The history of Sidra, part 2 (by the Regulatory Council)

Posted by | November 03, 2013 | Cider | No Comments

Regarding the first evidence of cider in the Principality, there is a widespread and dominant sector of scholars in this area that consider as significant the text of the geographer Strabo, dated 60 BC, which says: “zytho etiam utuntur, vini parum habent.” Thus Carmen Fernández Ochoa, director of archaeological excavations of Roman Gijón, writes: “… even before the Romans cider was a common drink among the inhabitants of Asturias. We have no reliable data on this, but the shortage of wine, used only in family feasts according to Strabo, and the shortage of barley as well as Pliny’s reference to apples would be arguments in favour of the ancestral production of this typical regional drink that continues until today.”

In addition, supporting the above considerations, there are several authors who claim that Hebrews, Egyptians and Greeks knew cider, which supports the theory that the inhabitants of Asturias made cider before the Roman invasion. Especially if we frame this practice in the socioeconomic background of the inhabitants of the Atlantic Arc region, rooted in the rituals and myths of Celtic culture and, therefore, giving the apple magical significance.

Throughout the Middle Ages there is abundant chronological and geographical evidence of the production of cider in Asturias, as already mentioned in the previous section on the apple. Thus, references to apple orchards, apple growing, sicera, cider and other related words are constant. These references abound in founding documents of monasteries and abbeys in charters, grants, wills, and from the eleventh century, in property contracts.

In the Modern Age, Jovellanos in several of his writings documents the main consumption patterns of the inhabitants of Asturias, mentioning the obligatory presence of our regional drink in processions and country festivals, as well as major household consumption in rural areas, although he points to the desperate economic situation experienced in the rural environment as a major brake on consumption of cider.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the cider market is conditioned by two phenomena that changed Asturias socially: emigration to America and the evolution of the Asturian population towards the centre of the region. Population growth around commercial and industrial centres created an industrial-urban consumer as opposed to rural, significantly changing consumption habits and locations. Additionally, emigration led to the emergence of an important market in America. The appearance of the first “champagne” cider industry dates from this period. Tomás Zarracina was a pioneer by creating in Gijón in 1857 the Zarracina Industrial Company. This new cider was obtained by carbonation of traditional cider and the word “champagne” is associated with the typical effervescence of this product. Later several industrial cider producers would follow this initiative, establishing new facilities geared to the production of this new product, which has always enjoyed the appreciation of consumers in the Americas.

This expansion in domestic and international markets popularized the product outside our region, and strongly links the name of Asturias with Cider.

At the end of the nineteenth century the production of cider in Asturias reached an annual average of 25,313,860 litres, according to Felix Aramburu y Zuloaga, a fact that clearly shows the important dimension of the sector.

In early 2001, the surface area devoted to apple growing in Asturias was 6,700 hectares, of which 6,500 were given over to varieties for the production of cider and natural cider.Asturias is the first cider-producing region in Spain. Cider is also produced in Galicia, the Basque Country and Navarra, but 80% of national production comes from Asturias.

The production area of cider protected by the PDO coincides with the totality of the Principality of Asturias. Asturias is the fourth largest European producer of cider, after England, Ireland and France. The cider industry is ranked third in importance by turnover in the Asturian food industry after milk and meat.

Natural cider is produced in the traditional cider-houses in Asturias. The 2001 survey cites 106 cider-houses talks with a commercial dimension. There is a strong family tradition, to the extent that over 60% of these presses have been inherited. The most common legal structure is the sole proprietor and only 10% are limited companies. As regards natural cider, the Asturian market represents 93% of the total.

Cider production, on the other hand, is centred on 10 companies, and these producers represent 61% of the total turnover of the sector. The Spanish market absorbs 80% of production, while a percentage of around 12-13% goes for export, the remaining 6-7% being consumed in our region.

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