In the (almost) five years that we have had our Italian Slow Food deli, we have enjoyed discovering the fabulous array of local produce which Somerset has to offer and being able to include a few of these on our shelves. Stefano loves the cider farms in particular, they remind him a little of stopping by the vineyards back home to wander in and sample the wares. One of the places we have really enjoyed visiting recently is Burrow Hill and the home of the Somerset Cider Brandy Company. Their drinks have received rave reviews in the national press and from many a connoisseur.
Sitting amongst 180 acres of traditional cider apple orchards, the farm has been pressing cider for over 200 years and is now home to over forty varieties of vintage cider apples and twenty varieties of perry pear. The first place it was commercially available was at Glastonbury Festival. If you have ever been, you will no doubt have seen the iconic Somerset Cider bus where Burrow Hill cider has been refreshing festival goers for 30 years.
In 1989 the producers were granted the UK’s first ever full cider-distilling license and have been reviving the ancient art of Somerset Cider Brandy production ever since. To create this, half of the cider is kept apart and distilled in copper stills. From this process the clear spirit Eau de Vie (water of life) is created, which is then placed into oak casks to mature into brandy and bottled after 3, 5, 10, 15 or 20 years. Each bottle can be traced back to its source orchard.
In 2003 The Somerset Cider Brandy company became part of the Slow Food Movement in recognition of their artisan production methods and respect for their environment. Although traditional orchards take 15 years longer to grow than most commercial orchards, they require no pesticides or nitrogen and the smaller apples are far tastier.
The Somerset Cider Brandy Company have an incredible long term plan for continued sustainability which, as well as planting wild flower meadows and Morello Cherry trees, includes the planting of oaks which can be used as barrels in 130 years time! Currently, they do all they can to protect the biodiversity that their traditional methods encourage, such as creating bee hotels, using sheep grazing rather than mowers, leaving the end of the crop for birds and reusing the waste water from the pressing and distilling process.
If you are in the area we highly recommend an orchard visit and tour, a visit to their shop and the chance to learn more about the history. Our four year old was fascinated by the equipment and running to the top of Burrow Hill! There is a stunning view from the hill across the Levels so pack a picnic too. Recently there have been a few Saturday events with live music, food and cider served from the Cider bus, so keep an eye out for those too.
You can also find some of the goodies we brought back to the shop here along with some other Somerset favourites.