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Stand Facing the Orchard

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Diane Flynt at Foggy Ridge Cider. Photo by Kate Medley
Diane Flynt at Foggy Ridge Cider. Photo by Kate Medley

Southern women are adept at “make do cooking”. Memaw, my Georgia grandmother, rescued wan October beans with smoked jowl and revived tired potato salad with an extra dash of pickle juice. But for labor heavy dishes—especially pies—she used only the best ingredients. “Put lipstick on a pig”, she said. “It’s still a pig.”

Fresh picked blackberries, sugary sweet potatoes, tree ripened apples—she deemed only the most flavorful ingredients worthy of her leaf lard piecrust. Respect for ingredients is in my DNA: when my husband, Chuck, and I founded Foggy Ridge Cider in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains, we began with a shovel and a tree…or rather several thousand cider apple trees.

Diane Flynt at Foggy Ridge Cider. Photo by Kate Medley foggy ridge-3681    
Diane Flynt at Foggy Ridge Cider. Photo by Kate Medley and Kieran Wagner

Just as any grape will ferment into wine, it’s possible to make cider from any apple. We know the best wine is made from grape varieties chosen for wine, but it’s less well known that ingredients matter for cider too. Our 3000 feet elevation orchard is ideal apple country—steep hillsides drain frost; quartz rocks lighten loamy clay soil. Cool nights and warm days, the highly desirable diurnal swing, result in crisp acidity and ripe sugars. But in 1997 when I planted our first orchard, my eye was on more than ripe flavorful fruit. I wanted to grow the very best ingredients for cider, which meant apple varieties that offer two qualities that don’t work so well in a pie or in your mouth—tannin and acid.

The best cider apples are bitter, full of bracing acidity and not for sissies. Tremlett’s Bitter, Dabinett, Harrison and Hewe’s Crab contribute tannin; Ashmead’s Kernel adds sharp acids. Highly flavored apples like Pitmaston Pineapple and Cox’s Orange Pippin offer layers of spice and floral notes. Many of the apples we grow at Foggy Ridge Cider have never been planted in the south, or not grown commercially for over a century.

As is true for a few other Southern beverage maker “ingredient revivalists”, like High Wire Distillery in Charleston, South Carolina and Full Steam Brewery in Durham, North Carolina, we’re on a mission for flavor and quality.

Each Spring I sow Mountain Cress in the orchard rows to tempt pollinators from their hives. All Summer I fight fungus and the few pests that decide to visit this high Appalachian orchard. And in Fall I wait….just like Memaw waited for the first ripe peach. “You can’t rush flavor”, she said. When I hear the thud of sugar heavy fruit hitting the ground, I know it’s time.

Yes, you can find lots of cider made from Red Delicious or Granny Smith apples, or even apple juice concentrate. Lots of this cider is flavored with hops, cherry juice or bourbon barrels—“lipstick” Memaw would say. It takes a lot of effort to grow tree fruit and ferment cider, and every day I seek one thing: the very best ingredients, cider apples full of complex flavor harvested at peak ripeness. You tell me if it shows.

Ingredient Revivalists

Foggy Ridge Cider
1328 Pineview Road of Dugspur, Virginia
Open Saturday 11 to 5, Sunday 12 to 5 April through December

Highwire Distillery
652 King Street of Charleston, South Carolina
Tours available Thursday through Saturday from 1:00pm to 6:00pm

FullSteam Brewery
726 Rigsbee Avenue of Durham, North Carolina
Open 7 days a week