Cider traditionally played a big part in rural life in Dorset. I went along to Sherborne Museum’s “Cider Saturday” to sample some cider and find out about the Sherborne-based cider producers who are helping to revive the Dorset cider industry.
Dorset isn’t as well known for its cider orchards as Somerset and Herefordshire.
But listen to a few songs by Sherborne-based folk group The Yetties and you’ll soon realise that cider traditionally played a big part in rural life in Dorset. It even featured in the title of their 1983 album,”Cider and Song”as well as their subsequent Radio 2 series of the same name.
It’s odd then that you’ll struggle to find any local ciders on offer in the pubs in and around Sherborne. Especially since the popularity of cider has rocketed in recent years.
The good news is that, even though the pubs haven’t cottoned on yet, cider is making a comeback in the Sherborne area with three producers now grinding, pressing and fermenting within a few miles of the famous abbey.
All three of these cidermakers were showing off their produce at the recent “Cider Saturday” event at the Sherborne Museum. The aim of this free event, which fell right before the start of the apple harvesting season, was to celebrate the town’s cider heritage.
The event was in one of the cosy back rooms of the museum along the narrow Church Lane between the conduit and the abbey.
On arrival, mum and I got stuck into some samples of Lawrence’s Cider. Despite the Sherborne postcode, cidermaker John Lawrence is based a Dabinett’s throw into neighbouring Somerset in the nearby village of Corton Denham.
John makes the cider with a professional yet traditional setup in an extended garage at his home. He ferments the cider in oak wine barrels, which gives it a homely, smokey taste.
Sherborne Cider won the Supreme British Cider award at 2015’s Royal Bath and West Show for its dry cider. This was an extraordinary feat considering that cidermakers Simon and Victoria Baxter only started selling their cider three years ago.
However, the company isn’t a newcomer to the cider trade. Simon’s dad established the orchards in Longburton in the late 1970s and for years the company has provided apples for cidermakers in Somerset. Now the company has more than 18,000 trees over 80 acres These produce around 850 tonnes of apples a year.
The art of cider making
Another cider producer based on Longburton is Twisted Cider. We spoke to owner Ben Weller about the art of cider making and state of the Dorset cider industry and he juiced some apples so we could taste the difference between the juice of cider and regular dessert apples.
It turns out that the juice from a cider apple isn’t all bad. But it tastes much better when fermented into one of Twisted’s four main ciders – “Wild Orchard” (sweet), “Misty” (medium), “Sunset” (medium dry) and Desert Dry (dry). These all come in at an agreeable 6% ABV.
I’m not usually a fan of dry ciders, but I particularly enjoyed supping on Desert Dry and can imagine it going well with steamed mussels or a pork joint.
Ben also explained that, while he uses his own apples for his cider, he also buys in apples from other producers. And there was me naively thinking you need your own orchards to make cider!
After I asked Ben if there was any truth in the rumour that Dorset farmers traditionally used dead rats in cider production (the word is that if parts of the rat end up in the finished product, the cider isn’t very good – not a technique that any of the producers here would recommend!) we took a gander at some of the exhibits around the edge of the room.
These included a look at the Sherborne area’s lost orchards. Sherborne and outlying villages like Thornford and Chetnole have lost acres of orchards over the years.
Fortunately, thanks to producers like Lawrence’s, Sherborne Cider and Twisted, the orchards in Longburton and Corton Denham are unlikely to suffer the same fate.
I reckon The Yetties would drink to that.
Sherborne Cider Company is at Longburton House Sherborne, Dorset, DT9 5NU. Call 07970 214282. You can buy direct from the orchard (call first).
Sherborne Museum is at 1 Church Lane, Sherborne, DT9 3BP. Entry is free (donations encouraged) and it’s open 10.30am to 4.30pm Tuesday to Saturday.