Tuesday 7 August 2012

A Visit to Merridale Estate Cidery

Do you have a favourite farm, vineyard, or orchard that you like to visit?  I do.  Actually I have a few, but one of them is Merridale Estate Cidery.  I like to take my camera and wander in the orchards at most any time of year, I enjoy their products, and I like to take my friends there too. 

A dear friend from Ontario came to visit me this weekend.  Since we live three thousand kilometers apart, any visit is a special occasion.  Looking for somewhere special to take her, I decided upon lunch at Merridale. 

We arrived at the restaurant at lunchtime on a holiday Monday and, because we didn’t have a reservation, were told that there would be a wait of about forty-five minutes.  Our visit was more about conversation than about eating, so we decided to wait until there was a table available. We used the wait time to tour the orchard and to enjoy a cider tasting.

The orchard is a lovely place to wander, and it’s set up so that you can learn about the cidery as you walk.   Here and there, walkers will find signs like this

identifying the apple varieties and giving you some information about their origin and flavour.

Merridale raises traditional cider apple varieties from England and from France.  In the same way that grapes are raised for wine, cider apples are grown for the specific qualities they will bring to the finished product.  They are usually somewhat bitter tasting, and have more tannins than table apples.  They flourish in the terroir here – that particular combination of climate, soil, and water that is unique to the valley.

They are often small, irregularly shaped, and even blemished but, because flavour rather than appearance is the primary concern when growing cider apples, Merridale chooses to raise their crops organically, without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides.  It certainly makes the orchard - with its grassy lanes - a more pleasant place to walk, and I believe it improves the quality of their products.

As we were walking the orchard, we noticed a sign standing all by itself, with no trees around it.

It said "Left overs don't go to waste!" and explained how they use the apples after the juice has been expressed.  You can click on the picture for a larger view that shows the complete text.

Later, we saw this sign, which I think is a fine philosophical statement.  :)

Brandy is a recent addition to the Merridale product line.  A quantity of their pomace (the dry crushings left after the juice is extracted from the apples) is used to make it.

About eighty tons of apples are used each year to make the seven ciders, three fortified ciders, and three spirits currently produced at the cidery.  All of these products are available for sale on site and you can sample them at the tasting bar, where bar staff will walk you through the different flavours, explaining how and why each is made. 

When we were finished our walk in the orchard, my friend and I went for a tasting.

I sometimes purchase ciders to serve with dinner courses in place of wine. I also
 buy Scrumpy on a regular basis and use it to make my own apple cider vinegarso I’m pretty familiar the products Merridale has on offer.  Even so, I learned some new things at the tasting, and I tried the winter apple fortified cider for the first time.  It suggested some new recipes to me. 

Tasting done, we arrived at the restaurant just in time for our seating, and were taken to a lovely table on the deck, with a view of the orchard.  It was very pleasant.  

The hostess was personable and our waiter polite but, here, the service fell down.  

Our order was taken shortly after we were seated but we didn’t see our lunch for more than an hour.  

I understand that quality food takes time to prepare but we had ordered a lamb burger and the featured salad, both of which are relatively simple dishes. 

We didn’t see our waiter at all during the time we waited for our meal.  I finally went in search of the hostess, to ask if we’d been forgotten, and she in turn went in search of our waiter.  

Our waiter arrived at our table about five minutes later and advised us that the reason for the delay was an unexpectedly large number of covers at lunch.  Apparently, they had run out of all the prepped ingredients and were prepping from scratch for each order.

In the three times I’ve been to Merridale for meals this year I’ve never once been received my meal in less than forty-five minutes.  Each time, when I inquired about my meal, I've been offered this same explanation.  I must say that, this time, I received it with some skepticism.

The food, when it arrived, was fresh and hot and made with beautiful ingredients but apparently the prep work that had taken an hour and fifteen minutes did not include washing the apples for the salad. They were sliced and added to the greens with the blue sticky labels still attached to the skin!

(I’m sorry that I didn’t take a picture.  We were so hungry by the time our food arrived at the table that I forgot to take out my camera.)

Summing it all up, I’d have to say that I’ll still visit Merridale.  I love walking the orchard. 

I enjoy their beverages and will continue to buy them. 

I just won’t go to the restaurant again, nor will I recommend it to my friends.  

Perhaps I should thank them though.  The wait for our meal afforded an opportunity for a good, long conversation with a very dear friend.


Megan, said...

ugh, that's not great -
Xo Megan

Aunt B said...

I'll agree with that Megan. The lunch part definitely wasn't great, but thankfully the rest of the day was very pleasant indeed.

Barbara said...

Sorry about the unwashed apples, but everything else sounds great. I miss the Michigan cider mills now that I live in Florida!

Aunt B said...

Yes, the rest of it was great. :) Cider mills are a wonderful thing. We're lucky to have this special place here.

Pattie @ Olla-Podrida said...

What a huge bummer about the restaurant, but I love the idea of a cidery where a person can go to sample various ciders and buy them.

Aunt B said...

It was unfortunate but I still love to visit the orchards and cidery. It was still a lovely day, spent with a good friend.