It is during the Autumn months that the harvested apples from our own orchards and the surrounding countryside arrive to start the quintessential English tradition of cider making.
Selecting and growing the juiciest and heathiest fruit is critical for our good quality cider.
Traditionally, apple trees were shaken by long hooked poles and the fruit picked-up manually. This is still done in the old standard orchards of Herefordshire, as the large standard trees do not lend themselves to mechanical harvesting.
Mechanical harvesting has the advantage that it is rapid, but it can cause the fruit to become more bruised. This fruit has to be processed quicker than traditionally harvested apples.
A winning combination
Good quality cider is synonymous with good quality fruit, which is why we only grow the very best apples and perry pears. Over the years, our farmers have discovered which apple varieties are most juicy and most tasty. These apples are grown in our very own Westons orchards which are made up of 150 acres of bush orchards and 50 acres of traditional organic orchards. For the rest of our cider juice, we call upon the fruit from over 350 local farms.
A robust difference
Fruit for making good cider and perry requires different qualities and properties from those found in dessert and culinary fruit. Firstly, cider apples and perry pears tend to be more robust than culinary fruit meaning they are in better stead to withstand the sometimes unkind and wet British summers. Secondly, cider apples contain more tannin, and have chewy, coarser flesh. This means that although their juice is great for cider making, their raw flavours range from reasonable to inedible. They definitely taste much better in cider!
Also, cider and perry fruit require crushing and pressing to extract the juice, the size of the fruit is not important and is often far smaller than dessert and culinary varieties. For cider and perry fruit, it is a case of quality and not quantity. The fresh juice is more concentrate meaning the fruit isn't as big.
A wide variety
There are a great many varieties of apple which can be used for cider making, although many are now very rare. As a result, there are probably only ten or so varieties now widely grown for cider making, which as you can see have some interesting names!
Our Master Cider Maker, Jonathon Blair, keeps his cider recipes top secret but has revealed that Westons cider is typically and traditionally crafted from a third of juice from sweet apples, a third from bittersweet apples and a third from sharp apples. This combination takes all three different varieties and creates an intricate palate of appley flavours.
Although not as well known as cider, the making of perry is traditional throughout the county, particularly around the Herefordshire-Gloucestershire border. Perry is produced in a similar way to cider, with perry pears replacing the apples, giving a distinctive taste.
Perry pears are generally small, hard, dry fruit which are horrible to bite into but yield a surprisingly large quantities of juice. When this juice is fermented it makes a delicious drink that boats a rich pear flavour which many enthusiasts hold in very high esteem.