In the year or so that I’ve been writing on this blog, I’ve focused primarily on food and the food cultures through my travels. And while I have plenty more to stay about the food in Spain, before we leave the Asturias region there’s an experience that deserves its own post: sidra (or cider).
I’m not a huge cider drinker. After coming to terms with a possible beer allergy, I’ve switched exclusively to drinking wine (and now the occasional spiked seltzer). The drink of choice in Oviedo and Asturias is that of sidra. When in Asturias…
Sidra (or cider) is a completely different experience than the cider that I’ve encountered in the U.S. and the U.K. – both in how it tastes as well as how it is consumed. Although breweries, vineyards and distilleries are a key feature in U.S. tourism, Asturians keep the brewing of sidra pretty closely guarded. Over 80% of the sidra production occurs in Asturias. And if the sidra is not produced in Asturias, it is highly likely that apples from the region are involved in the process. There are no formalized tours nor public access to these facilities. Unless you got a guy. And I had a guy.
After the apples are harvested from the region, they enter the facility to be cleaned and washed, discarding any waste from the apples. Then, they are mashed down, extracting the juices for the fermentation process. The apple mash is fed to the local animals. When the production of sidra first began, wooden barrels were used for the fermentation process. Using their taste buds, the sidra “brewer” would judge when to mix apples from one barrel with another to create the perfect balance of flavor. Unlike wine, the barrels were not used for taste – simply as a means of storage.
As production grew, it was clear that the wooden barrels weren’t going to cut it – they were too difficult to keep clean, and each time oxygen was introduced into the barrel it changed the flavor of the sidra. Sidra “brewers” switched from wooden barrels to plexiglass in an effort to maintain control over the oxygen intake (it also made it much easier to clean). Throughout this process, carbonation is not added into the sidra, and the end product is a cloudy, flattened sidra in a green bottle.
Although this process is hidden from public view, the consumption of sidra is a public spectacle and communal experience. Your group arrives at a sidrerias, determines how many bottles you want to purchase and receives a glass that is shared among the group. The waiter holds the bottle, extending their arm above their head and angles the glass to pour a tasting of the sidra into the glass.
“He doesn’t even look at the glass – come on, he’s like a jedi” Jose Andres in regards to a waiter pouring sidra.
The distance between the bottle and the glass, as well as the angle of the glass, produces a carbonation effect in the sidra. You’re expected to down the entire thing before the fizzing subsides. Then you return your glass to the waiter, who pours for the next person in your group. And so on, and so on, until each person has had a round.
The experience was so enjoyable. The waiters at the different establishments are pouring the sidra as if it’s a sport and only they are competing. I’m fascinated by their accuracy and focus as they barely glance down at the glass. Knowing that my next stop is Madrid, I ask if it’s possible to have a similar experience there. My guy, who is native Asturian, indicates that Asturians do not consider it sidra when you leave Asturias. He claims that something happens to the sidra and it loses it’s magic. So yes, it’s available in Madrid but just know that it’ll be something else altogether.
I’m completely skeptical of this notion. Having lived in Ireland and traveled around that island, a Guinness was a Guinness regardless of which part of the country you were in. Yes, Guinness and Guinness pouring do not translate abroad (sadly) but why would sidra be any different in northern versus central Spain? In the words of Scooby Doo, “looks like we’ve got another mystery on our hands!”