Apples To Apples

5/31/15 - 

(Happy cows at the Giard/Montreuil farm in Normandy, France.)

Apples are one of the most diverse agricultural crops (with more than 7,500 known varieties), but they are overlooked in terms of quality, because they are often associated with sweet, cloying ciders and boring varieties sold on grocery store shelves.  This is unfortunate. Luckily we have been seeking out producers – some classic and some new – that elevate this humble fruit to serious, world-class libations, and couldn’t be more excited about our finds.

Apples have long been cultivated in Europe. From the ciders and Calvados of Normandy to the funky, tangy ciders of the Basque regions of France and Spain, the culture of food and drink is well-documented. Sancho III of Navarre sent an envoy to the Monastery of Leyre in northern Navarre, Spain in the year 1014, and upon his arrival, made note of the cider-making taking place. This is the earliest mention in Spanish records of apples in regards to cider production. Nowadays there are annual parties at each sagardotegi (cider house) to celebrate the release of the new cider vintage with cider poured straight from the barrel and traditional Basque pairings of cod omelets and heaps of steak. Further north in France the Greek geographer, Strabo, mentioned the proliferation of apple trees and a cider-like drink while mapping Normandy around the year 50 C.E. and Charlemagne (the noted King of the Franks in the 9th century) ordered skilled brewers to consistently produce cider for his kingdom. These traditions are alive and well in these regions with many producers sticking to their roots and making products from techniques passed down through the generations.

In the Americas, these types of refreshments date to the early colonists who had a penchant for English-style cider: a dry, slightly effervescent drink that was as common at the dinner table as bread. After many years of cider apples falling out of fashion among growers (due to lower yields and a smaller market for these bitter, astringent fruits), we are now experiencing a renaissance with new producers crafting serious products from eclectic ciders to Calvados-inspired spirits. We are excited to see where it leads! Tim Gagnon

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