September 2011

Pulp Art

By: Ben Weinberg
photos by the author


The Museum of Cider in Brittany.

Cider, or fermented apple juice, is traditionally made in England and Ireland, as well as Spain, Germany, Argentina and Australia. But France is where cider becomes art, particularly in the English Channel provinces of Normandy (the most significant cider region in France) and Brittany (just to the southwest of Normandy and France's second-largest cider brewer). It is here that cider museums abound and gold-hued elixirs are traditionally served in ceramic mugs resembling English teacups.

Sparkling is more common than still, alcohol varies from two to eight percent alcohol-by-volume (ABV) and flavors vary from dry to sweet. Appearance ranges from cloudy with sediment to completely clear, and colors shade from a light, nouveau yellow through orange to traditional brown. This means that cider pairs perfectly with traditional crèpes and galettes but also many other foods such as omelets, pastries and even fruit-based desserts. 

Traditional cider starts with apples scratted (ground) into pulp (pomace or pommage). Pulp is built into layers (known as cheeses) that form a block, from which must (juice) is squeezed through sweet straw or hair cloth that alternates with slatted ash-wood racks. The must is then strained through a coarse hair sieve and poured into either open vats or closed casks.  
Ciders on sale in France.
Fermentation runs at a low 4-16°C (40-60°F). This leads to slower chemical reactions and less loss of aroma. Shortly before all of the sugar is consumed, the liquor is racked (siphoned) into new vats, which leaves dead yeast cells and other waste at the bottom of the old vat. Subsequent fermentation of remaining or added sugar generates a small amount of carbon dioxide that forms an additional protective layer, further reducing air contact and also creating a bit of carbonation.

Cider is ready to drink after three months, though it is often matured for up to three years. Higher-quality ciders are often made using the méthode champenoise, which allows natural carbonation but is expensive and requires special corks and bottles. 

Bel Normande cider is an ideal match at Crêpes 'n Crêpes in Denver, Colorado.  
Many U.S. restaurants now include French cider on their beverage lists, and some even feature the brew. Kevin Russell, Manager of the downtown location of Crêpes 'n Crêpes in Denver, Colorado, says that nonalcoholic ciders from Normandy are a big hit with his customers. "Imported alcoholic ciders can be quite expensive, but alcohol-free versions are clean, refreshing and pair with just about any dish we can create. I especially like cider with salmon, whether smoked or grilled."

French cider and its derivatives are worthy drinks, easily the equal of many beers and sparkling wines in aroma, flavor and texture. They are incredibly food-friendly and deserve consideration on any beverage list.

( SRPs are for 750-ml. bottles.)

Bel Normande Cider (Normandy) NV ($10)
The color in the glass makes me think of golden raisins, but it actually smells like green apples and cantaloupe. This is fresh, clean and features a long finish that works with just about any foodstuff.

Le Village Cider (Normandy) NV ($10)
Tinted like a European lager, this tastes a bit musty, more like the alcoholic versions I tried in France. But that dusty character works well with food, as do yellow pear and red cherry elements that end sweet and clean.

Domaine Christian Drouin Cidre Pays d'Auge AOC (Normandy) 2009 ($25)

This is colored a deep gold and has a foamy head that belies its smooth texture. An intricate aromatic blend of cinnamon apple and earth, this is fresh in the mouth and followed by a long, gingery finish. B. UNITED INTERNATIONAL

Etienne Dupont Organic Cidre Bouché Brut de Normandie (Normandy) 2009 ($25)

USDA certified organic and quite champagne-like, with a pale golden color and light mousse. A nose of apples and flowers leads to honey and allspice on a refreshing, nuanced, long finish.

Domaine de Kerveguen Cidre Carpe Diem à l'Ancienne (Brittany) 2008 ($25)
Red apple, honey and a hint of mushroom line the nose of this complex, elegant brew. The palate is all about apricot jam and yellow peaches, and the finish is high-toned and sweet.

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