Post by Charlotte Albright, Vermont Public Radio for The Salt at NPR Food (3/10/2014)
If there's anything most of us are tired of this winter, it's bone-chilling cold.
It's enough to drive you to drink.
Literally. Because frigid weather is just what some enterprising artisans need to make a dessert wine that has been showing up on trendy tables and menus. Ice cider was invented in Quebec in the 1990s. This time of year, it's fermenting on the other side of the border as well, as a few snowy states try to tap into the locavore market and turn perishables into profits.
The first American maker to have a federally approved label is Eden Ice Cider, which got its start about eight years ago in a rural corner of Vermont known as the Northeast Kingdom. That's when Eleanor Leger, a Vermonter, and her husband, Albert, a Canadian, were sipping apple liqueur in Montreal, and wondering, "Why doesn't anybody make this stuff on our side of the border?" Vermont usually has more than enough ice and apples of its own, plus long cold spells needed to concentrate flavor.
Eleanor says this has been the best winter ever. At the end of each fall, she and her husband press cider from their 1,000 apple trees (and from a few other orchards) and stick the plastic vats in cold storage. After the first frost, they drag them outdoors. This crazy year, the stuff has frozen, almost thawed, and frozen several times. That makes for a rich, concentrated apple elixir — and lots of it. Yield is important, because about 75 percent of the original cider is left behind in an icy block after the concentrate drizzles out, ready for fermentation.