Did you know that originally cider was made to keep the sailors healthy? The lack of vitamin was the main reason for them to get sick on sea. That’s why thousands of barrels of cider were produced and stored on ships for the upcoming journey which was up to 9 months to hunt whales. Each sailor drank about 6 liters per day and perhaps it didn’t just keep him healthy… 😉
To learn and taste more of cider I decided to visit „Petritegi“ – a cider house in the north of Spain close to San Sebastian. There I booked a guided tour with a tasting and a typical menue. Some part of me wondered whether it would just be a commercial event where they are rattling through history and serving standardized food. But another part of myself was appealed by the long history of that cider house and the promoted four course menu. So I arrived in the late afternoon and meet two elder British couples and a younger American couple, who were (thank god) really relaxed and open minded. All of us were guided by a young woman who started our tour at the orchards directly around the corner of the cider house itself. She explained how many tons of apples were harvested (by hand with a certain stick which makes them really fast!) and classified into different categories – mainly organic and non-organic ones. There are specific sorts of apples which are perfect for cider. The most important part is the peel of the apple not just because of the vitamins, but the sugar and taste! After collecting those at the end of the summer they get washed and staff of the cider house is checking each apple (also on a high speed) for damages or anything else which would make the single apple unsuitable for the cider production. All the other apples are gathered in a big tub to be pressed under a high weight so that the juice will be squeezed out. Petritegi is still owning a wooden press which is used ones per year at the opening of the season at a big feast.
The pressed juice will be kept in tanks to that the sediments can settle and be erased. The remaining part of the apple is used to feed animals, for compost or to produce cosmetics.
The remaining juice will be enriched with sugar and yeast and stored for several weeks until it becomes an alcoholic beverage. Often cider is kept in wooden barrels for an extra flavor. All those impressive barrels are kept in a cool cellar and each of them has an own name. For example in one part of the cellar each barrel was named after a different local river. After they matured in the barrels again they will be tasted and checked regarding quality and taste. After that the first opening of the season will be celebrated at Petritegis. The people gather around the barrel and drink directly from it. Often the stream of the sparkling cider is that strong that the first glasses do break immediately. So it’s not that easy to drink from a barrel and especially not to waste any cider.
At many cider houses they kept the tradition of drinking directly from the barrel. So did we. We lined up in front of the barrel, they opened it through a little tap and a stream of cider came out of the barrel. The first person needed to meet that stream with the glass until it was filled about 20%, then the next person continued right behind the first and so on…. So why not fill up the glass up to the rim? Well, as soon as cider reacts with the air it is going off and looses quality. That’s why it’s quite normal to stay next to the barrel for the whole evening as you don’t want to switch between the eating area and the cellars every 10 minutes.
But we had a 4-course menu to wait for us. Before that we had an appetizer made of chorizo cooked in cider topped on some bread. Really delicious! Of course we tasted different cider from different barrels as well.
For dinner we had a Bacalhau (dried cod fish) omelette first, followed by fresh cod with fried green peppers and onions. The main dish was a massive steak and as a „sweet“ ending we had biscuits, cheese, nuts and some jelly. Of course we had loads of cider with it! There were so many people moving and walking between the dining area to the cellars that at some point the people just decided to stay in the cellars. We drank, talked and singed together. Great atmosphere with great cider! I was lucky to be allowed to stay at their place for the night with my van.
All in all I really enjoyed the event and would definitely recommend it! For more information visit www.petritegi.com.