Perry month rolls on!
Yes, just when you might have thought you were getting a break from all the daily pear-shaped content, here comes extra time.
Simple reason really — when we put out the call for this series of perrymaker spotlights we made it clear that we’d publish any and all we received. And we got such a good response that we couldn’t fit them all into September.
So kicking off our short Perry Month tail are the wonderful Jeremy and Clare from Herefordshire’s Cwm Maddoc. A prime example of why we couldn’t cut our perry content off on September 30th, since this is a maker I’ve long rated one of the world’s best.
We’ve written about Cwm Maddoc a fair few times on the site now, and I covered them in my first ever piece for Pellicle. I can’t think of a creation of theirs I haven’t loved; when it comes to expressing fruit at its very purest, they’re as good a producer as I know. Their Betty Prosser 2018 was one of the best perries I tried last year and the only reason it didn’t end up in my year-end Essential Case was that I loved another of their creations even more.
Chatting to Jeremy and Clare is always as much of a joy for the environmental insights they invariably offer as it is for the cider and perry content itself, and I’m very pleased that they’ve brought that to our conversation below.
CR: Introduce yourself and your company.
Cwm Maddoc: Jeremy and Clare at Hollow Ash Orchard, Broad Oak, Herefordshire, produce Cwm Maddoc ciders and perries. From the name of the orchard and village you can tell we are tree people! Sadly the ancient hollow ash blew down in a storm 10 years ago. Cwm Maddoc is the name of the ancient farmstead where we live in the Welsh Marches and when we arrived on our one acre plot to build our eco-home nearly 30 years ago we wanted to restore the landscape with trees and wildflowers. Aware of the importance of orchards as a wildlife habitat we naively planted our small plot with dessert apple trees on standard rootstock – it’s a bit overcrowded now. Fortunately, in 2007 we were able to buy seven contiguous acres which we planted with three acres of standard orchard and four acres of native woodland. We are now delighted to share our space with dormice, hares, great crested newts, wildflowers, fungi and a myriad of insects and bird life. We have planted our orchard in the same field as the orchard shown on the 1698 Cwm Maddoc estate map and perhaps, maybe 100 years hence, the noble chafer beetle will visit our veteran orchard – we hope we don’t dream in vain.
CR: How did you come to start making?
Cwm Maddoc: Accidentally of course! We started out making apple juice for our children and neighbours, then Jeremy ventured into to cider which was surprisingly successful. In 2014 there was a meagre crop of cider apples and the farm across the road offered pears from their solitary perry tree, subsequently identified as Red Longdon, and we made 80 litres of perry which we thought tasted pleasant enough to make some more the following year.
CR: Tell us about where you are. Its connection to perry and pear trees. The landscape (perhaps even the terroir!) and any perry culture (or lack thereof).
Cwm Maddoc: We are in southwest Herefordshire, on the Monmouthshire border, in view of May Hill in the east, approximately 500ft altitude and nothing to shelter us from the prevailing wind from the Black Mountains in the west. The bedrock is Old Red Sandstone and we have planted on former arable land. In 2007 when we planted three acres of orchard we included a few perry pear trees without really understanding anything about perry pear varieties. There are remnants of mature perry orchards in the locality, mainly close to farmhouses, but sadly this corner of Herefordshire has few managed orchards nowadays.
CR: Tell us about some of the pear varieties you work with. How they are to grow and work with and the different flavours they bring? Tell us about any of your favourites.
Cwm Maddoc: As our own perry trees are still very young we pick pears wherever we can within a ten mile radius. The varieties available vary from season to season, with the exception of Thorn which crops regularly. Thorn makes a consistent perry, citrusy and acidic which we balance by making it medium sweet. Gin is a favourite: small, oblate with a red flush, and well worth the bother of collecting as it makes a clear, floral perry with a bitter edge. Oldfield perry is rich and full-flavoured but a pain to pick as the oblate pear is so small. Betty Prosser is rare and in short supply, but in a good year the perry it produces is one of the best. Unfortunately last winter’s storms felled the largest of the three trees.
CR: And about the sort of perry you make? Your methods of making it as well as the styles you make.
Cwm Maddoc: All of the perries we produce are pet-nat, unfiltered, wild ferment (using a minimum of sulphites), unpasteurised and single variety. Most are medium sweet.
As a cider and perry producer, Hollow Ash Orchard is small: 2021 was the biggest year with 500 litres of cider and 1000 litres of perry. We collect from unsprayed trees; the fruit is all hand picked and carefully selected and left to blett. We use an electric rack and cloth press and variable capacity stainless steel tanks.
CR: What are the challenges you find in working with perry? Making, growing and selling?
Cwm Maddoc: Getting the fruit from large trees, which are too tall to be panked, is definitely a challenge; because the fruit ripens at different times some is rotting on the ground or attacked by insects and rabbits while the rest is on the tree in different stages of ripeness. Some sites are inaccessible and pears are heavy to carry.
Despite regular pruning, pear trees are hard to tame and you wait a long time for young trees to fruit only to find that you’ve been sold the wrong variety!
CR: What is it that inspires you about perry? What do you love about it, both as a maker and a drinker?
Cwm Maddoc: Mature perry pear trees are majestic, a haven for wildlife, but sadly undervalued. Undoubtedly there are still some unique varieties which are going undiscovered and will decay and die out before they are recorded. It is exciting to come across orchards with perry pear varieties that we haven’t picked before. This season we can choose from Moorcroft, Butt, Turner’s Barn, Staunton Squash and Potato Pear.
CR: And what is your greatest frustration around perry?
Cwm Maddoc: Identification can be tricky with so many varieties and so much variation on a single tree! Thank goodness for the National Perry Pear Centre at nearby Hartpury, Gloucestershire, which has an annual pear identification day.
You can drink perry young and delicious or allow it to improve in the bottle and become superb over time; frustratingly for us, because we are such a small producer, we make relatively little perry (and have such limited space), so we can’t keep it back and release it at its peak.
CR: Your perfect perry and food pairing – and/or the time you most like to drink perry?
Cwm Maddoc: Thorn and Gin are perfect sparkling summertime drinks. Oldfield and Betty Prosser are a Christmas treat.
CR: And, finally, what is your all-time favourite of your own perries … and your all-time favourite from another producer?
Cwm Maddoc: Definitely Gin.
Flakey Bark from Ross on Wye Cider – it’s a privilege to drink such a rare perry from a master maker.