Apples are the state fruit in Vermont. I am not sure how many apples per capita are grown here, but I can attest (as a recent transplant from a far away state) that these are the most delicious apples I have tasted since I left Spain.
In Europe, there are regions in Italy and Germany, for instance, with a large output of apples, but none taste as delectable as the ones grown in northern Spain. Certain traditional varieties such as Reineta from the El Bierzo in northwest Spain, are so superior to any similar apples grown elsewhere that they have been granted PDO status (Protected Designation of Origin). Other old kinds of apples, such as the Esperiega apple, are also being reintroduced in the Valencia region. Small farming cooperatives are striving to keep this crop relevant and their effort has been commended by the Slow Food Organization. So apples, as you can see, are a well loved fruit where I am from.
Apart from eating the apples in their original state, there are a lot of outstanding Spanish recipes that include apples. Most importantly, we brew sidra in earnest and cider truly is king in the hot Spanish summer. For an apple aficionado that would be exciting enough, but there is more to cider than just sipping from a cold, frosted glass.
It was in a small town in the Asturias region that I first saw a local woman pour cider in the traditional fashion. Pouring cider in these parts is about precision, technique and old customs that refuse to die. I was amazed. Who knew that serving a glass of cider could become an event full of excitement and ritual?
It’s hard to describe the process, but try to picture a lovely grandma, wearing an apron and wooden clogs (yes in Spain clogs are a thing too) grasping a bottle by its end and holding it, arm stretched out, high over her head. A short glass is held in the other hand, arm stretched in the opposite direction, roughly about a foot off the ground. Then, by bending at the waist, the cider starts to trickle and it hits the center of the glass, foaming a bit, spilling a bit as she tips the glass. Little by little it fills it up with cider as pale as champagne.
I tell you that if I had ever tried such a feat, most of the cider would have ended on my head and on the floor for sure. Apparently, the technique aerates the cider by creating some minuscule bubbles and enhances its aroma and flavor. It must be true, because that was the most amazing cider I ever tried with the most distinctive taste of apples, green fields and rain all rolled into one. It was Asturias in a glass.
I was very excited to visit Citizen Cider on Pine Street in Burlington, Vermont, partly because of these memories. The venue was preceded by a good online reputation and has a loyal following among locals. I was really hoping to find some of those old flavors once again. When we arrived there was a splendid sunset on the horizon and we decided to sit outside on the terrace. Initially we thought that the cider sampler might be the best choice, but later decided to go with their Unified Press cider which seemed like a good way to calibrate the overall quality of their product since it is their flagship brew. We wanted a hard cider without any gimmicks, flavorings or adornments. I also needed it to be gluten free.
Happily, that is what we got: a true, clean cider that delivers on all fronts. It is a clear, pale yellow brew with steady columns of diminutive bubbles and a clean, refreshing taste. It will remind you of crisp apples and crystalline champagne. It is very easy on the palate: cool, elegant and honest. It was a very nice experience that brought back old memories of seaside summers and almost forgotten flavors.
After my first incursion in the local cider market, I am now eager to return to Citizen Cider to sample their many other varieties. I really love that all the ciders are made with local apples and that farmers from this specific area benefit from a successful venue such as Citizen Cider. There is integrity in the farm to table concept and cider exemplifies it beautifully. I particularly hope to enjoy the variants that feature some of my favorite berries such as blueberries and cranberries. They are also grown locally and I am intrigued to taste them in combination with the apples.
I have myself cooked many a pie with apples and blackberries, for instance, so introducing blueberries and even cranberries into the mix seems like a very natural and potentially successful union. I have the feeling that they will not disappoint and that I can look forward to many evenings savoring these brews and perhaps some of their scrumptious food as well.