A couple weeks back it was my pleasure and honor to be able to travel back east to Western Massachusetts and attend Franklin County CiderDays. This is part 1 of a 2 part recap chronicaling my experience. For those that don't know, Franklin County CiderDays has got to be the premier cider event in all of North America. I was able to go to CiderDays thanks to a generous invite and offer from Tieton Cider Works. They offered to help me get there and in doing so becoming the very first Old Time Cider Travel Sponsor. Appreciation and graditude to Sharon, Craig, and crew at Tieton.
I flew out of SeaTac airport late Thursday night only to arrive very early Friday morning in Boston. I took the Red-Line into Boston where I was able to find some excellent espresso and explore for a short while before eventually meeting up with friends Sharon and Craig Campbell owners of Tieton Cider Works to make our 2.5 hour drive to Western Massachusetts. During my trip I heard multiple times that we were a couple weeks too late for the full congregation of Autumn splendor which might have been the case but I found the area was still alive with the ripe colors and smells of Fall.
Although no official CiderDays events are scheduled we left Boston en-route for Greenfield MA that Friday early to meet with some of the country's leading cidermakers for what could be called a sort-of "state of cider" gathering. Each major cider producing area was represented more or less in what was from my perspective a collegial discussion revolving around basic cidermaker concerns. Category development, marketing/labeling hurdles, and Federal legislation issues were all discussed at great length.
Attending the meeting was educational and obviously thought provoking. The general sentiment seemed to be that cider has certainly come a long way in recent years but to develop as an official category of our own we have quite a but further to go. I got to meet lots of great folks from all over. Represented at the meeting was Wandering Aengus Cider Works, Tieton Cider Works, Foggy Ridge Cider, Uncle John's Fruithouse Winery, Black Star Farms, Eden Ice Cider, Tandem Ciders, Tideview Cider, Bellewether Cider and… Farnum Hill Cider. Ben Watson organizer of CiderDays.
After the meeting we adjourned to meet at a local restaurant Hope & Olive for some eats and cider tasting. Soon after sitting down I had to leave to meet up with my buddy Al Yelvington who I was roommates with for the weekend. It was probably a fortunate time to take off. I know I would have had a blast but was dead tired and wouldn't have been 100% for the bug day on Saturday had I stuck around longer.
Saturday November 5th 2010, CiderDay
I was told that CiderDays used to be CiderDay. However with an expanded schedule there are now over 30+ events held on both Saturday and Sunday. All events occur in and around a handful of towns in Northwestern Massachusetts. Greenfield, Old Deerfield, Shelburne Falls, and Ashfield.
CiderDays events list is varied from the family-friendly like Apple Pancake Breakfasts, Orchard Rides, Cider Press Demos, Apples for Baking, Identifying and Conserving Heritage Apples and even a Wassail-Orchard walk with none other than Michael Phillips author of The Apple Grower. To the right is Michael Phillips on the Cider Salon floor tasting ciders and talking apples.
Folks with cider of the fermented variety on their mind had plenty of tough choices to make. There are more cider related events scheduled than one could possibly hope to attend. Intro to Cider Making, Blending Apples for Cider, Making Barrel Cider, Home Cidermaker Tasting, Ice Cider Tasting, Apple Brandy, Pear Brandy Calvados and Scrumpy. Let's not forget the Cider Salon and CiderDays Harvest Supper in the evening. Cider tastings of all sorts all throughout the day. Cider tasting even at events you may not expect cider tasting to be at.
As expected selecting from the overwhelming number of cider and apple events was a real chore. I stayed the course and attended events closely related to cider and cidermaking. As it turned out the cool white building in the picture above is the Sherburne Buckland Community Center where all my daytime events occurred. They had craft sales inside the community center in one room, the workshops and discussion took place in the main auditorium. Just outside the front doors you would find rare and heirloom variety apples sales courtesy of Scott Farm Heirloom Apples as well as an apple wood smoked bbq stand.
Blending Apples for Cider with Claude Jolicoeur
My first official event for CiderDays was one that I was really looking forward to. Blending Apples for Cider with Claude Jolicoeur. Claude's presentation covered the key elements of blending ciders. He highlighted the importance of accurate note taking and the recording measurements such as brix, pH, acidity and even tannin early on in his talk. Claude also discussed was the important balance of sugar, acid, and nitrogen for healthy fermentation and also how acids and tannin (soft and hard) influence cider flavor. Claude showed how to map out and plan a blend, which types or flavors of apples to look for, how ripe, sugar content, tannins, and so on. It was a really great presentation and although I certainly didn't expect it we got our day's first taste of cider early. Claude brought some of his own cider to pour, a really nice example of a French style cider from his home in Quebec.
Home Cidermaker's Tasting
Man did this discussion and tasting pack 'em in… Possibly the promise of several free samples of cider. It was led panel of 4 well seasoned, experienced home cidermakers who led a discussion on small scale cidermaking at home. I think some of the panelists pressed their own apples but there was a lot of discussion about custom cider pressings done by local cider presses like Pine Hill Orchards. Pine Hill Orchards appeared to be regionally known for pressing specialty batches for the cider hobbyist blended with fermenting in mind.
There was lots of discussion about making "New England" style ciders, and adding fruit to ciders and such. Fresh fruit, frozen fruit, boiled fruit even dehydrated fruit. A gathering like this wouldn't be complete without the eternal topic of which yeasts to use. Are beer yeasts okay? What about natural yeasts? The cider samples were pretty interesting, some good… One stand out in flavor and strength was a cider concoction heavily fortified with Laird's Applejack.
Check back for Part 2. Conversation and Cider Tasting with Leading Cidermakers.
I'd like to mention that this weekend wouldn't have happened and was all made possible for me by the kind folks at Tieton Cider Works who offered to take me along and by doing so becoming my first ever "Cider Event Travel Sponsor". Super special thanks to Sharon, Craig, Cindy, Fred, and Marcus for their support. Their award winning ciders are becoming easier and easier to find every day.