Merridale Cider Apples
Besides the obvious differences of taste and flavour, the cider apple can be set apart from culinary and dessert fruit because its flesh has a fibrous texture which makes it easier to extract the juice. Cider apple juice is high in tannin (which gives it its body and colour) and high in sugar, but is low in acidity and pectins.
Real cider is fermented apple juice, pure and simple. Traditionally, it is made with Bittersweet and Bittersharp apples, which have the tannins and acidity required to make a quality product. While Sweet dessert apples (such as Granny Smith or MacIntosh) are used by large commercial cider makers, these common varieties often require the addition of modifiers such as concentrates, synthetic flavourings, and other unnatural additives.
True to traditional cidermaking practices, the cider apples at Merridale are definitely not desirable for eating ! To make the best traditional cider, they use only heritage cider apple varieties, proven over many centuries in England, France, and Germany. They carefully blend the apples in combinations of Sweet, Bittersweet, Sharp, and Bittersharp to create cider products to please a range of palates.
Cider apples are divided into four categories according to the relative proportion of acidity and tannin. Generally speaking, French varieties are mostly classified as bittersweets, as are Spanish cider apples. Swiss and German cider apples tend to be high in acid and sugar, with fairly low tannin levels 18.
Sweet varieties are good for eating but make bland cider because they are low in both acids and tannins, so they are blended with the more strongly-flavoured varieties. A typical variety is Sweet Coppin or Jonnagold, while a rarer one is Court Royal.
Bittersweet varieties impart the characteristic flavour of English ciders, as they are low in acid and high in tannin – these tannins produce astringency and bitterness on the palate. Dabinett, Yarlington Mill and Tremlett’s Bitter are typical bittersweet apples.
Sharp varieties are predominately acidic but have been displaced by culinary fruit varieties, which are similar in flavour balance. Full sharp cider varieties include Crimson King and Brown’s Apple.
Bittersharp varieties are quite high in tannins and acids, but do not have the range of flavours shown with the bittersweets. Typical variety is the Stoke Red 18.
Heritage Apples for Harvesting at Merridale Ciderworks
Chisel Jersey: Somerset origin; high tannins; broad based, conical apple with long leaves; late bloomer and ripener. Used in Cidre Normandie.
Dabinett: Somerset origin; related to Chisel Jersey; full bodied flavour; yields low but high quality juice; late ripener. Used in Traditional and Cidre Normandie. (It is Rick’s favourite apple for making cider.)
Frequin Rouge: Brittany origin; strong acids and sharp tannins; bi-annual, unpredictable yield. Used in Scrumpy.
Hauxapfel: German origin; tart apple; red stripes on green; ripens November.
Jonagold: American origin from Jonathon and Golden Delicious; sweet with balancing acid; only dessert apple used at Merridale.
Judaine: Hybrid French origin; bold acids and very light tannins; bi-annual, unpredictable. Used in Somerset cider.
Julienne: Normandy origin; tannins and acids soft; balanced juice; not attractive but good yields.
Kermerien: Normandy origin; soft tannins and reasonable acid; juice can stand on its own; favourite with the deer at Merridale.
Michelin: French origin but popular in Britain; moderate tannins and acidity; high yield and productivity. Used in Scrumpy, Cyser, Traditional and Cidre Normandie.
Tremlett’s Bitter: English origin; full bittersweet; frost-resistant blossoms; heavy yield in October.
Yarlington Mill: Somerset origin; Jersey variety; high tannins and low acidity; high yields in late October. Used extensively in Traditional Cider.