La Ruta de Pepín
The moment you step onto Asturian land, time slows down. You find yourself surrounded by scattered sleepy villages, leafy forests, wildflower-covered valleys and of course the dramatic Picos de Europa mountains. However, it is not just the beautiful landscapes that make the region famous. Asturias produces around 85% of Spain’s cider and consumes more per capita than anywhere else in the world. It has about 6000 cider houses, which produce more than 60 million litres of cider! On a hot summer day you are unlikely to see locals sipping on a cold beer – Asturians are proud of their production and cider plays an integral part in their lives.
Neither of us have tried the famous cider so we were eager to set off to a small and sleepy village of Sirviella. Soon, we were greeted with winding mountain roads, sheep grazing in pastures and locals enjoying their siesta in the midday sun.
Our destination was a small local farm, built in the 40s with the help of some of the neighbours, who were more than happy to work in exchange for cider. The farm is owned by Francisco Jose who took over from his grandfather and father in the production of natural Asturian cider.
On our arrival we were greeted with a big smile and warm welcome by our host who is affectionately referred to as Pepín and whom is well known throughout the region.
We soon set off on a quick tour around the tiny village and were shown old farm buildings and where the cider is actually produced. Pepín then began telling stories about his childhood days, picking apples, crushing them and how much of a major event this was! People from the village would get together and tell the same stories (year after year) about the sweetness of the first juice, apples and how cold it was to spend autumn nights in the barn squeezing the juice.
After a tour around the farm we were delighted to see the table covered in local hams, Cabrales cheese, sausages and breads. And of course, we were even more thrilled to try the famous cider. Espicha or ‘first tasting’ refers to tasting the cider, which is still fermenting in the barrels. The pouring of the cider (or ‘escanciar’) is a show itself – the cider is poured holding the bottle above your head and holding a special wide brimmed cider glass in the other hand at a roughly 45 degree angle. This helps to release the taste and aroma of the cider. The fizzy texture does not last long so you then have to take a gulp and drink it one go! Traditionally the remaining cider is just poured on the floor or in a bucket, which can explain why some traditional sidrerias have the floor covered in shavings!
Neither of us are big cider drinkers but the taste was a pleasant surprise! It was refreshing, tangy, slightly bitter, dry and quite complex in flavour. Pepín then explained that we had tried the most traditional and unique type of cider ‘Sidra Natural’, which is a result of total or partial alcoholic fermentation of the apples, created following traditional production practices and without adding sugars. It is usually around 5-8% alc, so do take care as combined with long treks and the hot Spanish sun it can have quite an affect.
These days La Ruta de Pepín is one of the most famous attractions in the village and Pepín is on a mission to continue making the cider that made his family famous. By starting guided visits to his farm he has allowed to maintain the production process and also divulge the culture of cider in Asturias. So, if you are lucky to be served some traditional Asturian cider, don’t forget – it is not to be sipped slowly!