange zest, sugar and a hearty glug of either rum or brandy. Ladled into glass cups, it is a warming accompaniment for my husband’s delicious sausage rolls or mixed nuts roasted in a paste of sunflower oil and spices.
If you have a favourite food match for cider – do leave a comment on the blog and let me know.
Father-in-law’s cider is made in West Somerset on his isolated farm which nestles in a valley in the shadow of the Quantock Hills. In 2006, he resurrected the family tradition of cider-making which had ground to a halt in the mid-1990s when my husband’s grandfather became too frail to continue with his annual production, made from the cider apples growing in his orchards. There was much local interest when the family cider-making started up again as it seemed to be a tradition that was fast disappearing and this interest, to some extent, spurred my father-in-law on.
Today’s cider is ‘cleaner’ than that of yesteryear, a little weaker and not as dry. Grandfather made his cider in the old-fashioned way, by assembling the ‘cheese’ with straw. The pressed cheese was a treat for his dairy cows who would chase across the fields to chew at it once the pressing was finished. Nowadays, hessian sacks are used allowing a more powerful pressing.
Years ago, the cider was given to the farm labourers after a hard day’s work in the fields, sometimes in lieu of wages, and it was always enough to leave them ‘sozzled’ but happy. My husband remembers many a dubious character turning up at grandad’s farm to buy what was, in those days, relatively cheap alcohol and Grandfather never disappointed, a flagon or two always being available for purchase and very palatable it was too. Indeed, I still feel a little guilty for introducing an Australian cousin, visiting Somerset for the first time, to the art of cider-drinking shortly before Grandfather stopped making it. She eagerly rose to the challenge, so much so that she hasn’t touched the stuff since.
Cider-making day comes round in late September or early October when the apples are ripe to overripe. It is quite an event to behold, attracting a good crowd of locals who cheerfully join in with the labour in return for a decent lunch and the odd pint of last year’s cider along the way. With much laughter and merriment, the apples are picked, pressed and put into barrels, with the finished product being ready to drink by the Spring of the following year.