Tag: food and drink

How to get a taste for autumn on a cider-tasting trip to Herefordshire

James Marsden is keen to introduce me to Big Mama.

She stands tall in the middle of a restored orchard, looking good for her 300 years, with her mother-tree branches heaving under the bounty of late-harvest perry pears.

I’ve joined James to gather the harvest by hand in Gregg’s Pit orchard, located near Ledbury.

The harvest [pictured above] starts in late September and, depending on the weather, lasts four to six weeks.

Herefordshire is the historical centre of Britain’s cider-making industry — and is in rude health given the renaissance of cider as a premium, organic product.

UK cider represents 45 per cent of the global cider market with orchards generating over £33m annually, according to The National Association of Cider Makers (NACM).

‘It’s labour-intensive work,’ says James, ‘but I work with nature, using the sun to influence the sugars.’

Historic connections 

Cider has been produced in Herefordshire since the medieval period with references to ‘sidir’, meaning ‘a strong drink’ found in the 1420 Wycliff Bible at Hereford Cathedral.

As cider challenged wine in fashionable circles during the 17th century, most Herefordshire farmhouses installed grindstones to press the Herefordshire Redstreak apples popularised by the area’s cider pioneer, Lord Scudamore.

Today the region remains the largest cider-producing county in the UK with around 20,000 acres under orchard, growing high-quality cider apples and perry pears.

I set out on an autumnal morning, the countryside dappled with spotlight sunbeams and bursting with ripe fruit, to explore the southern Redstreak Cider Circuit, a self-guided tour of the region’s apple-harvest heritage between Ledbury and Ross-on-Wye.

There’s also a Newton Wonder trail, a northern loop around Hereford, with both 45-mile circuits making for a gentle weekend exploring by bike or car.

The southern circuit pivots around the village of Much Marcle, with its 14th-century church dedicated to Saint Bartholomew.

It’s also home to both Gregg’s Pit and Westons Cider, the latter selling brands like Stowford Press and exporting to 40 countries.

Westons is the new face of the cider business: modern, large-scale and based around a visitor centre with a family restaurant.

I join the tour, poking my head into the distillery where huge wooden vats groan under the weight of fermenting fruit, and the visitors’ centre, which explains the history of British cider through historic cider bottles and labels.

Country roads

I later drive on along the country B-roads, the circuit leading me through villages made up of black-and-white buildings.

Many of the cider and perry producers on the circuit welcome visitors for orchard tours followed by an al-fresco or farm-barn tasting. Local cafes, restaurants and hotels, meanwhile, offer apple-themed menus throughout the harvest season.

Orchards have been part of Herefordshire’s landscape throughout history but while some producers have scaled up for the mass market, there are plenty of small-scale operators rediscovering the region’s organic cider-making origins.

Back at nearby Gregg’s Pit, I find James on his hands and knees, collecting pears with a headtorch as the light fades.

He makes a small volume of single-variety and blended ciders and perry drinks each year, using pure fruit juice and traditional methods, including a stone press in his garden.

When I pop my head around the door of the Vat House, the heady waft means the fermentation process is in full swing.

James, who is fond of cooking up an autumnal bean stew using Toulouse sausages and cider:

‘I’m trying to create a complex, distinctive drink and see it primarily as a food-pairing product.’

‘Herefordshire feels deep rural and that’s why I’ve made it my home,’ he adds as we sit in the back garden, the sun setting over the fields overlooking May Hill and the Cotswolds, with a glass of méthode champenoise bottle-fermented perry.

Cheers.

* This story first appeared in the Daily Mail.

How to spend a weekend on the Herefordshire Cider Circuit

National Apple Day had cider fans celebrating this week.

I joined in the spirit of the autumnal event with a short UK break in Herefordshire, following a newly launched Cider Circuit [pictured above] of orchards and producers.

It was great to be on assignment and having a change of scene in a safe, socially distanced way before new lockdowns loom.

Here’s a flavour of the feature:

Cider has been part of Herefordshire’s rural heritage since medieval times with local cider first exported to London in the 17th century as a fashionable alternative to wine.

In recent years, the cider market has been dominated by big brands, mass production and the rise of fruit-flavoured ciders

But a new generation of cider makers is now taking over, moving away from the cloudy-scrumpy-and-sandals image in favour of a premium product.

Read the full article in the i newspaper here.

How To Raise A Glass To North Wales’ Real Ale Trail

I joined a real-ale-themed tour of North Wales recently for Guardian Travel.

It was a trip around the hidden-gem rural pubs and microbreweries [pictured above] often overlooked by the stampede down the A55 towards Anglesey.

Based around Caernarfon, it highlighted the rise of community pubs at a time when our traditional village hostelries are struggling to survive.

There has been an explosion of local microbreweries and craft-ale pubs in recent years with The Albion Ale House in Conwy one of my favourites.

Here’s a preview of the article.

As the afternoon gave way to dusk, I was nursing a pint of Clogwyn Gold from the Conwy Brewery at The George in Carneddi, near Bangor, currently the Gwynedd a Mon branch of CAMRA’s Community Pub of the Year.

It was a tiny, no-frills bar with cheese rolls on the bar, beers stains on the carpet and a queue of people for the pool table but, an early Saturday evening in spring, it was bustling with a mix of regulars and ale-trail day trippers.

Landlord Dewi Sion says: “I still believe that serving a proper pint of local ale in a proper pub can create a place where a community comes together.”

Read the full story coming soon in The Guardian.

 

The Isle of Man: a Daily Telegraph travel series

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I finished March with a big commission – that’s why it’s taking me so long to catch up with site updates.

Myself and another Daily Telegraph writer spent a long weekend on the Isle of Man with a few to producing a series of articles for both print and online to showcase aspects of the island’s tourism offer for this year.

My brief was to cover three key areas: heritage, family travel and food.

It was a packed few days of steam trains and country roads, seafood and local ales, sea views and country escapes.

I felt by the end of the trip I had finally got to understand more of the island and its low-key charms after a previous visit left me unconvinced.

Best of all, I had the opportunity to meet local of interesting local characters, including Will and Charlotte from the Apple Orphanage [pictured above] outside Peel.

The passion and dedication of these local food heroes, and many more like them, proved to me that there’s a quiet foodie revolution taking place on the island.

I suspect I’ll be back to taste more.

Read the final edits of the stories:

Savour delicious Manx food and drink

An island rich in heritage, beauty and history

A Family Getaway

What did you think of this story? Post your comments below.

Liked this? Try also Local food heroes in Cheshire.