By the time my friends and I arrived at Ciderfest on Saturday, the tent was already smoky with hamburgers cooking on the grill, attendees wandering contentedly while Run Mountain played in the background.
I’d been a little doubtful about the event at Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, since the $25 entrance fee seemed pretty steep (heck, I’ve got school loans to pay), but one step inside the tent wiped out most of my doubts. Besides, Ciderfest is $2 cheaper than the annual Vermont Brewer’s Festival in Burlington, and the food there isn’t included.
On tables around the tent there were arrays of cheese, slices of apple pie, plates of hamburgers with potato salad and a spinach salad with apples and cheese. There were dehydrated apple slices, apple butter and apple syrup on crackers, and more cheese, and more apples.
And that’s not including a bag for us to go pick apples ourselves, plus more varieties of hard cider than I’ve ever seen.
Thus began the revelry of fall flavors. It had only been that morning (and what a shining, chill morning it was) that I’d deemed the trees in full-on fall splendor, at least down here in Middlebury. And at least for me, the onset of fall splendor each year brings an overwhelming desire to consume apples in any and every form.
The ice cider was the most unusual discovery of the day. Eden Ice Cider was there from West Charleston, Vermont, with their signature sweet, thick drink. It’s like apple cider but thicker, like Woodchuck cider (also in attendance) but sweeter and not carbonated, and with a sort of musky aftertaste. Good with a sharp cheddar cheese.
Across the tent, at the Champlain Orchard table, was a new Honeycrisp ice cider that the folks from Eden had helped out with. This one was sweeter, with the clear taste of Honeycrisp apples.
The dessert drink, it turns out, is created in a way similar to ice wine. The cider is frozen, and the concentrated liquid that filters out is fermented to 10, 11 percent alcohol — only about twice that of your standard hard cider, but you wouldn’t want to drink a pint of this. It’s best enjoyed in a small glass.
As the sun set behind the Adirondacks, light glancing off of Lake Champlain into our eyes, we tried Farnum Hill Ciders, another take on the hard cider theme from just over the border in New Hampshire. These were almost like wine, fermented long enough that the sweetness had all but vanished. In its place was a mouth-tingling taste, one of the selections with an earthly hint of mushroom flavor. I know, that sounds weird, but don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it.
We were full within 30 minutes of our arrival, but we kept eating — how could we not, when Woodchuck, Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, Red Hen Baking Co. and a whole host of other people were offering samples of their goods, plus hamburgers from Farmhouse Tap and Grill in Burlington (I don’t generally like burgers that much, but these were pretty darn good).
Most of the food and drink providers began packing up around 6:30, but the band stayed to pluck out songs until 7, so my friends and I got up and danced — joined, after a while, by a very adorable three-year-old with a twirly skirt.
Which meant that our apple picking had to happen in the shade of an early dusk (the evenings do get dark so quickly these days, don’t they?). We squinted into the trees, hoping to make out the darker-hued apples, tugging at the ones we found to find out if they’d detach easily.
The sky was tinged with pink and purple as we made our way down the hill to the car with bags full of apples — maybe they were Galas, maybe Macs — nobody was quite sure. We could see the rolling fields and forested patches that led all the way down to the lake, and the evening had developed a chill around its edges.
Yes, it was a good time to welcome the autumn.
Apologies for the lack of photos — unfortunately, my camera ran out of batteries.