Herefordshire, Cider and the British Slow Food Movement
The Slow Food Movement has arrived in the UK in a big way. The national newspaper The Daily Telegraph has a weekly column about regional foods and local producers in Britain, and the Shropshire Town of Ludlow became the first British headquarters of the International Slow Food Movement in December 2006. There is an annual September festival every September in Ludlow where artisanal chocolate, English wine, and local cheeses hold center court for foodies making their pilgrimage.
Shropshire ’s nearby county, Herefordshire, is also experiencing a regional food renaissance, primarily focused on its most famous products, apple cider and perry. In the United States, apple cider is usually thought of as a type of organic apple juice, and perry, or fermented pear juice, is relatively unknown. In the UK however, scrumpy (the local term for cider) and perry have a long history. Farmers made cider to be drunk by their farm laborers to quench their thirst during hay-making and harvest season, and produced cider and perry to sell to local pubs and inns.
In Hereford on the A438 Brecon Road, you can discover the history of cider-making at the Hereford Cider Museum. Chock-a-block full of old milling and pressing machines, fermenting vats, and local memorabilia such as past trophies—“cider cups”—awarded in cider festivals, you also get a taste of several local ciders and apple liqueurs akin in taste to French Calvados. Some of my favorite displays were the cider bicycles designed to deliver products and provide local refreshment (hopefully not while being driven).
Hereford itself is also home to local merchants and producers promoting other types of “slow food.” Near the magnificent cathedral with its medieval world map (worth a visit to see how thirteenth-century cartographers perceived the world—the six-foot parchment includes a painted Norwegian on skis accompanied by a bear!) is the appropriately-named Church Street. Mousetrap Cheese at #30 Church Street is one of three retail outlets for the Pleck Farm dairies. The shop offers handmade Little Hereford Cheese, along with chutneys, pickles, and a selection of you guessed it—cider. Little Hereford has a creamy texture with a dry finish, and it reminds me of Wensleydale without the tartness. A particularly delicious variation is Little Hereford with fresh sage, and for those who like a softer variety, it is possible to get Baby Little Hereford in season.
Next to Mousetrap is Fodder the Health Store, a local grocer dedicated to organic, locally-produced products. Fodder is over thirty years old, featuring a large selection of organic vegetables, duck eggs, as well as Aconbury sprouts, and Tyrells crisps (potato chips) made in neighboring Leominster. Tyrells also has vegetable crisps and in an expression of the British penchant for oddly-flavored potato chips (prawn cocktail anyone?), Tyrells offers seasonal variations such as summer barbecue and spring asparagus and black pepper. Fodder also prepares their own sandwiches and salads, and they do not allow any products containing hydrogenated fats on their shelves.
Leaving Hereford, we decided to take the Hereford Cider Route, venturing north to Luntley near Pembridge to visit Dunkertons Cider Company, a small producer that makes 40,000 gallons per year. We were met in the Cider Shop by Robert West, Dunkerton’s master cider maker. Robert explained to us that the cider company was founded in the 1970s when Susie and Ivor Dunkerton left London for a simpler life. Unable to make their 18-acre smallholding viable via traditional farming, they turned to cider making, rediscovering old techniques and heirloom apples. To this day, Dunkertons is still discovering unknown local apple varieties and blending them much like wine varietals. The apple varieties they press include Foxwhelp and Bloody Turk (sharp); Kingston Black and Breakwells Seedling (bittersharp), Yarlington Mill (bittersweet); Court Royal and Sweet Coppin (sweet), and the apples come from their own orchard as well as local farmers. All the apples are organic, and their orchard meets Soil Association Standards.
Robert told us that come autumn, it is time to press the apples. The fruit has to be ripe to press—you test by pressing your thumb into the apple which should produce a juice spurt. After being washed, the fruit is milled to reduce it to a pulp, then pressed to extract the juice. A ton of apples makes about 150 gallons of juice, and the remaining pulp (called pomace) is used for cattle feed. In the true spirit of organic farming, little is wasted. Then the magic happens. The juice is pumped into a vat where yeast is added, and it remains until it has finished fermenting (sometime between February and May); the time varies according to the winter temperatures and the desired taste. Two oak vats named Adam and Eve are used to blend fermented cider, the delightful results of forbidden fruits.
The results were impressive, and we tasted a variety of dry and sweet ciders which were about 7% in alcohol content. Black Fox seemed to be our favorite, a crisp and slightly sweet sparkling cider named after a legendary creature that haunts orchards at night in Herefordshire. Black in color to elude the farmers, the fox is said to stare at intruders with bright red eyes, bright as the apples hanging from the trees. When Herefordshire farmers say that “the black fox must have been through this orchard a good few times,” they mean that the cider orchard has a very heavy crop. Thought to bring good luck to orchards, it is obvious the black fox has brought good luck to Dunkerton’s Cider.
A short distance southeast of Dunkertons was Newton Court Cidery, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Paul Stephens. An even smaller operation than Dunkerton’s, Newton Court is a cidery, orchard, and a working farm featuring Hereford Cattle, a hearty native breed exported to Texas and Australia. We’d heard through the grapevine (or perhaps the apple tree in this case) that Newton Court had some fine perry, and our suspicions were confirmed after we arrived.
Paul’s dad was manning the shop, a rustic building replete with rows and rows of cider and perry, and a number of prize ribbons on the wall. He proudly explained his son trained in cidermaking at Pembroke Agricultural College , and the results of his labors were victories in National Competition for Perry held at the Hereford Cider Museum. We had a tour of the cider operations in his barn, as well as of his thriving orchard, and watched the border collie herd the farm cats while drinking some small samples of perry. It was immediate, fresh, and seemed to distill the very smell and essences of pears, with the bonus of a warm afterglow.
Taking our Hereford cheese, some local bread and cheese, and a small amount of perry and cider, we picnicked in Woebley (pronounced Webbley), one of the best-preserved “black and white” Tudor villages for which Herefordshire is famous. The timber-framed buildings with their wonky black stained beams and white or pink-washed walls contrasted with the pink and white blossoms on the apple trees in the gardens, while the tall spire of the twelve-century St Peter and St. Paul parish church rose in the sky. It seemed like this experience of tasting, enjoying, learning and observing is what the slow food movement is all about.
For More Info
For an excellent guide to the Hereford Cider Route, see www.ciderroute.co.uk, or contact the Herefordshire Council for a free tourist guide:
Cultural Services Manager
P.O. Box 4
1. Hereford Cider Museum
Mrs. M. Thompson
21 Ryelands Street
Hereford , HR4 0LW
Tel: 01432 354207
Open—April to Cotober, Tuesday through Saturday, 10am-5pm
(phone for winter opening times)
Directions: West of Hereford City Centre, on the A438 Brecon road
2. Hereford Cathedral
The cathedral is open daily from 9.15 am until Evensong.
A donation of £4 per person is invited.
(26 March– 27 October 2007)
Mon–Sat: 10 am – 5 pm
( 29 October 2007 – Easter 2008)
Mon–Sat: 10 am – 4 pm
(6 May – 30 September 2007)
11 am – 4 pm
The Visits Office
5 College Cloisters
Tel: 01432 374202
Fax: 01432 374220
3. Mousetrap Cheese Company
30 Church Street
Tel. 01432 353 423
Tel. 01568 720 307
Fax 01568 720 134
4. Fodder the Health Store
26-27 Church Street . Hereford .
Tel. 01432 358171.
1. Dunkertons Cider Company
Ivor and Susie Dunkerton
Luntley, Pembridge, Leominster
Herefordshire HR6 9ED
Opening Times: Monday-Saturday, 10am-6PM
From Leominster , travel west on the A44 Kingston road. Turn left in the center of Pembridge, by the New inn, and keep on the lane for just over a mile, following signs for the Cider Mill, which is on the left hand side.
2. Newton Court Cidery
Newton Court , Newton , Leominster , HR6 0PF
Opening times: Monday-Saturday 8am-6pm , Sunday, 10am-1pm
Directions: From Hereford , take the A49 towards Leominster and at the roundabout at Hope under Dinmore, turn left signposted to Leominster and Newton. Take the next lane on the left, signposted to Newton Court Cidery.
Weobley is about 10 miles south-west of Leominster and south of Pembridge.