What’s so special about Herefordshire and Worcestershire?

It is the “terroir”¹ that makes these adjoining counties so special. Right in the heart of England, on the border of Wales, these two counties have exceptionally high quality soils, excellent year-round rainfall and a mild maritime climate. Today almost none of the apples grown in these two counties are irrigated, making them some of the most sustainable apples grown in the world.

The mild British climate throughout the growing season allows the apples to slowly mature producing fruit with excellent complexity and balance of flavour. It is often said that apples grown in the UK are some of the best tasting apples in the world.

And apples have grown in Herefordshire and Worcestershire for thousands of years.

The History of British Cider Apples

Cider apple trees in the UK pre-date the Romans who then organised their cultivation. It’s likely that wandering people started producing a drink using cider apples, “shekar” (Hebrew for strong drink), in Northern France and Spain which they brought to the UK and called cider.

Hard cider became an established alternative to wine in England after the Norman Conquest in 1066 and by 1300 there were references to cider production in many southern and western English counties. Cider was produced in substantial quantities on UK farms and often used to pay farm workers. In fact farm labourers were said to select their employer according to the quality of the cider on offer. The use of cider as payment was prohibited in the late nineteenth century.

As British explorers settled around the world, cider production went with them. And so did cider apple tree saplings. But the different “terroir”¹ did not always suit British varieties. Trees were mostly multiplied using cuttings and seeds and so new varieties were created. In America apples were bred that would cook well in sweet and savoury dishes and also had enough juice to ferment into alcohol, so cider was being produced from culinary apples.

In America immigration from Central and Eastern Europe saw cider replaced by lager and with the advent of prohibition, cider production collapsed and never recovered.

In most parts of the world today, cider means an alcoholic drink made with culinary or dessert apples except in the UK.

British cider apple varieties are special because they are not grown anywhere else in the world in any depth.  A cider apple is distinctive from culinary and dessert apples because its flesh is fibrous, making it easier to extract the juice.

The juice from a cider apple is high in tannin, which gives the cider body and colour, and it is high in sugar but low in acidity.