Do you want to know the origin of the Spanish word for ‘cider' (sidra)? Well it comes from the Greek, ‘Sikera', which in Latin became ‘sizra' and from there, the transformation to the current word was not very difficult. Estrabón wrote about cider in the 1st century A.D. and revealed that Asturians were already consuming it then.
The fact is that the drink has made it to our time with an iron constitution since Asturias continues to be the main producer of cider, making up 80% of national production. More than seventy cider presses produce 40 million bottles of cider, split almost equally between natural cider and sparkling cider, which is exported to over fifty countries.
Get yourself into a comfortable position, with your back straight and legs slightly apart in line with your shoulders. Hold the base of the bottle firmly in your right hand. Hold the glass in your left hand, with the index finger and thumb around the glass and the middle finger below. Lift your arm holding the bottle straight above your head, with the tip in front of your forehead. Position the glass in line between your legs and keeping your eyes fixed on the glass, start to incline the bottle little by little, controlling the weight, until the liquid falls over the end of the glass. Guide the glass towards the flow of cider. Pour an amount just enough to be drank in one gulp, called a "culete".
How many varieties of apple do you think exist in Asturias? To many people's surprise, we have half of all the varieties that exist in the world. Call us hoarders. Not all of them are suitable for making cider, but a good number of them are. The Designation of Origin accepts 76 varieties but the amount of those present in the region is close to five hundred.
Cider is served in bottles, it is shared and drunk in ‘culinos' or ‘culetes' (small amounts of cider). And the most important thing is to drink it up in only a gulp.
If your first experience with the over one hundred mililitres of cider that is usually poured into the glass is traumatic or you feel incapable of ingesting such a quantity in one single gulp, you can ask the waiter to make the next one more piquiñin (smaller).
In Asturias, the price of a bottle of cider is around three euros, a little more if it has the Designation of Origin. As you can see, it is a more than reasonable price considering it contains seventy centilitres of a delicate drink which takes nearly six months to be produced and has multiple health properties.
Taking a look at a cider mill can be one of the most fun experiences that you have ever had. Its impressive chestnut barrels with capacities of up to 30,000 litres, the familiarity of the cider mills and the craftmanship of the production process will surprise you. If you have the good fortune to coincide with the harvest season, between October and November, then all the better. Many cider presses combine the visit with sampling of cheese and typical products and some offer ‘espichas', an informal meal at which tortillas (spanish omelette) and chorizo cooked in cider will not be missing. Its origin dates back to the moment when new cider was tasted directly from the barrel, in Spring, a celebration that was shared with family and friends. ‘Espicha' was the small, pointed, wooden contraption which covered the hole where the cider came out.
It combines marvellously with most of the dishes of the region. It works in perfect harmony with fish, fabada and rice dishes and it works as a balm with cheese, cleaning our mouth and preparing our palate for the next mouthful.
At the market, we can find different types of cider. On the one hand there is natural cider, which is consumed in cider bars and it is poured. On the other hand, natural sparkling cider, also included in the Designation of Origin, which is produced in the same way but with the difference that during the process, a second fermentation is carried out, either in the bottle or in stainless steel tanks. They are often ‘brut nature' or ‘brut' which means that they have no or only a little added sugar. The third option with a quality stamp is natural filtered cider, also called ‘new expression cider' that although made in the same way as the traditional way, not having madre (sediment) and being in a similar bottle to a wine bottle, it can be used in any type of restaurant.
Then there is sidra de hielo (ice cider), increasingly thriving, which is produced with the apple well chilled or subjected to the same process as grape juice, which is concentrated due to having a different freezing point than the water that it contains. It is a dessert drink that maintains the acidity of cider but has a fair number of grams of sugar which balances it out.
Little by little, it has consolidated itself and the consumer is becoming more aware of the added value that it contains. Since 2002 the PDO guarantees that the apple is Asturian and carries out quality inspections with the aim of offering the best cider on the market. Currently there are 31 llagares (cider breweries), 322 harvesters and 843 registered and audited hectares.