Midwest Meets Upland South—Mitten Reserve Cider

On Craft Cider

To say that craft cider is having a moment would be a bit of an understatement. While the craft beer movement is now decades old, well established, and even bubbling up in places one would not normally associate with a craft-anything movement (my small city of Muncie has four breweries that I know of). Yes, I do know that there is a difference between craft breweries and microbreweries, though offhand I can’t remember what that difference is. I’m not much of a beer drinker, so I should be forgiven my lapse.

Anyway, craft cider, especially of the apple variety, is definitely coming into its own. Perhaps it is a nod to the past—the long-ago past, when presidents and the hoi polloi would drink cider as a matter of course. Thomas Jefferson made sure to plant apple trees specifically for cider on the grounds of Monticello. Hard, or fermented, cider was a staple drink back in the early days of the United States. It fell out of its eminence in favor of other beverages, including beer, but now seems to be making a comeback in these DIY, locavore, culinary exploration times.

Sweet, or nonalcoholic, cider never really went away, making its annual appearance at orchards and supermarkets alike during apple season. However, the cider I’m referring to, the alcoholic variety, is developing a really strong following these days. Hard cider can be both sweet (think Woodchuck Amber), semi-dry (which is still on the sweet side—try Rhinegeist’s Semi-Dry) or dry. I suppose I should also add a fourth category—unusual (read: tending toward funky). In short, there’s a cider for everyone, from the Cosmopolitan/Appletini/Strawberry-Lemonade Vodka drinking set to those with very adventurous palates.

The Mitten Reserve

Enter Virtue Cider, a cidery just outside of Fennville, a quaint and arty town in southwestern Michigan. Virtue produces a number of ciders, both semi-dry varieties as well as drier ones, including the decidedly for-the-daring-palate Sidra de Nava (which might appeal to fans of sour beer). And Virtue uses 100% Michigan apples in its ciders. That’s a big plus for me, because I think Michigan apples are truly the best apples in the US! Yes, Washington apples get all the love (or at least all the publicity and marketing), but if given a choice in a supermarket, I always opt for the Michigan ones. Washington apples probably taste delicious—in Washington (or thereabouts). Given that I’m in Indiana, Michigan apples don’t have to travel far, so I’m probably getting a better product.

Okay, this isn’t a review of the Virtue Cider facility or a rundown of its products (maybe some other time). Rather, I’m here to discuss a particular Virtue offering—The Mitten Reserve (2016) as an introduction to Virtue (and Flyover ciders). Let’s look at the name. Surely you remember from your middle school or high school geography 1(assuming you’re in the US), that Michigan is divided into two parts: the Upper Peninsula (home of pasties and Yoopers) and The Mitten, so named because of its physical resemblance to a mitten.

Back to the cider. The Mitten Reserve is a dry cider, but it’s aged in bourbon barrels (just like The Mitten) for about one year. The “Reserve” part comes from the blend of ciders used. I will say that this cider is definitely bourbon-forward! It’s smooth, with hints of warm spice (think of muted apple pie spices, like cinnamon), as well as butterscotch. And, of course, apples. The alcohol content of this particular cider is 8.4% alcohol by volume, fairly high for a cider. As far as food pairings, this is the cider to drink with bacon or ham. Vegetarians might enjoy this with a slice of toast slathered with onion jam, grilled pineapple, or even a piece of honey cake or lebkuchen, something with a hint of sweetness.

Midwest Meets Upland South

The Upland South (Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, even parts of southern Indiana and Ohio) is distinct from the Deep South, with Kentucky and Tennessee probably forming its core. Of course, Kentucky is known for bourbon—perhaps it most well loved “export”. So, aging the Michigan apples in bourbon barrels is a sort of culinary marriage between the two, the Kentucky whose distilling skills have rendered it as a bourbon paradise, and the Michigan, with its unparalleled microclimate giving it some of America’s best fruit. And now that marriage is nicely expressed in The Mitten Reserve!

1You didn’t have a class called “geography in middle and/or high school? Ah, one of America’s educational failings–a discounting of vital content in favor of “teaching to the test” (and there isn’t any geography on the test).

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Pumpkin-Walnut Muffins with Apples

Yields 12 muffins

Flyover Pumpkins make a fine muffin, as evidenced by this “taste of fall” recipe, which I got originally from Amy Traverso’s wonderful (and very, very informative!) book The Apple Lover’s Cookbook1. Ms. Traverso’s recipe makes 15 muffins, but I’ve scaled this down to 12 (the size of my muffin tin). The apples add a delicious moistness but the pumpkin really shines here.

Muffins2RS

What You’ll Need

  • two mixing bowls, one large and one medium
  • whisk
  • wooden spoon for mixing
  • measuring cups, both liquid and solid
  • measuring spoons
  • 12-cup muffin tin
  • muffin liners
  • cake tester or wooden skewer
  • cooling rack

Ingredients

  • 1-1/3 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree (canned or homemade)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 Tbsp roasted walnut oil
  • 1 large or 2 small apples, peeled and cored
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • How to Make the Muffins

    1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F.
    2. Put the paper liners into the muffin cups.
    3. Put the flour, sugars, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Mix together so that the ingredients are well distributed.
    4. Chop the apples into small pieces, about 1/4-in or so.
    5. Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and whisk to combine the whites and the yolks. Add the pumpkin puree, oil, and vanilla extract and whisk to combine with the eggs. Then add the walnuts and apples, mixing thoroughly.
    6. Add the wet ingredients to the dry flour mixture. With a wooden spoon, stir until combined but not further. A few dry bits are fine. You don’t want to overmix the batter and risk making dense muffins.
    7. Divide the dough among the muffin cups. Fill each cup approximately 2/3 to 3/4 full.
    8. Place the muffin tin on the rack in the oven’s center and bake for 20-25 minutes. Check after 20 minutes—if a cake tester inserted into a muffin’s center comes out clean, they are ready to be removed from the oven. If not, bake for a few more minutes.
    9. Once taken out of the oven, remove the individual muffins and place them on a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes.
    10. Serve warm or at room temperature.

    1Expect to hear more about this book during apple weeks–two Flyover States (Michigan and Ohio) are among the top apple-producing states in the US!

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