Spain is not all about wine; its beer scene is remarkable (I’m hoping to write something about Barcelona soon...). But today I’m not going to write about beer. Instead, I want to celebrate a very special tradition: Asturian cider.
Yes, cider is quite a common drink in the north of the Iberian peninsula, a traditionally celtic area. Asturias’ peculiarly wet climate turns into green an otherwise stereotypically barren landscape (which reminds me of England by the way...).
Asturian cider is beloved in its own region, and proudly drunk in relatively big quantities. In the region's capital Oviedo la sidra (as they say) is in fact consumed way more than both wine or beer. It pours golden yellow, with some greenish shades and has a dry finish that makes it a rather refreshing drink, despite its strength (about 6%).
Sidrerias (cider bars) outnumber both traditional bars and pubs, and cider itself is certainly Oviedo’s principal tourist attraction. The ritual followed to pour cider into the glass is as enjoyable as the drink itself. The traditional green - 70cl - bottle is slowly, yet skillfully, inclined from up above the head in order for the cider to literally splash into the glass, which is instead firmly hold at circa 45°, by the hip.
The glass is pint-shaped, but definitely lighter than its British counterpart. It is handed to the customer only a couple of fingers full, but no worries, the waiter will be back soon to pour some more once it has been emptied. This ritual makes the act of pouring itself quite frequent, especially during busy nights, so that a simple stroll around the town - with all those waiters pouring sidra - becomes an extraordinarily enjoyable experience.
Picturesque, intriguing, it never feels fake. That’s what local people want to drink, and how they want to drink it, and that's why visitors love Oviedo so much!
They say there is a reason why their cider is poured like that...It looks like they believe it ‘tastes better’. Well, I tasted Asturian cider poured both traditionally and as I would pour any other cider. It does, in fact, affect the flavour. The traditional Asturian pouring method makes the cider totally flat and highly increases its sharpness. The other method leaves instead a subtle carbonation, and I believe the cider’s characteristic honey notes retain a certain intensity.
So, I reckon both ways work, and the choice between either one is entirely subjective! However, the traditional method adds colour to the picture as well as objectively lends a peculiar - local - taste to the cider.
One rule of thumb: do not pour the cider yourself, and especially never the last two fingers left in the bottle. Apart from the fact that you would basically be drinking only sediment...well, I did it once, and the waiter looked at me as I had just pooped on the table (feedback from Spanish readers is more than welcome).
Asturian cider is the perfect match for the most popular local dish: Fabada Asturiana (picture on the left).
This is a dish of certain humble origin; it is basically a bean stew, clearly linked to the Italian fagioli colle cotiche and the portuguese ensopado de feijão, just to name a few.
Fabada Asturiana is made with large white beans, pork shoulder (lacón), bacon (tocino), blood sausage (morcilla), and chorizo. The result is a heavy, fatty, rich and filling dish, particularly satisfying on a cold, wet Asturian night. It really goes well with the dry Asturian sidra, whose acidity cleans the palate of all that fattyness. (In case you wish to try the recipe at home, and pair it with beer, I reckon it would work quite well with a spicy Belgian golden ale, as long as it’s not too sweet, so maybe even a Belgian IPA…? Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor would be a good choice I think).
There is another Asturian food that I feel I need to mention: cabrales cheese (picture below). It’s basically a very, very, very salty blue cheese made of cow’s milk often blended with sheep or goat’s milk. Locals say this goes well with their cider too, but honestly I do not agree, unless one is willing to accept it for tradition’s sake. Cabrales is not for the weaks, and Asturian cider is way too light to accompany it. In case you manage put your hands on a slice of cabrales...first consider yourself lucky, second try to pair it with something with a good body, strong and bitter, with some herbal and piney notes. Definitely not sour (or not too much), as this would end up intensifying the cheese's saltiness. I'm thinking of Russian River Pliny the Elder or Magic Rock Cannonball.
Is there any cider you would recommend to accompany a cheese like cabrales?
Never tried cider before? You should.