Words contributed by Christina; pics by Stela.
The idea originated three years ago. After an evening stroll in the Claydon area we settled inside the Crown in Claydon for a social drink. Here, Marie, then a new member, spoke very enthusiastically about her work at Aspall Cider and found an interested audience. A possible guided tour on the grounds of the company was discussed. It was clear that this was going to be popular in the IOG community.
On the day Marie’s debut event as an organiser finally arrived, 19 of us met her and Stela at reception at Aspall Cider’s HQ north of Debenham to sign in and receive high vis vests and hard hats. Thus adequately equipped we embarked on a fascinating tour round the whole production site, expertly led by Operations Manager Marie. Stela made sure nobody stayed behind, and she and Marie safely navigated the group around cables and pipes and up and down stairs. The whole site including the machinery and flooring looked remarkably clean.
Marie knew her stuff. Amongst much technical detail we learnt that the proportion of culinary apples and bittersweet apples in the product determined its level of sweetness and finish to the palate. We also heard about the perils of contamination as well as stones and other debris blocking pipes, and the importance of sugar in the fermentation process to produce the desired alcohol percentage. Our tour led us to the Cider House, a listed building, which contains the original stone press as well as a selection of modern cider and vinegar bottles currently on the market. I noticed some pretty ceramic containers dating from the early 20th century in which the ciders had been transported to the London markets.
One of the many highlights of this tour was the sample tasting hosted by Chief Cyder Maker Colin. He queried who amongst the group liked wine and expressed his satisfaction on learning that there was a fair number who did. Because, he said, cider was in reality apple wine, going through the same pressing and fermentation process. Colin gave expert advice on the quality and taste of each product and how these qualities were achieved. We learnt that the company produces juices as well, counting Marks and Spencer amongst its customers. However, to ensure the quality of Aspall products, the highest standards had to be applied, and there were times when contamination with rotten apples and dirt meant the apples could only be used for cider production.
Much to the surprise of the American buyers who acquired the company a year ago, Aspall prides itself on its vinegars as a side-line. I have only recently discovered their apple balsamic vinegar, which is excellent for marinating and dipping.
Clement Chevallier founded the Company in 1728 on the grounds of the family estate which since then has contained an extensive orchard. We were to discover this for ourselves when we enjoyed a picnic there after the tasting session. Henry Chevallier and his family still live in the mansion on the grounds. Henry remains involved in the design of new products, and he and Colin share an office in an old cottage.
Marie and Stela deserve a big ‘thank you’ for organising this very successful event and spending much of their Sunday at their normal workplace. Many thanks to Colin also for giving up some of his weekend time. I believe all our members present went home highly impressed by the expertise of Aspall staff and quality of the company’s products.