I love Spanish food. From the simplicity of a bowl of Padron peppers sautéed in olive oil, with a sprinkle of sea salt to a hearty plate of paella, it always brings a smile to my face.
If you’ve read my recent blog on San Sebastian, you will know how much I also enjoy the Pintoxs experience.
I was therefore intrigued when just a few days before heading off to San Sebastian I received an invitation to Tasting Asturias, a Cider and Food event being held at Spanish Restaurant Hispania in London.
Cider is a drink I have dabbled with in the past. Living in Kent where apples grow in abundance, there is a good choice of Cider producers such as The Kent Cider Company, Rough Old Wife and Dudda’s Tun to name but a few.
When I first took up the role of Women’s Rep on the Bromley CAMRA committee a few years ago I hosted a Cider and Food pairing event. Bromley CAMRA are very keen to promote Cider, holding an annual Cider Festival.
My knowledge of Cider is however limited but keen to learn more, plus try some Asturian food I headed off to Hispania last Wednesday.
Asturias is a region in northern Spain west from Santander on the Bay of Biscay. Gastronomic director of Hispania Marcos Morán is the fifth-generation chef from the Morán family who opened ‘Casa Gerardo’ in the region between Gijón and Avilés in 1882.
Housed in the Lloyds Bank building, Lombard Street right in the City of London, I hadn’t been to Hispania before but a peruse of their menu indicated I was in for a treat. Tapas such as Crujientes de Quesos ‘Toffee flavoured filo pastry filled with a blend of Spanish cheeses’ and mains ranging from a whole roasted suckling pig ‘ Segoviana Style’ which is carved at the table to the sumptuous sounding Degustacion de Fabada Asturiana ‘ Casa Gerardo’ a ‘Traditional Asturian bean stew with smoked chorizo and black pudding.’ Fabulous!
Hispania is exquisite. The interior was designed by Spanish Interior Designer and Antique Dealer Lorenzo Castillo and features beautifully tilled floors and walls adorned with rows of pictures. I was directed up an impressive staircase in the centre of the building to the Mezzanine floor for Tasting Asturias.
The Mezzanine floor has a bar and cosy seating areas in front of large half circle windows, not the sort on environment in which I’d normally expect to be drinking cider.
This of course is the point of events such as Tasting Asturias, and indeed this and other alcohol related blogs. We want to raise the profile of drinks such as beer and cider, get them taken seriously and the let people know about the heritage behind them.
There were four producers exhibiting a wide range of ciders plus coffee, fish and meat producers all from Asturias.
It was of however Cider I was here to find out about, so I headed for the stands and chatted with the exhibitors.
Each exhibitor has a range of ciders aimed at different markets. Some aimed at local markets or informal drinking in small bottles and cans. Some of the Ciders were higher end, intended as an alternative to Wine at celebrations. I was told Cider is a popular choice at Christmas in Spain and Spanish speaking countries in South America. There were even Cider cocktails; combinations of Cider with Vermouth or Sangria
I set about trying as varied a selection as possible in between nibbling on delicious food including mini croquettes, cured meats and a little dish of black pudding and quail’s egg which was gorgeous.
I started with Sansidra, from Manuel Busto Amandi SA, www.mayador.com a family run company based in La Rasa, Asturias since 1939. A cocktail of Cider and Sangria, golden to the eye, tarty nose, moderate carbonation and, not surprising, sweet. The Sangria comes through in the aftertaste.
Sticking with the sweet stuff I then sampled a Red Grape Cider from El Gaitero, Villaviciosa, Asturias. www.sidraelgaitero.com. This was a gorgeous dark pink colour which looked very grown up served in a wine glass. A faintly tarty nose. Again, sweet and very drinkable.
The second Cider I had from the El Gaitero Group was recommended to me by a fellow attendee, a Cider enthusiast, and somewhat of an expert I got talking to. El Gaitero Dry. This fabulous golden Cider was light on the carbonation, and although dry had a rich mouthfeel and a lot of depth, a great Cider. Looking smart packaged in a bottle with a foil wrapped top, a Cider fit for any celebration.
El Gaitero Group also have a high-end Cider, Pomarina in their collection. Beautifully presented in a dark brown bottle and simple, stylish branding, as well as alcohol free Cider and Cider in cans – pretty much got the market covered then!
Switching brands, I moved onto Trabanco. www.sidratrabanco.com Producing Cider since 1925, this Cider company’s headquarters and first Cider mill is just a few kilometres from Gijon and they have a second mill in the region.
The first Trabanco Cider I had was their Home-Grown Natural Cider. The green bottle with its brown and gold label was held high, the glass held low and the Cider poured expertly into a smooth sided Cider glass by the exhibitor. Not only did this ritual take me right back to being in Spain but the taste did too. Exactly as I expect a Spanish Cider to taste, this pale Cider had a slight whiff of sulphur and a wonderful dry, young and fresh taste.
The next Trabanco Cider I tried was a move away from the traditional. Everyone was talking about this drink, the demand so high I had to wait a minute whilst the barman grabbed the last bottle.
Alma de Trabanco, served like a G & T with ice and a slice in a wine glass. Containing Cider, White Wine and a whole list of ingredients as long as the arm of the guy who poured the previous cider. Botanicals such as Star Anise, Coriander and Thyme. And there’s fruit in there too; Orange peel, Lemon and Cherry. And packing a punch at 15% abv.
Alma is pale with notes of Vermouth with an apple twist. Very fresh and again so very drinkable.
Also exhibiting were Castañón www.sidracastanon.com. Producing Cider since 1938, based in Quintueles, Asturias, Castañón were promoting their Vermouth Cider, Rox Mut and the zappy named Xiz.
When I spoke to Marta on the Castañón stand, she told me Xiz was designed to rival wine.
Yeast is added and fermented with single variety apples. The result is a lightly carbonated golden drink with notes of pears from the yeast. Medium sweet, I would certainly serve this to wine drinkers and I thought it would be perfect with apple crumble and custard.
Not very Spanish I know and despite the gorgeous Asturias tapas, the fact that I was craving apple pie led me to make Xiz my last Cider and head off – it was only Wednesday after all.
I wasn’t surprised by the wonderful food at Hispania, but I was surprised and really impressed by the range of Ciders on show at Tasting Asturias. Dry, sweet, fruity, cocktails, even non-alcoholic.
Tasting Asturias has really opened my eyes to the variety of Ciders available and I hope this blog has inspired you too.
It’s getting autumnal so maybe this weekend would be a good time for me to go apple picking, make a pie and open some of the lovely Cider I brought back from Spain!