PICTON, Ont. — From the back patio of the County Cider Company, set on the brow of the Waupoos escarpment here in Prince Edward County, you get a million-dollar view of Lake Ontario.
An ice-cold apple cider, made from local fruit, only adds to the experience.
County Cider owner, Grant Howes, has turned the cidery and winery into a going concern not only for the myriad styles of “hard” apple ciders (an alcoholic drink made from fermented apple juice) but also for wines that his partner, Jenifer Dean, crafts along with all those ciders.
Howes and Dean live in the 1832 Conrad David House, an area landmark, which is an excellent example of Regency Cottage architecture. It features dramatic French doors, over-sized windows and veranda as well as a hipped roof. (Note: this article was first published in Traveling Golfer)
Next door, the property’s picturesque 1832 renovated stone pig barn houses the cidery’s tasting room and retail store along with a lunch program that features freshly made pizza from an outdoor stone pizza oven which pairs brilliantly with any number of the ciders or wines available to taste.
The Howes family farm has been producing apples since 1850 in a region renowned for its wine, food and breathtaking views of Lake Ontario, which has a moderating effect on local air temperatures. It also benefits from fertile soil — ideal conditions for cultivating fruits of unparalleled flavour and quality.
They grow over 15 varieties of apples at two different orchards, which comprise approximately 40 acres of apple trees and 12 acres of grapes. The orchards produce roughly 1,600 tonnes of apples each year. Among the varieties that used to create their ciders are Bulmer’s Norman, Ida Red, Russets, Northern Spy, Yarlington Mill, Dabinett, Michelin and Tremlett’s Bitter. These apples provide tannins and acidity — key ingredients when making quality cider.
Apple cider is a growing category in Ontario with new cideries opening up every year. Consumers have come to appreciate the various styles of fermented apples and more and more are matching the various styles with food.
A dinner recently at Spencer’s At the Waterfront restaurant in Burlington was built around artisanal ciders.
Chef Chris Haworth designed the menu that was paired brilliantly with artisanal hard ciders from four different Ontario producers. His creations were simply stunning.
Cider can be a challenge for chefs because of the single dominating apples flavours. Dreaming up dishes that pair well with that solitary taste takes a vivid imagination to keep the meal as interesting as Haworth did.
The diversity of the seven ciders poured — from dry and sparkling ciders to sweet ice ciders made by four artisanal cideries across the province — offered some gorgeous textural and complementing pairings and was an eye-opening experience for the 100 guests who paid $95 to enjoy the experience.
Cideries at the event included the County Cider Company Estate Winery, Spirit Tree Estate Cidery in Caledon, Sunnybrook Farm Estate Winery of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Twin Pines Orchards and Cider House from Thedford.
The feast started with a winter salad of maitake mushrooms, turnip, oranges and goat cheese matched with County Cider Company Premium cider.
The fresh, ripe apples and clean finish of the County cider was a natural match with the salad and set up the second course of lobster tortellini, mango and lemon grass served with Spirit Tree Crabapple Blush 2010 cider brilliantly.
The blush cider from Spirit Tree showed cranberry-cherry fruits on the palate that lifted the subtle lobster and mango in the dish.
Up next was Haworth’s “land and water” concoction of scallop, foie gras, chicken wings and parsnips paired with Twin Pines Hammer Bent Red cider. The red referred to in this cider name comes from one of the apple varieties — Ida Red (with other apples in the mix including Golden Russet, Northern Spy and Jonagold). There was a lot to like in this pairing, but the seared foie gras and scallop certainly was a pleasurable experience with the round, fresh notes of the sweet apple cider providing harmonious texture and flavour.
A brief interlude of fennel sorbet with apple gel and fennel pollen, matched to Sunnybrook Farm’s Ironwood Hard Cider, a lively off-dry beverage crafted from 15 different varieties of Niagara apples, was a perfect refresher for the main dish of the evening.
Veal loin with pork belly gnocchi, squash and mustard greens was served up with Spirit Tree Estate Reserve Cider, a French-style, full-bodied drink that spent six months in oak barrels to bring out the vanilla, clove and nutmeg spice flavours to go with apple and caramel. It was a special treat that meshed expertly with the savoury flavours and fatty texture of the pork belly and veal.
The cheese course, presented by special guest Gurth Pretty, owner of Cheese of Canada, paired cider washed and soaked Guilliame Tell, a soft brie style cheese with fermented apple and mushroom flavours, was sensational with the Prince Edward County Ice Cider. The sweet ice cider brought wonderful caramel apple and crème brulee flavours to match the cider-soaked cheese that’s named after William Tell.
The evening finished with a prune and calvados cake, Ida Red terrine and almond ice cream washed down with the decadent CHOA Ice Cider from County Cider. CHOA stands for cherry, hickory, oak and ash, the four different wood treatments in the special barrels that this cider is aged in. This is an exotic elixir with a deep amber colour that’s layered in spice, smoke, stewed apples, caramel and toffee. It’s super sweet and unctuous but still retains some freshness from the vibrant acidity. A delicious finishing touch with the calvados cake and ice cream.
Here’s a recipe from the dinner by Chef Chris Haworth of Spencer’s At The Waterfront. Just add County Cider Company Premium cider.
8 small turnips (cut in wedges)
100ml rice wine vinegar
200ml orange juice
Sprig of thyme
150g Maitake Mushrooms
2 oranges (cut into segments)
12 breakfast radishes (cut in half lengthwise)
8 black walnuts
4 tablespoons apple puree
50ml walnut oil
150g fresh goat cheese
30g micro arugula cress
12m pieces freeze dried orange
Make a pickle for the radish by bringing the sugar and vinegar to a boil. Whilst still warm drop the radish in and allow liquid to cool. Roast the turnips on 1 side in butter, add the thyme and deglaze the pan with orange juice. Keep warm. Roast the walnut pieces in a 350oF oven for 5 mins. Saute the maitake mushrooms in butter over a medium heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
For plating — place a tablespoon of apple puree on the base of the plate then divide the radish, turnips, orange segments and freeze dried orange pieces between the 4 plates. Then place broken pieces of goat cheese on each plate along with the walnuts. Drizzle walnut oil, the orange cooking liquid from the turnips and sea salt on each dish. Garnish with arugula cress. Serve immediately.