This year, one of my resolutions involves spending more quality time with the likes of Lord Grosvenor, Strawberry Norman and Tom Putt. Or at least finding out more about them.
Inspired by my uncle’s legendary annual cider parties and my friends’ home brewery,
I decided to discover more about the art of cider-making. Just how easy is it to learn this traditional skill – and make cider from your own home?
The answers can be found in the striking 15,000-acre Welbeck Estate in Nottinghamshire. Now home to the Cavendish-Bentinck family, the estate includes the School of Artisan Food, set up three years ago. It has rapidly built an outstanding reputation for providing courses in the creation of quality food and drink.
Booked in for An Introduction to Artisan Cider Making, I was excited at the prospect of getting some tips from expert cider-maker Simon Reed, who crafts Rough Old Wife cider.
Our group got to know each other, which prompted our introduction to the geographical location of the best apples – and the surprising information that you don’t actually have to use cider apples to make cider.
He explained that possibly 30 percent of the apples he uses come from windfall, and you have to assess your fruit with “cider eyes”. Out came apples in varying states of misfortune, from the barely bruised to the completely blackened. We were encouraged to judge them as yeast-rich ingredients, rather than supermarket-ready snacks.
Having learnt a great deal about the heritage of cider-making, we were set to get practical.
We learnt ‘scratting’ or mashing methods first. These varied from the cheapest option, a drill with an attachment (very good fun!) to a full-on garden shredder, which produced a pommage that looked like coleslaw.
Leaving the apples to rest, we enjoyed lunch, made by students at the school, and washed it down with some samples of Simon’s cider. Then it was time to learn about the art of making ‘cheeses’ – layers of mashed-up apples about an inch thick, wrapped in hessian and placed into the presses.
A pressing matter
One of the key points here was to ensure that the layers were even, as big lumps could have a negative effect on the juice to apple ratio. Again, we were shown various ways you could press – whether hydraulic or manual – and given plenty of tips about the actual process itself.
Once the sweet brown juice had been squeezed out of the presses, we tasted and measured the product with a hydrometer, to ascertain the likely alcohol content.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay there for the next five months until the cider was ready, but we were allowed to take our juice away in cartons for drinking or fermenting at home. I have to admit that mine didn’t last the whole journey. Patience seems
to be a key ingredient of being
a cider-maker – but I’ll certainly know enough to help at the
next cider-pressing party.
HOW TO GET THERE
By road, the School of Artisan Food is located between the M1 and the A1, off the A60, three miles south of Worksop.
By rail, it is easy to reach from a number of mainline railway stations, including Chesterfield, Worksop and Whitwell.
FIND OUT MORE
The School of Artisan Food
Lower Motor Yard, Welbeck, Nottinghamshire S80 3LR
The course An Introduction to Artisan Cider Making costs £125 for a one-day session, from 9.30am to 5pm, including lunch.
Hotel Van Dyk
Worksop Road, Clowne, Chesterfield, Derbyshire
01246 810 219
A luxury four-star hotel with
a Rosette food award.