So you think you don’t like hard cider? Maybe you see it as too sweet or that it all tastes the same. Time to check out the original craft cider festival, Franklin County CiderDays from November 2-4. After attending the longest running cider tasting salon in the country as well as over 50 other offerings varying from specialty tastings, orchard tours, food pairings, cooking demos, workshops and even an amateur cider maker’s competition, you’ll be delighted to find adjectives such as dry, complex, funky, tannic, astringent, full bodied, and warm and dusty flying off your tongue with each new glass you taste.
Franklin County, the most rural and agricultural county in Massachusetts, has embraced its strong history of apple growing and cider making in its picturesque hill towns. Twenty-four years ago, local cider makers dedicated to keeping this New England tradition alive established CiderDays – the catalyst for the current cider renaissance in the United States. Always held on the first weekend in November, this is a apple and cider celebration that remains true to its roots.
With a strong focus on educational and cultural programming, this community event inspires cider makers from all over the country and attracts visitors from around the world who want to learn about good cider. It is on the food and wine festival “must list” for those interested in immersing themselves in the history, technique, and landscape that produces this quintessential staple of the New England table. There are too many aspects of this event to comprehensively cover in this article, but here are some highlights.
The 24th annual CiderDays kicks off with a special Friday night food and cider pairing with Washington D.C. chef, Johnny Spero. Spero launched his culinary career in Baltimore County but has since traveled and worked all over the world. Inspired by culinary experiences from Basque Country Spain to Copenhagen, Spero has cooked in some of the world's most renowned kitchens. Later this summer, he will open his first solo restaurant, Reverie, in Washington, D.C.. For this CiderDays event, Chef Spero will prepare four small plates showcasing his culinary inspirations and pair them with his favorite ciders. Afterward, enjoy an intimate evening with cidermakers, authors, and cider experts at the casual Cider Schmooze. Cider and food will be available.
If you want to get down to the basics of making cider, Beginner Cider Making will give you a hands-on lesson at Pine Hill Orchards in Colrain. Here, you will get the materials and know how you need to be well on your way to making your first batch of cider. Many commercial cider producers got their start here!
One of the most popular events at CiderDays, the Cider Salon is the world’s longest-running hard cider tasting event with 40 producers and over 90 brands to taste from across North America and Europe. This tented event is held on the banks of the beautiful Connecticut River in Turners Falls. Get your tickets early as this event sells out each year! Included with your ticket is a CiderDays souvenir tasting glass and detailed tasting notes, which are a good read any time.
What separates a great cider from a good one? In the Award-Winning Ciders workshop, cider experts Ben Watson and Mike Beck will explore this question and offer a taste of six superior ciders that have recently won top honors at national and international cider competitions. This is an excellent primer for those entering CiderDays’ Seventh Annual CiderDays Amateur Cider Competition.
Each year, international experts share their knowledge of cider. In the Taste of Asturias: From the Orchard to the Sea workshop, Begona Media and friends from northern Spain will introduce us to the history, traditions, and traditional ciders and foods of Asturias, a coastal principality on the temperate coast of the Cantabrian Sea. The workshop includes a tasting of several Asturian sidras, plus cheese samples and other foods that define this historic region, dating back some 2,000 years.
Two CiderDays veterans, Claude Jolicoeur and Eliza Greenman, will present Central Asia: Our Travels to the Birthplace of Apples. Jolicoeur and Greenman have traveled separately to Kyrgyzstan and Kazahkstan, two countries where the modern apple originated. In their workshop, they’ll share photos and descriptions of these fascinating but little-known lands, with a focus on the landscape, history, and traditions that created this favorite fruit.
What’s cider without cheese? In this CiderDays favorite, Cider and Cheese Pairing, cheesemongers at Provisions in Northampton will present some of the best and most interesting cheeses from the United States and Europe, pairing them with six compatible ciders. This introduction will have you thinking about your own pairings at home.
Other workshops include a focus on the Newtown Pippin apple and its terroir, learning how to grow apples, biodynamic agriculture, culinary apple hacks, a women’s cidermaker panel, cooking demos and so much more.
All of the orchards across the county will be open for tours, apple picking, and festivities. A stop at New Salem Preserves and Orchards’ Cider and Apple Festival will not disappoint! With child-friendly apple pressing, farm products, and exhibits from local artisans, there’s something for the whole family to enjoy. The breathtaking views of the Quabbin Reservoir and beyond are not to be missed! Also make sure you stop at Apex Orchards, Pine Hill Orchards, and Clarkdale Orchard for incredible apple selections, and comparable views.
For details on all the weekend’s events, visit http://ciderdays.org/. Consider printing the PDF of the schedule before you head out since many locations do not have cell service.