September 15, 2014

Hard Cider, Easy Drink

In Brittany, France, Hard Cider is Easy to Find
Easy to Sip


Hard cider is an easy drink. Some like it strong, but I prefer it slightly sweet and fizzy, and served refreshingly cold. When I was in Brittany recently, apples are abundant, and cider is sipped all day long. In the morning, market shoppers snack on sweet crepes lathered with jelly and buckwheat galettes, laden with cheese and eggs. Come late afternoon, bars and bistros, pour cider in wide beer glasses nibbling peanuts and chips. Hard cider is just slightly alcoholic but strong enough for a nice bump.

Hard cider is one of the oldest drinks we know, it was brewed by the ancient Greeks, Romans, and early Europeans. The beverage of choice in Colonial times, it was safer than water, cheaper than wine, easier to make than beer. Just about everyone had access to apples for pressing. 

We're enjoying a cider Renaissance in our Northern Heartland as orchardists, brewers and chefs  rediscover this craft. The best hard ciders balance sweet apples with special cider varieties that are so tart and bitter they're impossible to eat. To ferment these brews, craft cider makers employ wine yeasts or beer yeasts or wild yeasts, for a range of beverages that run the gamut. Some makers age the ciders in maple, oak or walnut casks or use old brandy or whiskey barrels to imbue the brew with rich flavors as the cider matures.

Check out this recent piece on MPR Appetites with Tom Crann as I discuss cider making in this region today. Many of the local orchards sell cider on site. The best way to learn more about different techniques is to try them and ask questions.  Hoch Orchard, in LaCrescent, Minnesota is the perfect place to pick and sip on a crisp Autumn day. Stock up on apples for applesauce and apple butter, pies and for snacks, try the different styles of cider, bring some home. 

As Autumn approaches and daylight thins, hard cider is a fine choice for drinking and cooking -- a natural with sausages, duck, pheasant, and venison, use it in braises, soups and stews. The different styles of cider vary dramatically, so taste before adding hard cider to any dish, better yet, pour yourself a full glass, or two.

Hot Pot of Sausages, Hard Cider and Apples
Serves 4 to 6

Serve with plenty of crusty bread to sop up the juices

3 yellow onions, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
8 fat pork sausages, cut into chunks
3 large, tart apples, peeled, cored and cut into fat chunks
1 cup hard cider
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard, plus more for passing

In a heavy, deep pot, cook the onions in the oil over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until nicely caramelized, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the garlic, fennel seeds and bay leaf. Add the sausages and cook until lightly browned on all sides. Stir in the apples, cook for a few minutes until they release their juices. Pour in the cider and sherry and stir. Add the mustard and simmer, uncovered, for about 25 minutes. 

Serve over rice, noodles or cooked white beans, or serve in wide bowls with plenty of bread and more mustard.

1 comment:

  1. Yes the cider in Brittany is wonderful! Thanks for the recipe! Nanci Olesen