The Cider Farm brings organic, European-style ciders to Madison
Spot is open in Brennan's Cellars on west side
Madison’s first dedicated cider tap room, The Cider Farm–operated by the owners of an organic apple orchard in Mineral Point bearing the same name–opened at Brennan’s Cellars on Watts Road. The tap room features the Cider Farm’s alcoholic, European-style ciders along with guest ciders, a selection of beer and wine and a menu with organic, locally-sourced food that pair well with ciders says co-owner John Biondi.
Biondi, who co-founded the Cider Farm fifteen years ago with his wife, Deirdre Birmingham (who mainly runs the orchard), says they stumbled upon the cider business. “We bought a farm that no one had lived on for 50 years but it had wild apple trees,” Biondi says. “It seemed the land was good for apples but we knew we didn’t want to do table apples so we decided to do a high-quality cider. European cider apples were practically non-existent in this country at this time.”
European cider apples, which are cultivated purely for making alcoholic beverages, vary from table apples because they contain tannins. The apples are very common in Europe but rare in the United States, Biondi says. “Fifteen years ago you couldn’t buy a European cider apple tree commercially in America. We had to hand graft all the trees for many years.”
Biondi and Birmingham received budwood and grafting lessons from Dan Bussey, who runs the apple program for Seed Savers and had a small orchard near Janesville, and today the Cider Farm orchard has 16,000 trees with another 2,000 trees in the nursery. In addition to growing a product rare to the United States, the Cider Farm is also an organic orchard, something uncommon in our region. “Raising apples organically in the upper Midwest is very hard,” Biondi says. “On a scale of 1 to 10, growing apples organically here is about a 12. We’ve been doing this for 15 years and it’s a learning process.”
The Cider Farm produced its first commercial product, brandy, in 2011 and has been making ciders now for four years. Production of cider will now continue at the facility’s new space behind the tap room at Brennan’s. As opposed to the bulk of the American cider market, which Biondi calls “soda-pop ciders–really sweet ciders with flavorings and secondary fruits,” the Cider Farm’s ciders are more complex. “They are meant to be clean and pair well with food,” Biondi says. “We are out to show that cider can be much more elegant.”
At the Cider Farm’s tap room people can choose from eight ounce pours of cider for $6 or a four sample flight for $10. Varieties include Equinox, a citrusy cider made with hops and reminiscent of a sauvignon blanc; Cyser, which is created when apple juice and honey are fermented together; and Classic Dry, a traditional English-style cider. In addition to the tap room, the Cider Farm’s ciders are available at most retail liquor stores in Madison.
Open Tuesday through Sunday, the Cider Farm’s tap room features outdoor seating and a seasonal menu created by chef Stephen Carroll, formally of Brasserie V. Current offerings–which featured the last of local storage vegetables until the first spring harvest–include a radish salad with roasted daikon, radish puree and tarragon ricotta, a beet salad and a bean dip made with Driftless Organics red chili beans. “When we opened in March we had access to carrots, beets, radishes, potatoes,” Carroll says. “l thought ‘how do we use storage vegetables and have approachable dishes?'”
A Wisconsin cheese and charcuterie board highlights a rotating selection of cheeses from local cheese producers including Uplands Cheese Co., Landmark Creamery and Hook’s Cheese Co. Dessert offerings include house-made brandy-maple or coffee ice cream. “We walk the talk and carry through using our organic orchard as the heart of what we do here,” Biondi says. “And we tie in with similar producers in the area.”
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