I have long wanted to write about Asturias, the place of my birth and more specifically about our regional drink: Asturian Sidra (Cider).
Asturias is a hidden gem of a region in Spain. It is absolutely stunning. Snowcapped mountains tower over rolling green pastures dotted with stone houses and terra-cotta roofs. The rugged Cantabric coast line is breath taking. The lush country side edges right up to the sea and is lined with quiet, little fishing villages each with their own unique allure. The culture is warm, friendly and inviting.
Asturias is as authentic as Spain gets, in my unbiased opinion, and history backs me up on this. It’s the one area of Spain which the Moors were unable to conquer, and in fact, it is where they were turned around. As a result, Asturias was able to hold on to it strong Celtic roots: from folklore, mythology, Celtic symbolism, traditional kilts, boisterous bagpipes, thick bean stews (fabada), stinky cheeses that melt in your mouth and a love of camaraderie and meeting up to share sidra with friends at a local sidreria (cider bar).
Sharing not just stories and laughs, but literally sharing sidra, where the tradition is to pass around only one or two glasses for a group of several friends. Emerald green bottles are held up high over one’s head and poured down into a waiting glass, held low in the opposite arm. The sidra rushes out in a wondrous arch, hitting the glass on an angle, aerating it to perfection while filling the glass about 2 inches. If this uniquely dramatic pour is executed with precision, not a drop is wasted, and the pourer never even really looks at the glass, but confidently stares straight on. But perfect precision is a tall order, and as a result, in a typical sidreria the floor is covered in sawdust to soak up the many errant misses. The pourer will then offer the filled glass to a friend, who drinks it but leaves the slightest amount to be tossed out onto the saw dust or sometimes into a sidreria’s special drain or bucket (cleansing the glass for the next person). Pouring sidra is an art form in itself. When done well, it is a sight to watch and a well admired skill. This technique is called escanciar un culín (also echar un culín) and is done to great effect: to get air bubbles into the drink (espalmar), thus giving it a sparkling taste that lasts a very short time, which is why very little is poured into the glass each time.
Sidra is part of the Asturian DNA. It’s distinct, ritualistic, and something that connects today’s Asturians to our ancestors in the past. In fact, there is a popular saying, “There is no sidra without Asturias and there is no Asturias without sidra.”
The taste of traditional sidra is definitely acquired. It’s typically unsweetened, low in alcohol and has a slight tang but isn’t over whelming. The nose can be a bit stinky (with smells ranging from cut grass to barnyard), simply part of its charm. It really is very delicious and easy to drink.
The region of Asturias has the highest consumption of cider per capita in the world (54 liters per person/year). In fact, the Guinness Book of World Records recorded almost 8,000 people “escanciando” sidra at the same time.
Asturias also has a designation of origin (D.O.) certification for some of the products that come from the region, including cider, though you can also find Asturias cider without the D.O. seal. Why? Asturias D.O. cider can only be produced from apples (22 varietals) native to the region, none of them table apples. The region produces three different styles of natural cider: traditional (unfiltered), sparkling and filtered. The sparkling style is closer to some of the more crafty ciders made in the US Northeast, while the filtered style cider, bottled the same as wine, could be an alternative to some very dry and fruity white wines, perhaps with some similarities to a dry Riesling.
While hard cider is one of the fastest growing alcohol beverages in the US, Asturias sidra distribution in the United States is miniscule, which is interesting because if cider had a birth place so to speak, it would definitely be Asturias!! Luckily, here in NYC, there are a few places that carry the different styles of Asturian Sidra to try. Some of my favorite restaurants and stores where you can find a bottle include: Tertulia, Gramercy Tavern, Despaña, Whole Foods, Murrays, Huertas, Casa Mono, and Txikito.
I would like to see Asturian sidra become more “main stream”. Maybe it would take some adventurous chef, restaurateur, or an established and well known restaurant and sidreria in Asturias like Tierra Astur to open an authentic Asturian sidreria in NYC. I think New Yorkers would gravitate toward the ritual that comes with pouring sidra at a sidreria, just as they appreciate a German Biergarten, or a Moroccan Hookah lounge. It is unique, entertaining, and different. Imagine: a barn-like tavern setting with aged wooden furniture. You have come to try your hand at pouring sidra, chuckling as you splash the guy standing to your left and grateful for the damp saw dust underfoot. A tasty selection of smells permeates the air, unusual cheeses, the smell of grilled meats and hearty stews wafting through the air, accompanied by the distinct bagpipes playing in the background. Yes, I dream one day soon New York will have its very own Asturian Sidreria. It would be something new and refreshing to a city that has seen almost everything.