The West Country has long been synonymous with the production of cider and according to history books, Dorset was the first of the counties in the south west to create the drink that is now known and loved across the world.
According to an article published in 1938 by PTH Pickford, the Cider Orcharding Advisor to the National Fruit and Cider Institute, “to many farmers, Dorset was the first county in England to make cider. It is claimed that cider-making was first introduced into this county by monks from northern France who settled in a village near Bridport sometime before the Norman Conquest…” Whether or not that is true remains to be seen, but something we can all agree on is that no one does cider quite like Dorset.
It is thought that Dorset had over 10,000 acres of cider orchards at one time and though this has decreased over the years, the traditional methods and local apples are still being used to create flavourful cider to this day. Many of the region’s cider makers stick to the same apple varieties as their ancestors and their tried and tested methods can be enjoyed at food and drink events across the south west.
Though there is some evidence to suggest that cider has been made in Dorset since at least the 1700s, it reached its peak in the 1900s and by the 1920s it is thought that many of the producers had perfected their cider making method, as it is around this time that it started to be available nationally. At one stage, the left over cider was used as a way of paying workers on the farms rather than money, though we suspect this died out due to workers getting a little too merry!
Despite a long history of making cider, unlike the neighbouring counties of Somerset and Devon, cider production did remain fairly small, there were no huge factories taking root there, which is likely why much of today’s producers are still working to family recipes.
For those of you who have embarked on a tour of a brewery, you will no doubt already be familiar with the traditional ways of making cider, but for those of you who’s interests lie more in the drinking than the making, it’s really quite simple. The apples are collected from the orchard and then crushed into a pulp. This is piled in layers separated by cloth, or straw if you’re really old school. This apple pulp then forms a cheese like substance as it is stored and it is this that is then slowly compacted by a cider press to extract the juice. That juice is left to ferment and voila, you have cider! In Dorset, many cider producers still swear by the traditional methods and it isn’t uncommon to see massive wooden presses, though some have modernised with the use of smaller, metal presses. Either way, the end result is the same.
This traditional, local way of making cider isn’t the only reason why there is something special about the Dorset varieties. The apples that grow in Dorset are rarely seen over the border in places like Somerset and Devon, allowing the cider made here to have a more unique, soft and sweet taste unlike those made elsewhere.
Want to sample some of the region’s best cider? Find a whole host of producers here. Interested to find out more about about the history of cider? Search for a brewery tour near you!