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The fall and rise of cider orchards in Dorset

PUBLISHED: 11:14 27 November 2013 | UPDATED: 14:10 25 March 2015

Dave Cake and Tom Bryant in traditional 19th century costume at Mill House Cider

Dave Cake and Tom Bryant in traditional 19th century costume at Mill House Cider

Archant

After decades of decline, traditional cider orchards are enjoying a renaissance as artisan makers seek out local heritage varieties to create a cider with a distinct Dorset flavour.

Back in 1796, Dorset had 10,000 acres of cider apple orchards. Over 200 years later all that remained were a few forgotten trees tucked away in a farmyard corner or in fields too steep for anything else. But over the last decade there has been a huge resurgence of interest in traditional local cider apples, and across the county new orchards are being planted to supply Dorset’s burgeoning cider industry.

Local varieties of apples and traditionally-made cider are now widely enjoyed and celebrated. Common Ground, the UK charity founded to promote ‘local distinctiveness’, initiated the first Apple Day in 1990 in the old Apple Market in Covent Garden and has encouraged people to run their own celebrations of their local orchards and apples. Apple Day, which is celebrated on 21st October every year, brings together apple growers, cider makers and cider drinkers to join in apple pressing, bottling apple juice and sampling the many different ciders made from the previous year’s harvest.

Cider Making – Step-by-Step

There are literally hundreds of apple varieties used in cider making but the traditional ones that crop up time and again with most Dorset cider makers are Yarlington Mill, Dabinett, Somerset Redstreak, Tremletts Bitter, Kingston Black, Slack M’Girdle, Warrior, Royal Somerset, Golden Bittersweet, Stoke Red, Taylor’s, Porter’s Perfection and Morgan Sweet.

The apples are crushed or ‘milled’ into an apple pulp known as ‘pomace’. This is piled into layers separated by straw or cloth to form ‘cheeses’. The cheeses are then slowly compacted by a cider press to extract the juice which is stored in casks or ‘hogsheads’ ready for fermentation.

In Dorset, not only will you see ancient crushers and massive wooden presses in action, but also compact modern stainless steel equipment which you could use to make your own cider at home. In between these two extremes are small commercial cider producers, most use up-to-date equipment in purpose-built workshops or in myriad pristine sheds and outhouses, but there are still some who like to use the old fashioned cider presses.

Meet some local cider makers

Mill House Cider - Throughout November, you can take your windfalls to Mill House Cider and use their hand-driven crusher and large or small press, and take the resulting juice home. All sorts of people use this service – some bring one or two buckets of apples (producing about a gallon of juice) or villages or communities get together and bring trailer loads of apples. Friendly advice on cider making is offered and juice-making is supervised at all times. For details and to book email contact@millhousecider.com or call 01305 852220.

Cider by Rosie - Winterbourne Houghton’s apple alchemist - Dorset craft cider maker Rose Grant has the perfect name to be associated with cider. Trading as ‘Cider by Rosie’, Rose’s delicious ciders are often described as ‘what cider used to taste like in the olden days’. A former avionics and electronics engineer, Rose started experimenting with cider-making at Winterbourne Houghton in the 1990s, long before ‘retiring’ into her new career. She used her practical engineering skills to build handling equipment for working with her French hydraulic apple-press. Then she planted an orchard of her favourite varieties of cider apple - Kingston Black, Dabinett, Yarlington Mill and Tom Putt, an ancient variety discovered by the Rector of Trent, and grown in Dorset since the 1700s. All these varieties have different balances of acid and tannin which Rose uses to create different blends of cider.

Rose’s cider-making season lasts about 10 weeks, starting with the early croppers and pressing between October and December. The resulting cider is ready for bottling around Easter the following year. Most of her ciders are medium-dry but she recently won the title of Supreme Champion for her medium-blend. Rose also practices the ancient French process of ‘keeving’ which produces naturally sweet sparkling cider by long slow fermentation. When fermentation finishes, it can be bottled while still sweet and without any fear of re-fermentation. In true cider-makers’ tradition, Rose’s spent pomace goes to a local farm to supplement pig feed, no doubt helping to make truly happy pigs.

Cider by Rosie is available from various Dorset pubs including The Greyhound in Winterborne Kingston, The Vine Inn at Wimborne, The Anchor at Shapwick, The Blue Raddle in Dorchester and The Square and Compass at Worth Matravers. A full listing can be found on her website ciderbyrosie.co.uk or call 01258 880543. Bottles of her sparkling cider are sold at the Mill House Cider Museum.

Lulworth Skipper, an award-winning cider fro Bere Regis - Tucked away down a quiet country lane near Bere Regis, cider maker Martin Inwood produces and bottles his award-winning cider Lulworth Skipper. Martin, who lives near an old orchard, saw that the majority of the apples were going to waste. Inspired by a friend’s Apple Day event, where he saw huge quantities of juice coming from a traditional press, Martin set about creating a small business which produces a small quantity of well made traditional full juice cider from a blend of Dorset-grown cider apples including Tremletts Bitter, Yarlington Mill, Warrior, Golden Bittersweet, Major, Stoke Red, Taylors and Porters Perfection. Martin uses a traditional oak twin-screw press which he built himself around a pair of old screws originally from a Devon Press. The cider ferments for six months before maturing in oak barrels. For the last two years Lulworth Skipper has won first prize at Melplash Show and a first and two second prizes at 2013 Powerstock Cider Festival – the cider makers’ annual gathering where all the entrants blind taste the competition. Lulworth Skipper is available from good quality outlets in Dorset (whilst stocks last), and local cider festivals or visit Martin’s Cider Shed for a tasting and off sales. Call first for directions 01929 471853 or e mail info@lulworth-skipper.com. For more details visit lulworth-skipper.com.

West Milton Cider Company, a champion of local cider - Nick Poole’s West Milton Cider Company produces both a traditional barrelled cider known as West Dorset Real Cider and the award-winning naturally sparkling Lancombe Rising cider, created by the ancient method of keeving. Even though keeving has largely disappeared from English cider making, it is still used throughout Normandy and Brittany where it is known as ‘cidre boucher’. It is a testament to Nick’s talent as a cider maker that his Lancombe Rising won first prize at the Concours de Cidre at St Helen de Bondeville in Normandy back in 2009!

Nick began making cider in 2000 after renting an old orchard in the village for his wife’s horses. Realising that too many apples are not good for a horse’s digestive, he entered the world of cider making which got him thinking about what apples create the distinctive taste of an area’s cider. He started to explore what was grown locally in the ancient orchards, or their remnants, dotted around Powerstock. The knowledge of these old varieties was all but lost but then Nick met Liz Copas who had just retired from Long Ashton Research Station (formerly the National Cider Institute) who had a similar enthusiasm for the subject. Together they started to piece together Dorset’s lost cider heritage resulting in their recently published book - The Search for Dorset’s Lost Cider Orchards. They discovered 12 original and unique Dorset cider apple varieties including King’s Favourite, Buttery Door, Symes Seedling, Golden Ball and Golden Bittersweet, which give Dorset ciders their distinctive flavour.

Nick is carrying on his cider themed journey with the Dorset Apple Cider Project which aims to locate traditional cider apple and get local groups of enthusiasts to press their own cider from the apples. Nick hopes that through these small local ‘cider clubs’ old orchards will once again be cherished and the distinctive flavours of each areas local cider rediscovered.

To discover more about the Dorset Cider Apple Project and Nick’s West Milton Cider Club email info@westmiltoncider.co.uk or visit westmiltoncider.co.uk where you will find useful ‘apple boxes’ to help you identify local apple varieties which are perfect for making cider. Nick’s book can be ordered through the website westmiltoncider.co.uk or from by calling Nick on 01308 485235.

Dorset Nectar Cider, local, organic and artisan - Dorset Nectar’s artisan cider uses 11 varieties of West Country cider apples grown on the Strong’s family farm just outside Bridport including Dabinett, Coate Jerseys, Michelin, Taylor’s, Chesil Jerseys and Sweet Coppin. The organically-grown apples are whole crushed in the home-engineered Veloceraptor and pressed using the traditional rack and cloth methods at the orchard’s cider barn. The golden juice is then naturally fermented using wild yeasts. There are four main varieties Medium Sweet (second prize, Powerstock Cider Festival 2012), Medium (Taste of the West Silver 2011 & 2012), Dabinett and full-bodied Dry (2012 Taste of the West winner). They also offer an interesting cider and elderberry blend and a range of sparkling ciders is also on the cards. If you want to visit the farm in person please call 01308 488382 or email dorsetnectar@live.co.uk. For more information visit dorsetnectar.co.uk.

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