So what's Ploughman Cider all about? Well, in a lot of ways, I think it's the final fulfillment of what generations of sound farmland stewardship has wrought.
I think it's the most beautiful expression of what our farmland can create.
The philosophy behind it is to take what our soil, our microclimate, and our growing season throws at us. Determine what is the best on any given year and then, through fermentation, remove the sugar - allowing you to taste it's remaining properties just as they are.
It's been a long hard road getting here and the work is only beginning in terms of where we go next, but it's a good feeling to stop and appreciate our progress to this point. We hope you'll celebrate with us!
Responsibly, as always.
It brings me great joy to introduce and guide others around the county of my birth. Anyone who knows me well is well aware of the great pride I take in the rolling hills and fruit growing community that born me and raised me here in beautiful Adams County. Like anybody's home, it's not perfect, but it's mine. And there's no where else in the world I'd rather hail from and nowhere else I'd rather live than Northern Adams County, PA. When people vacation in "Wine Country", they wanna hang out where the grapes are grown. Well, cider fans, you're gonna be where the apples are grown if you visit my hometown of Biglerville PA this coming Saturday for the first PA Cider Fest. Here's why you should attend:
- The Cider! - With a great supply of apples (4th largest apple producer in US) and a great accompanying craft beer braintrust, PA ciders have the raw product and the know how to be a dominant force in the burgeoning national cider scene. But! You don't have to take my word for it, LeVar Burton!
- The Surrounds - The same rolling hills that grow these beautiful fruits are gorgeous in the summertime - lush, green, and beautiful. The soils beneath them make our lifestyle a reality. The green splendor above them will make you eager to return a second time!
- The Food! - What's one of my favorite reasons to travel? You got it! Food culture and traditions of other areas. Ours is no different with plenty to choose from. Plus we're not all fruit all the time - we have a diverse agricultural community with excellent organic vegetables, dairy, grains, pastured livestock - it's all available. Fidler & Co Craft Kitchen, The Inn at Herr Ridge, and Sidney all source locally. Increasingly more craft beer selections in the area as well, starting with Tommy's Pizza. Mason Dixon Distillery coming soon too!
- The Arts/Music Scene - For example, I'm playing a PA Cider Fest after party at the Cider House and tasting room of my good friends Reid's Cider House starting at 7pm Saturday. In addition to making some of the best ciders and wines in the area, they support local musicians - Dave having played a good bit himself. This self promotion aside, the beautiful walls of The Pub on the square are like an art installment all to themselves - a good painter friend did the whole interior/exterior. Local spots like Ragged Edge Coffeehouse and the Blue Parrot Bistro hang local art frequently. The Bluebrick Gallery has a great selection. Great music and art at the re-launched Waldo's & Couu on the Square. Plus always tasty brews and good tunes at Battlefield Brew Works just outside of town.
- Local Spots - There's few things that feel more like home than eating at Ernie's Texas Lunch. This as local a locals spot as it gets. Breakfast, gut busters, burgers - you can't go wrong. Half Pint Creamery on the way back to Biglerville... now you're in business.
- Jumping Off Point - As much as I love where I live, I kind of like what the region has to offer as well, which makes Biglerville and Gettysburg a great home base for any number of other nearby places. If you're craving a great beer after PA Cider Fest (and Battlefield Brew Works in Gettyburg), you can travel locally to Carlisle to hit up Molly Pitcher or to Chambersburg to Roy Pitz or regionally to destination breweries like Troeg's or Pizza Boy (Al's of Hampden). There's a cool scene in Harrisburg these days for food and drink, likewise York and (especially) Lancaster. Make a weekend of it.
I could go on forever. The point is we want you to see where we hang our hat. We love Adams County and we want to share it with you. Fire some questions at me in the comments, believe me - I shortened this as much as I could!
So! Here's all the more I can say about stuff like this when it happens. I graduated Penn State's College of Ag, eager to farm and work outdoors with my family on lands that meant a great deal to me and a community that still supported agriculture. I didn't have the first idea where that path would lead at the time. It lead me to Philadelphia! Our first farmers markets were in Philly. My friends, family, in-laws were there too. And so were a lot of people who really loved food. Wanted to know where it came from - everything about how I grew it. These people became my friends. They trusted me, and I trusted them. I listened when they spoke about all the great things going on in Philadelphia. I was green coming out of college. I didn't have any idea what a "food scene" was. But Philly embraced me, and "learned me up right quick". So, when the occasion does arise that I'm honored with this kind of great recognition, it's cause for me to stop and appreciate the opportunity I was given. To thank my father and uncle for giving me the chance to prove myself, for my mom, who every Headhouse customer knows, puts in long hours every Sunday, what would really be her only day off, to help me out. To everyone here at the farm for all of their hard work - this farm is nothing without the good people we're fortune enough to have on our team. And thank you to all of the outstanding people I've met in the food business. Certainly you Philly folks - you know who you are, from the kind words of customers at market, to the folks who have never failed to steer me right, thank you. And certainly the folks in Baltimore, DC, and our neighbors in the industry as well. In short (hah! right)... I'm humbled by the recognition and there are too many people to thank.
A few things coming up on us quickly that warrant a little attention:
First, I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to speak about one of my favorite subjects: apple cider. The Chemical Heritage Foundation, located at 315 Chestnut Street in Center City Philadelphia was kind enough to ask me to provide an informative presentation on the making of apple cider, it's history, origins, and everything else related to this celebrated beverage. The event runs between the hours of 5-8pm and is open and free to the public. Samples will be handed out featuring cider pressed that very morning so come by and learn how this stuff is made!
Secondly, we're very proud to contribute to this year's Farmland Feast Online Auction, benefitting FRESHFarm Markets. As many of you know, FRESHFarm maintains and operates farmers markets in the DC/MD area including two of the markets we attend. They also operate several other charitable programs benefitting both local agriculture and the communities we, as local producers, serve. In order to operate and maintain these programs, they depend on the charitable gifts of folks who are behind the local food movement and envision a better community in urban areas through local agriculture. If this sounds like you, we've provided a great way to contribute - a weekend travel package to nearby historic Gettysburg that includes a personalized, private tour of our farm, two nights accomodations at the Historic Gettysburg Hotel, and an evening of dinner and music provided by me, Farmer Ben, and his Garryowen Irish Pub jam night brethren. Bids for this experience can be made at this website and I'm putting my reputation as a farmer and performer on the line to assure you, you'll get your money's worth out of this weekend! Thanks for your support!
Three Springs farmers market shopper and devoted cider enthusiast Erin writes:
"Hi, guys! We are drinking your delicious cider and having an animated conversation about what IS the difference between apple cider and apple juice (and we wondered), what's your opinion on this great debate?"
The question is a great one - and timely, since we were able to roll out a very popular Fuji Apple Juice for our customers this past spring. While the question was pretty clear (like the consistency of, say, apple juice), the answer is a little more murky and mysterious - a quality it shares with apple cider. We're gonna chew on this simple difference and spend a little time on how each is made in the hopes of providing some delicious distinction between the two!
On the surface, the two "apple-y" beverages are not very dissimilar. Both are pasteurized and list as their ingredients only "the juice of apples". As you can see, the difference between cider and juice is pretty minimal. The main difference is the apples used. For the purposes our discussion, I'll explain the difference in our cider and our juice. Our juice, typical of many juices, is a one variety product. We use only Fuji Apples in our juice. They are very sweet and make a palatable juice on their own. The Fuji apple juice is heated in excess of 200 degrees Fahrenheit so it can be shelf-stable bottled without the addition of any preservatives. This also effectively kills whatever bacteria and impurities the product could have contained. The resultant product is much lighter in color and consistency. We like the sweetness of the juice because we know kids love sweet beverages and we figure parents can dig it if they can serve their children a sweet beverage that comes from a local, sustainably raised farm and contains no added sugars! It's common for grocery store apple juices to be filtered to remove any hints and traces of apple sediment from the apple skins. Though they might seem visually unappeeling... er unappealing (can't believe I almost went there), the majority of an apple's nutrition is found in the skin, thus we leave it right where it is. Caveat Emptor: grocery store juices also commonly contain preservatives, sugar ("corn sugar" and otherwise), and apple juice concentrate - concentrate bottlers can import from Turkey, China, etc. without labeling as such.
Cider, on the other hand, is best enjoyed when many apple varieties are present. As a matter of fact, the sheer variety of apple flavors (in addition to Jonathan and other semi-tart base apples) is the not-so-well kept secret to our cider's success. It's cloudy, complex, tart and sweet, and contains all that valuable sediment. Our cider is also UV pasteurized, or "cold" pasteurized. This is vital to flavor preservation, in my opinion. This specialized UV has been proven by Cornell University to be equally effective in removing harmful bacteria as heat pasteurization. Not only is flavor preserved, but this product actively ferments, for all the homebrew/homewine enthusiasts out there which also means all the phytochemicals beneficial to the digestive system are also present!
So in summary, there's not a lot of difference between the two beverages. However, when they're done right, you should be able to tell easily. Juices are clearer in color and consistency - a lighter, monochromatic beverage. Ciders are bold, complex, dark, and more rich in flavor. By definition, they are nearly the same. In execution, they are worlds apart!
Stay tuned to this blog for fun, informative videos on this topic - debuting in the coming weeks!
further "Ask A Grower" readings:
- "Ask A Grower" vol. VII - Why Are Peaches Fuzzy?
- "Ask A Grower" vol. VI - Grafting Workshop
- "Ask A Grower" vol. V - Proper Apple Storage
- "Ask A Grower" vol. III - Clingstone Peaches vs. Freestone Peaches
- "Ask A Grower" vol. II - Granny Smith Fables
- "Ask A Grower" vol I - Roots & Scions
It's a major award!!!
"Though Saisons and gin spritzes are still dominating our drinking repertoire, we’d be lying if somewhere in the corner of our brains we weren’t thinking of autumn and the cider it will bring. And not just any cider, but the virgin-pure, intensely apple-y cider crafted by Ben Wenk with the Jonagold, Jonathan and Summer Rambo heirlooms grown on his family’s Three Springs Fruit Farm in Adams County, Pa. Wenk, a Penn State agro-ecology grad, once took a cider-making lab there, and the skills stuck. He presses the cider in small batches that are flash-â�¨pasteurized with UV light instead of flavor-destroying heat. Because there are no preservatives, the shelf life is a mere two weeks. Not that it ever lasts that long"
It's a great list spanning a wide range of delicious-sounding foods for every appetite. Personally, I can vouch for the unsurpassed quality of the three other "50 must"-ers who are fellow vendors at Headhouse Farmer's Market every Sunday:
- Patches of Star - Goat Cheese Ice Cream, note: I doubt my mother, sister, or I will ever forget the day we learned Elly liked trading for fruit! Best ice cream, hands down!
- Wild Flour Bakery - Sourdough, note: Simply amazing Sourdough bread! Best in Philly and tied in a dead heat with Baltimore's Atwaters as the best breads we trade for each week!
- Hillsacre Pride - Butter, note: Our neighbors! Judy's the best - she's someone I look forward to jokin' around with every week. Everything we've had from their stand has been top notch. Now I read I can preorder Horseradish Cheddar? Just awesome!
So there ya go! It's truly an honor to be recognized and, though I doubt I'll win the contest, I'd super psyched to try some of the other winner's delicious food sometime during the offseason.