CiderDays 2013 Preview

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Franklin County CiderDays in Massachusetts—traditionally held the first weekend in November—is now in its 19th year. What began as a humble harvest celebration at West County Cider is now a county-wide celebration of apples, sweet cider, and hard cider.

This year’s CiderDays will be held on November 2nd and 3rd. Many events are open to the public, but some events are ticketed or require a $5 tasting glass to attend. Tickets for ticketed events are on sale at the CiderDays website and I suggest you snap yours up quickly! There’s also a Facebook page where you can follow the latest CiderDays updates.

What follows is a preview of the workshops and tastings that I’m looking forward to. There are plenty of other events happening during CiderDays weekend, so visit the CiderDays site for a tentative schedule and further details.

If you’re headed to CiderDays, I can’t wait to meet you! Leave a comment below so we can share a cider together.

Apple Varieties for the Organic Orchard
Tom Burford and Michael Phillips
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Two of the most knowledgeable apple growers in the country team up to discuss which varieties are most suitable for growing with organic methods. Michael is passionate about organic and beyond-organic methods, and his books The Apple Grower and The Holistic Orchard are both excellent. Tom is not particularly known as an organic advocate, perhaps because existing organic techniques do not fare well in his native Virginia. But Tom does travel regularly to the world’s major apple growing regions and certainly knows a thing or about growing apples, organic or otherwise! These two were paired up for a talk in 2011 that was highly engaging, like listening to two musicians effortlessly improvising and playing off one another’s riffs.

Finding a Great Cider Apple in Your Backyard
John Bunker and Claude Jolicoeur
Apex Orchards, Shelburne
John is the man behind Fedco Trees and was recently featured in an excellent article by Rowan Jacobsen. Claude is better known for his cidermaking prowess, but is surely knowledgeable about varieties that thrive in colder northern climes (he’s a native of Quebec City). The title of the talk leads me to believe that it’s about taking whatever apples you have access to and making great cider with them…which would be welcomed by many amateur cidermakers who get their start by collecting fruit from the trees of friends, neighbors, and abandoned properties. Once you’ve assessed what the apples you have access to are lending to your cider, you can then plant or source varieties that make up for any deficiencies. As much as I enjoy listening to Tom and Michael, I will be at Apex Orchards on Saturday morning to hear what John and Claude have to say!

Author Signings
Jolicoeur, Phillips, Burford, Bradshaw, Watson, Traverso
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
There is a bumper crop of excellent books on apples and cider this fall. Stop by the author table and chat with the wonderful people who have shared their expertise with us. Here’s a list of the latest books from each author, with a link to the book on Amazon:

The New Cider Maker’s Handbook – Claude Jolicoeur
The Holistic Orchard – Michael Phillips
Apples of North America – Tom Burford
World’s Best Ciders – Bill Bradshaw (& Pete Brown)
Cider, Hard and Sweet (3rd Edition) – Ben Watson
The Apple Lover’s Cookbook – Amy Traverso

3:00-4:30 and 5:15-6:45
Cider Salon I and II
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $25/session
The highlight of CiderDays for hard cider enthusiasts. Unlike many tasting festivals, there are no drink tokens or tickets to be purchased; you are welcome to as many samples as you can reasonably consume during the session. Ben Watson, who organizes the Cider Salon and vets the participants, told me that this should be the largest collection of ciders at a CiderDays yet; looking at my program from 2011, there were 29 producers and 58 different ciders, ice ciders, and perries on offer. The Shelburne Buckland Community Center will host the Cider Salon this year, which is a slightly larger venue than the one at Old Deerfield…so fighting through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds should be a thing of the past. The evening salon will likely sell out before the day of the event, so don’t wait around to buy your ticket!

CiderDays Harvest Supper

Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $40
I didn’t attend the supper in 2011, but I heard that it was fantastic. This year’s lineup doesn’t look like it will disappoint! My understanding is that vegetarian options are available, but there is only one type of ticket available for purchase online; I will do some research and edit the post with details for those with special dietary needs.

Apples for Juice and Cider
Claude Jolicoeur
Brook Farm Orchard, Ashfield
Alan Surprenant is the orchardist at Brook Farm, caring for a hundred or so apple trees that were planted in 1990 on Antonovka rootstock. During my 2011 visit for a similar workshop, I was fascinated at how Alan had aggressively pruned the trees to keep them at a reasonable height, quite unlike what you’d expect to see in a standard orchard. Claude and Alan were offering fresh-pressed juice to attendees as they arrived in 2011, quite a warm welcome! I look forward to revisiting Brook Farm this year and learning more about what makes quality apple juice and cider.

So You Want to Be a Commercial Cidermaker
Steve Gougeon and Andy Brennan
Bear Swamp Orchard, Ashfield
I have no plans to become a commercial cidermaker, though many cider enthusiasts do dream of “going pro” someday. If that’s you, then you’ll want to drive out for this session! Steve is the orchardist/cidermaker at Bear Swamp in Ashfield and Andy is the orchardist/cidermaker at Aaron Burr in New York’s Hudson Valley. Both gentlemen have adopted a traditional farmstead approach to cidermaking: Steve uses his own organic apples and doesn’t employ commercial yeasts, while Andy’s flagship cider is made with foraged apples from local homesteads. Andy in particular is very outspoken about his reverence for “true cider.” So these guys are passionate about their craft and have deliberately chosen to take the high road with regard to producing quality ciders.

Spanish Cider Tasting
Jim Asbel
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $25
Most people—if they’ve tried Spanish cider at all—walk away thinking that all sidra is strongly sour, acetic, with almost unapproachably funky aromas and flavors. While some traditional sidra could accurately be described this way, many progressive cidermakers in Asturias produce a balanced cider that is pure in a way that few North American ciders can approach—traditional sidras are spontaneously fermented, unfiltered, unpasteurized, and uncarbonated. Mention this to any beer geek and it sounds like a dream beverage! Jim Asbel (Ciders of Spain) imports a diverse selection of sidra from Asturias, including Guzman Riestra Sidra Brut Nature—a dry, bottle-conditioned cider made with French bittersweet apples—and Diamantes de Hielo, a “frost cider” made in the spirit of Quebec ice cider. While I can’t guarantee that Jim will be pouring these exact ciders at the tasting, I can guarantee that you’ll emerge with a stronger appreciation for the Asturian cidermaking tradition.

North vs. South Heritage Apple Tasting

John Bunker and Tom Burford
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $20
This is Part Two of a tasting that began at CiderDays in 2011. My notes from Part One indicate that John Bunker brought Black Oxford, Esopus Spitzenburg, Gray Pearmain, King David, Lincolnville Russet, Pomme Grise, and Newtown Pippin to face off against Tom Burford’s Arkansas Black, Ralls, Stayman, Virginia Beauty, Winesap, Yates, and Albemarle Pippin. My recollection is that the audience preferred John’s Northern apples in that tasting, so I know that Tom will have sought out some especially flavorful Southern varieties for this year’s bout. Count me in for Part Two!

Cider and Cheese Pairing

Murray’s Cheese (NYC)
Shelburne Buckland Community Center, Shelburne Falls
Advance Ticket Price: $25
If Murray’s believes that cider pairs well with cheese, then you better believe it! A mainstay in Greenwich Village since 1940, Murray’s stocks a surprisingly good selection of bottled ciders in addition to their vast array of cheeses and other gourmet foods. I don’t consume much dairy, but reading The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese a few years ago opened my eyes to the hundreds of small-scale cheese operations that are thriving around the country. I love fermented foods in general and I’m always interested to hear perspectives on pairing cider with food, so I will definitely be in attendance at this session.