©Gwenael Saliou

Breton Cider & Apple Juice

Where would Brittany be without the apple, its emblematic fruit? There are more than 600 varieties of apple in the region and some of them go back a long way. Breton farm cider is made using an ancient process and is the ultimate local drink. Rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, trace elements and mineral salts, it has a slightly sharp but fruity taste and a distinctive colour, which can range from pale gold to deep amber. Discover how it’s made and the skills of its producers in the many cider breweries and eco-museums.

©Yannick Derennes

How is cider made?

Harvesting of cider apples (not to be confused with dessert apples) runs from September to the first November frosts in the orchards. The fruits are then sorted, washed and crushed. The next stage is probably the most characteristic element in the process: pressing, which involves layering the apple pulp and canvas sheets (formerly straw was used) to make the ‘cheese’, rather like a ‘millefeuille’ pastry, that is then placed in the press. Screwing down the press makes the precious juice flow and it is collected in barrels where fermentation can begin, turning the sugars into alcohol. The drink becomes naturally sparkling and is then bottled before being stored in a cellar for several months.

The various kinds of cider

A cider can be judged in terms of three qualities: its acidity, tannins and sugar level (the higher the sugar level, the lower the alcohol level). Sweet cider (less than 3% vol.) which goes with pancakes or desserts develops a very fruity flavour. Semi-dry cider is 3-5% vol. while dry or brut cider (4% or higher) is slightly more bitter and more sparkling. It usually accompanies galettes (buckwheat pancakes). There are other terms for varieties of cider: a cider that is classed as “traditional” or “farm cider” is produced using age-old techniques. When a cider is referred to as “bouché”, this refers to its packaging: it is sold in so-called ‘champagne’ bottles, with a large, strong cork and a metal closure.

Where is it produced?

Whilst there are many orchards all over Brittany and many local apple juice and cider producers, sites around Dol-de-Bretagne, the Rennes and Vitré valleys, the length of the Rance valley, and the Vannes region are some of the best known. The Cornouaille Cider Route is a tourist trail through the area where the AOP Cornouaille cider originated. You can drive beside the orchards, meet producers and sample their products. This route also allows you to find out about two other typical drinks: Pommeau de Bretagne AOC and Eau de vie de cidre.

Map of cider production in Brittany

Outstanding Breton Ciders

It’s the skill of the producers that make these ciders great, from the choice of apple varieties to the various stages of production. Like wine, cider also has its outstanding vintages.

  • Cidre de Cornouaille AOP
    In 1996, Cornouaille Cider was the first product from Brittany to be granted an “Appellation d’Origine Protégée” (AOP). It comes from an area that covers 38 communities around Quimper, which meet certain criteria such as hours of sunshine, rainfall or altitude. The area draws on the traditional skills of around 28 producers. Cornouaille is a semi-dry cider made from 100% pure juice and has a golden colour, very fine bubbles and a slight hint of bitterness.
  • Royal Guillevic, France’s only Red Label Cider
    At the gateway to the Rhuys Peninsula, the Cidrerie Nicol, founded in 1928, makes a cider that graces some of the most prestigious tables. Because of its delicate flavour, gourmets consider it to be the “Breton champagne”. It is made from a single apple variety, the Guillevic.
  • Cuvée Prestige Carpe Diem: a cider for the Elysée Palace
    Since 1997, the Cidrerie du Domaine de Kervéguen has supplied its Prestige Carpe Diem cider to the Elysée Palace. Made from late-season apples, this cider is produced in the same way as late-season wines or wines made from dried grapes. An outstanding, traditional cider, it is made using organic techniques and matured in oak barrels.

Where can I try it?

  • The Comptoir Breizh Café in Saint-Malo
    The Comptoir Breizh Café in Saint-Malo is a crêperie and cider bar with more than 60 recommendations, not just from Brittany but from all over the world. Carine, the cider waitress, can also suggest some original combinations of dishes and ciders.
  • Le Sistrot in Quimper
    Le Sistrot is a must for all cider lovers when in Quimper. There are many different vintages to try including cidre de glace (ice cider) and cidre de feu (fire cider) from Québec, where the bar’s founders spent a few years.

Cider Breweries to visit

Brest Terres Océanes

Cap Fréhel – Saint-Malo – Mont Saint-Michel Bay

Pink Granite Coast –  Morlaix Bay

Quimper Cornouaille

Saint-Brieuc Bay – Paimpol- Les Caps

Southern Brittany – Morbihan Gulf

The annual Apple Festival

Les Mordus de la Pomme is a charity that keeps track of the many old and regional varieties of apples, encourages replantation of orchards and organises the annual Apple Festival in Quévert during the first week in November.

Did you know ?

Why do we talk about a ‘bowl of cider’?

In the past, in Brittany’s countryside, crockery was made of terracotta. That’s why people drank any drink, including cider, from these familiar little bowls, commonly referred to as bolées.

The abuse of alcohol is damaging to health. To be consumed in moderation.

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