Sidra or Cider, is the traditional drink of Asturias. It is made from locally-grown apples in Asturias and has been produced there since ancient times. Sidra is considered the regional “wine.”
The Romans called it “pomaria” and the Arabs called it “siserio.” It is now produced under a Denomination of Origin; has a low alcohol content (4-6%) and is popular all over Spain. There are over 30 varieties of apples commercially grown in Asturias, but only some of the varieties are suitable for fermenting into sidra. As with winemakers, producers of cider must use their skills to combine sour crab apples with sweeter or more bitter varieties, in order to produce a balanced mix and a pleasant-tasting cider. Sidra Asturiana is a light, musty and tart, but slightly sweet beverage, perfect for enjoying during the warm days of summer.
The cider-making process is a simple one. First, the fruit is washed and chopped. Next, it is softened in water and pressed. The mashed apples are fed to cattle. The apple juice is fermented in barrels until at least a 4.5% alcohol content is obtained. The sidra is left to ferment about 6 months during the fall and winter. The only carbonation in the cider is what occurs naturally during the fermentation of the apples.
Espichas or “first tastings” are a tradition in Asturias where friends, family and neighbours gather to “taste” the sidra while it is still fermenting in barrels. These espichas are a fun gathering where ham, sausage, bread and Cabrales cheese are served while everyone drinks some cider right from the barrel! Around about February or March the cider is then bottled in dark-green glass bottles.
Cider is traditionally sold in establishments called sidrerias, where the bartender serves the cider with drama. Holding a large, rustic glass in one hand and a bottle of cider in the other, he raises the bottle above his head and lets the chilled cider fall into the glass, producing a bit of foam from the carbonation. This pouring method is called escanciar in Spanish, and is said to be necessary in order to produce the best flavour from the sidra. In addition, the large, wide-mouthed glass is never filled, but only an inch or two of cider is poured into the glass. Tradition says it must be drunk immediately and should not be allowed to stand.