A real highlight of the Ross on Wye Cider & Perry Festival — though I’m not sure there’s a part of that weekend that isn’t a highlight — is the opening night tasting.
Traditionally led by an international visitor, it’s a chance to taste something completely removed from the Herefordshire bittersweets and bittersharps that characterise the weekend. James has previously related the introduction to Basque Cider that Haritz of Ciderzale gave in 2019, and this year we were treated to a talk and tasting from Elegast, of The Netherlands, this correspondant’s first ever encounter with Dutch cider.
The creations we tried were fascinating and varied, but the bottle that really stood out, both to me and to the others I spoke to, was the perry Elegast made from cooking and eating pears.
Generally speaking, perry lovers can be even more disparaging of perry made from culinary varieties than cider lovers can of culinary apple cider. Where the latter attitude is beginning to die out in the wake of extraordinary creations from the likes of Nightingale and the Egremont Russets of Little Pomona, there is certainly still a latent skepticism of perry made from fruit other than a traditional, tannic perry pear.
And certainly making culinary pear perry is no easy feat — harder still than perrymaking is already! Often the pears lack the necessary acidity, for instance, making it all the more likely that they’ll develop faults. There’s a good reason you don’t see a large amount of UK perry made outside the Three Counties — it is often simply not worth the hassle.
So I was especially intrigued to taste such a beautiful and perception-challenging example from Elegast, and delighted when Arjen agreed to join the merry band of international perrymakers who have contributed to this spotlight series.
CR: Introduce yourself and your company.
Arjen: My name is Arjen Meeuwsen and together with Teun Durlinger I make the Elegast ciders. We started in 2016 to harvest fruit from an old standard orchard where the apples weren’t harvested. Since, we’ve grown to work with over 40 non-commercial standard orchards, and a large new food forest. We do this, because we value these orchards and want to preserve them. And because we like (making) cider & perry!
CR: How did you come to start making perry?
Arjen: In the orchards we didn’t only encounter apples, but also pears, plums, grapes, berries, medlars, quince, cherries etc. We decided to see if we could utilize more, and hence make a large variety of flavours ánd provide more income for the orchards.
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).
Arjen: Cider and perry has no cultural significance or commercial history in the Netherlands. We have loads of apples and pears, but cider and perry were always much undervalued, beer and genever were the dominant beverages made here. However, when we started making cider, and later perry, we noticed that when properly made, the fruit from old orchards provide a very good aroma and flavour. The fruit is acid-driven and has little tannins, but this improves when using old varieties from old trees. We notice a big difference in comparison to modern orchards with young dwarf trees.
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.
Arjen: We work mostly with cooking pears (St. Remy, Gieser Wildeman, Brederode) and add some eating pears (good aroma, not so pleasant to press: Legipont, Lucas). We like St. Remy and Gieser Wildeman most, it makes for a good perry. Brederode is a bit lighter in flavour. The eating pears bring a pleasant pear aroma but are a pain to press, so we use them sparingly for the moment. We try to find the oldest trees, pear trees can grow very old.
CR: And about the sort of perry you make? Your methods of making it as well as the styles you make.
Arjen: We make a traditional method Premium Organic Perry which is riddled and disgorged. It’s a light and fruity perry that’s very festive. Then we make a Pear cider that’s a blend of cooking and eating pears. This sells well on keg and in small bottles. We ferment another Perry in a grey clay pot, making it minerally. We call it ‘Between a pear and a hard place’. Lastly, we make a blend of apple and pear: giving it the softness and sweetness of pear and the more outspoken character of apples.
CR: What are the challenges you find in working with perry? Making, growing and selling?
Arjen: The making of perry is a road full of challenges for us. We’ve learned everything the hard way: we’ve had VA, ropiness, mousiness, pectin hazes, off-flavours. And eating pears are a pain to press. So why make it? It’s natural sweetness makes it a nice complement to our cider, and it sells really well. The products are good and fruity, so we’re happy with the results. And we’re learning, so next year is always better than last year!
CR: What is it that inspires you about perry? What do you love about it, both as a maker and a drinker?
Arjen: The aroma of eating pears and the cleanliness of cooking pears can make for wonderful light fruity beverages. There are so many pears, and the trees can grow so old, that we háve to make perry off of it. I see a big potential for this unknown drink.
CR: And what is your greatest frustration around perry?
Arjen: All the problems we encounter!
CR: Your perfect perry and food pairing – and/or the time you most like to drink perry?
Arjen: Blue cheese paired. Best time; our traditional method Perry as a replacement for champagne at an event.
CR: What would you most want to tell a new drinker about perry to convince them to try it?
Arjen: Take a moment to respect the challenges the maker has gone through, and respect the age of the tree..there’s a lot behind your drink!
CR: And, finally, what is your all-time favourite of your own perries … and your all-time favourite from another producer?
Arjen: I’m keen on trying single variety perries when I’m in the UK. I haven’t found a favourite yet (still on the road of discovery) but I think it’s beautiful that you have such outspoken perry pears.