Caterer loves… Cider

24 August 2006
Caterer loves… Cider

It has come a long way from the days of white lightning and pints of snakebite and black at the student bar. No longer the stuff to be drunk behind the proverbial haystack with Rosie, cider has finally grown up into an elegant and sophisticated drink.

Being a very English tipple, cider's renaissance is taking us back to our roots. Alas, people are no longer paid in the golden nectar, as was the case for farmers in the 17th century. They averaged three or four pints a day, increasing to eight pints in the hot hay-making season. But it's perhaps little wonder the practice was outlawed in 1887 - heat, alcohol and scythes never made good bedfellows.

Generally stronger than beer, being 5% or more abv, West Country varieties are normally made from cider apples, whose high tannin content produces more flavour and a heavier body. Kentish cider-makers, however, favour cooking and dessert apples, which produce lighter, more alcoholic versions. Biddenden Special Reserve from Kent certainly lives up to that reputation, with an alcohol content of 13.5%.

The debate still rages over the real origins of cider - is it a west or an east country thing? While most would claim Devon, Somerset and Gloucestershire as the drink's birthplace, the Romans apparently found Kentish farmers glugging back a fair few gallons when they arrived in 55BC. What's undisputed, though, is that scrumpy, which purists consider the real deal, is derived from the West Country slang word "scrump" - meaning to steal apples.

Cider goes especially well with pork dishes and, unsurprisingly, many other foods associated with the West Country, including sausages.

While much of the current market is dominated by big brand names such as Strongbow, Magners and Blackthorn, independent suppliers across the country are getting in on the act. Thanks to growing consumer demand for locally sourced produce, there are now some truly quirky and individual varieties out there.

With brands such as Slack My Girdle, Wobblygob and Swamp Donkey, it's hard to resist a tankard or two of that there cider while daydreaming of combine harvesters.

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