Now I know Adam already did a sterling job of visiting France earlier this month, with the four from Bordelet, but as France is such a big player in the global cider scene I thought it was worth another visit. In particular I wanted to shine a light on the mainstream and something a bit more rare. So today I have a bottle from Loïc Raison, one of the most common brands to adorn supermarché shelves and one we are fairly familiar with over here in the UK. The second is from La Ferme D’hotte, who are based in Eaux Puiseaux, which is in the Pays D’Othe region, so somewhere different to the usual suspects of Normandy and Brittany.
Before you continue reading this, if you haven’t read Adam’s interview with Camille on The Truth About French Cidre then please give it a read. It certainly expanded my understanding of French cider and how the challenges we face in the UK are not too dissimilar. In my early cider exploring days I recall visiting France and staring in wonder at the supermarket shelves filled with 750ml cork and caged bottels, mostly priced under €4. After reading Camille’s interview it suddenly became clear why. It seems that wherever you find artisanal production you also find an element of cost cutting, scaled up, mass production. Ultimately they dominate the market due to price point as we see in both the UK and France, but the craft producers do survive and offer something that the mainstream offerings never can; a real story and a connection to the land, the trees and the fruit. So let’s start there with an offering from La Ferme D’Hotte.
Farmers and cider makers for four generations on the Hotte Farm, located in the Pays d’Othe which located between the Champagne and Bourgogne regions which has been an an area of cider production since the 16th century. Camille described this region as “one of the most interesting soil (clay-limestone and rich in flint) and climate to create a one-of-a-kind cider : dry, tangy, with this typical aroma which we call “pierre à feu” stonefire or flintstone I think in English?”Certified organic, they have traditionally planted standard apple trees as well as more modern bush orchards, plus more awards than I cared to count. Over forty varieties make up the basis of Pays d’Othe cider, including great names like: Cat’s Nose and Bird’s Ass. The bottle I have today ‘Saveur de Pommier’ is described as a “superior quality cider, to drink as an aperitif or dessert” (I do like the concept of liquid desserts). It is Méthode Traditionnelle and crystal clear thanks to the disgorgement. I bought my bottle from Cider World last year, but sadly there range seems to have reduced somewhat.
La Ferme D’hotte – Saveur de Pommier (6.5%)
How I served it: lightly in a champagne flute (loads of bubbles), they recommend 5-7 degrees.
Colour: dark straw, pale gold
On the nose: pommace, acacia racks and pressing cloths. Eyes closed it transports me to apple pressing days. Then there’s lots of wood, orange citrus and loads of spics, think clove and cinnamon. Brandy and calvados finish it off.
In the mouth: Those last notes are straight onto the palate. It reminds me of the Greggs Pit Dabinett and Yarlington Mill blend, there’s even that sort of burnt caramel and tangerine like character but with a smidge more acidity (theres that ‘tang’ Camille described) There’s so much more tannin than the colour led me to assume (we all know what assumptions make). There’s a citrus element to the acidity, which has a malolactic creamy character to it. The finish is medium dry with a gentle amount of residual sweetness. It’s absolutely superb.
In a nutshell: When Brittany and Normandy collide…if you see this buy it.
The Raison family have been “revolutionising the cider market” since 1923, but are now part of Agrial, one of two main mass producing cooperatives that account for 82% of cidre production in France. Agril describes Loïc Raison as a “leading regional brand” with “around 2 million buyers in France”, which I must admit I thought was pretty low. Translating from the Loïc Raison website, they describe their Brut as “The most refreshing cider ever” which “comes from a blend of vats that have fermented for up to one month”. Tasting notes consist of “this characterful cider has body thanks to a hint of bitterness and tannin. There are subtle notes of wood, nuts and pepper”. The label says “cidre pur jus” so there’s pure juice in there, but in what quantity I have no idea. It also states it is made in Brittany and has a Protected Geographical Indication, so the apples that are in there are from that region. I purchased my bottle from a Carrefour in the Ardèche back in 2019.
I have to admit that based on the above, I’m concerned that the “intense” on the label may be misplaced…as well as the rather bold statement “finally a cider of character”…let’s find out.
Loïc Raison – Brut (6%)
2019 Bronze winner at the International Cider Challenge and Silver at the 2019 World cider Awards.
How I served it: out of the fridge for 30 minutes in a white wine glass
Colour: Goldfinger dah dah…nah!
On the nose: green apples, apple skin, caramel and stewed fruit, skewer of lemon rind, some apple brandy and hint of tropical fruit.
In the mouth: green apple, melon, burnt caramelised apple, but it’s all slightly synthetic. Certainly the sweeter of the two, the finish is fruity with plenty of acidity and some slight bitterness but I wouldn’t call it “intense”. More dessert fruit than cider apple. It’s like tarte t’tatin if that had been slightly overcooked and had a wee bit of sweetener added. What’s interesting is that 5 years ago I would have thought this was nice, but then I visited Normandy and tried cidre from makers like Pierre Huet and realised there was so much more. Don’t get me wrong, I think a lot of mainstream French cidre has much more character than the offerings this side of the channel. But when compared to their exceptional craft creations like La Ferme D’hotte, mainstream suddenly becomes mediocre.
In a nutshell: Despite what the label says, it is far from intense.
I guess the outcome is what I expected, no surprises. Which is a huge shame for the Loïc Raison, I was really hoping it would deliver as it said, but great in terms of the Saveur de Pommier, it tasted superb. I find myself wondering if Greggs Pit in Herefordshire has any similarities of geology (need to look that up later), given the comparison I immediately jumped to. As I looked through La Ferme D’Hotte’s range on their website, the label on their ‘Cidre Bouché Traditionnel’ looked really familiar to me, so I looked back through my Ardèche holiday photos and would you believe I unknowingly tried it back then. It was the first cider I bought from a lovely service station and enjoyed at the hotel we stopped off at on the three day journey. The complete story is that I opened it in the hotel room after it had been shaken about in the car, it erupted like a volcano, I stupidly put my hand straight over the top to try and stop the flow (note to self don’t do that again, no wait you already have and had to repaint the kitchen). This then caused the cider to spray in every direction, up the wall, over the bed and on the TV, thankfully doing no damage. I don’t know if it was the endless hours of driving, the numerous “are we there yet’s” or because it was the first French cider I’d had in ages, but it tasted sublime. Needless to say we drifted off to sleep to the sweet smell of apples. Good times!