The Cider Trail

PUBLISHED: 15:54 14 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:59 20 February 2013

The Cider Trail

The Cider Trail

Chris Pool discovers what's in a name on the Herefordshire Cider Route

The peculiar names in the headline are just a few of those assigned to cider apples over the centuries. And where better to discover more about these fruits and the beverages that come from them, than Herefordshire?

Hereford is home to the worlds largest cider producer, Bulmers. The ebullient Gabe Cook, communications manager and active in the Three Counties Cider and Perry Association, describes how Bulmers helps to shape and support the industry here. We have about 10,000 acres of orchard either owned or contracted to us within the Wye Valley, mostly in Herefordshire. Not only do we buy the apples but we make a major contribution to the rural economy with haulage, machinery, engineers and everything to do with the cultivation and gathering of the fruit.

Bulmers is one of many Herefordshire cider and perry makers helping to promote and develop the industry and attracting visitors with a marked Cider Route not suggestions for a pub-crawl but a detailed guide for discovering cider and perry makers large and small around the county.

A sensible starting place for those wanting to know more about cider or, indeed, of the exotic names given to apple varieties is the Cider Museum in Hereford itself. Not only are there exhibits depicting the history and the art of cider making but there are pomonas. These, often very large, volumes are illustrated encyclopaedias of the varieties of cider apples and perry pears. Some date back to the 17th century and many are works of art in their own right.

Armed with knowledge from the museum you might then venture out along the Cider Route. One of the craft or artisan makers along the way is Olivers Cider and Perry at Ocle Pychard. Tom Olivers family have been farming here for at least three generations. We were hop-growers but cider has always fascinated me. The Cider Route is a very good representation of all aspects of the industry ranging from hobby makers to commercial producers.

Olivers is unusual in that is uses wild yeast fermentation. Tom explains: To me, wild yeast rather than purified dried yeast produces the very best ciders when you get it right. It doesnt always work out well and there can be a lot of wastage along the way. It isnt always reliable and this year that, combined with severe winter weather, reminded us that we are vulnerable.

Quality is also the byword of Dunkertons Cider Mill to the north of Hereford, near the picturesque village of Pembridge. Ivor Dunkerton talks of their philosophy: Susie and I have been making cider for 30 years or so. Quality is paramount. Were totally organic, using fruit from our own orchards. Visitors are very welcome to wander through the orchards seeing the different varieties for themselves.

We have a vineyard approach to cider-making. We prefer stainless
steel tanks which dont influence the flavour of the cider and we know which variety of apple was used for the cider in each tank.

Dunkertons orchards and shop are a treat and so is the restaurant in a rebuilt barn at the cider mill. A Cooks Kitchen is run by Bonnie Thirlaway and Tomas Cook and specialises in locally-produced food.

You need to travel to the south of the county to experience another dimension in cider making Henry Weston and Sons at Much Marcle.

Founded in the 19th century, Westons still matures some of its ciders in huge oak casks, all named. Looking up at three very large casks, Ollie Hunter from the Visitor Centre describes them: Those three called Hereford, Gloucester and Worcester were our first back in the 1880s.
Over the years weve accumulated nearly a hundred. The biggest are Pip and Squeak which each hold around 42,000 gallons.

Westons has its own tearooms and the Scrumpy House restaurant. There are tours of the mill showing the old and the new; a sense of its history and roots and the modern technical research going hand in hand at this established family business.

Although the Cider Route is for discovering cider it has, of course, another ingredient. If you live within sight of May Hill, an old saying goes, youre in perry pear country.

And so it is. Hardly anywhere else in the world can you find perry pear trees. Some varieties are now so rare that there is only one remaining tree and some have died out completely.

Tom Oliver is an expert. Charles Martell tried to catalogue all of the varieties still around. Some were lost or nobody knew where they were. I carried on the work, trying to discover more about the old varieties. We found one, known as Coppy and probably around 100 years old, which is the only known survivor of this variety. Its in Herefordshire. There are some good perry pear orchards near Ross and a fine avenue of old perry pear trees at Hellens in Much Marcle.

The delightful setting of Hellens, an ancient country house, has another cider and perry connection. The cider-makers of Marcle Ridge celebrate their craft twice a year under the banner of The Big Apple. In spring they have trials and tastings at Putley village hall (May 6-7, next year) but in the autumn Hellens Great Barn is the place to be as The Big Apple stages its annual display of apples and pears and much else to do with cider making. The event, this year, is October 8-9.

Enjoy following the Cider Route. And if you want to know where to find that rare perry pear tree you can ask Tom Oliver. But be prepared for an evasive answer.

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