Find & Foster produce a range of exciting ciders made using rare, local varieties of apples harvested from traditional Devon orchards. Run by Polly and Matt Hilton, Find & Foster is a cidery that works with a small number of farmers to regenerate their traditional orchards on their farms, managing the orchards to save important local apple varieties and encourage biodiversity.
Find & Foster now work with 6 traditional orchards all in the local vicinity to produce their range of ciders. These orchards are ‘traditional farmhouse orchards’ that were originally planted as part of the farm’s system to be self-sufficient, including fruit varieties for various uses like dessert and cooking apples to fresh eating apples.
These traditional orchards are gene banks for ancient fruit trees, which have grown without chemicals a century or more. Many of the ancient fruit trees are rare and have disease-resistant genes that need to be protected for future production. To encourage new tree growth, the team at Find & Foster sympathetically manage each orchard accordingly, pruning the trees in winter and grafting rare, local varieties already in the orchards to replace dead trees. They also graze a small flock of Shropshire sheep in the orchards, which helps to control the land in between the trees from being consumed by shrub and grasses. Through attending various courses run by local orchard charities in Devon, Polly and Matt have been able to learn land management skills specific to ancient orchards.
Each orchard is a haven for wildlife and biodiversity, home to diverse range of small mammals, birds, and invertebrates. Late mowing and grazing is done in the orchards but they are always sensitive to leave large areas to grow wild. The orchards have an incredible amount of butterflies and moths come late spring and summer, species like the gatekeeper, orange-tip, painted lady, peacock and skipper. They also get plenty of birds like green and greater-spotted woodpeckers, blackcaps, and blue tits, whilst they hear owls most nights.
Polly originally set up Find & Foster to make the most of the disused traditional orchards in Devon, which were no longer commercially viable and had go into disrepair. The idea was hatched to produce a premium cider – which was to be valued with the same respect as wine – to help regenerate the orchards and make them economically viable once again.
Since the Second World War, Devon has lost 90% of its traditional orchards, either pulled out by agricultural streamlining and government projects, or simply neglected over time. The name ‘Find & Foster’ comes from Polly & Matt’s ethos of rejuvenation; to ‘find’ neglected traditional orchards that have local and rare varieties of apples, and ‘foster’ them by cultivating, nurturing and encouraging them to thrive once again.
The broad range of rare, local apple varieties that Find & Foster are able to harvest in their traditional orchards lends themselves to producing unique and diverse ciders that are full of flavour, perfumed aromas, and balanced tannins and acidity. By harvesting everything by hand, they can hand-select the best fruit and at the perfect time – or what they call, ‘the optimum point of maturity’. This point of maturity, alongside other variables like the tree’s age, the apple varieties, their balance of acidity, sugar and tannins, are all carefully considered. This complexity of variables in Find & Foster’s cider making allows them to diversify into a number of different methods of production, which produce different styles of cider:
- Methode Traditionelle (Champagne method)
- Keeving (sweet and appley, similar to a Normandy style cider)
- Pet Nat (dry but fruity, like a pet nat wine)
Depending on the method of making, they add minimal to no sulphites, and use absolutely no chemicals in the orchards.
How is Find & Foster’s cider made using Methode Traditionelle?
Using the same method as is used in Champagne production; Find & Foster pick the best apples at the right time by hand to ensure they don’t have any rotten apples. The apples are then taken to their cidery and pressed for their juice. The juice is then left for a wild fermentation to ensue naturally.
When the juice has fermented to dry (when the natural sugars in the juice have been consumed), they bottle it with champagne yeast and a carefully calculated amount of sugar for the yeast to ferment and create the bubbles in the bottle – this is the secondary fermentation.
The team in the cidery leave the bottles sur lattes (stacked on their sides) to mature on the champagne yeast lees (leftover yeast) for at least a year or more. By stacking on their sides it maximises the contact between the yeast and the cider.
They taste the cider often to see how each batch is developing, and when they are happy with the development, they move the bottles from sur lattes into the riddling racks (neck down). Each bottle is then riddled (hand turned and gently knocked) in this position for about a month to ensure the yeast is densely packed in the neck.
They don’t need to top the bottles up with liquid – as Champagne producers do with Champagne – but they do sometimes add a little liqueur d'expedition, a little pure cane sugar dissolved in the farm’s spring water.
They always cork with a champagne cork and secure with a wire muselet (wire cage). The bottles are then aged for a further few months to allow the liqueur d'expedition to integrate.
Find & Foster’s ‘Carter’ cider is made to Methode Traditionelle, and is a light, crisp cider, full-bodied and amber in colour. Polly and Matt at Find & Foster named this batch of cider after the Carter family, who, during the Second World War when land was being transformed into arable and dairy farming, protected the 2-acres of ancient traditional orchard. Find & Foster now manage the Carter orchard sustainability to ensure its survival for another century.
Find & Foster’s cider is a pure expression the local Devonshire landscape, owing much to the orchard’s long histories and rich medley of ancient and rare fruits.
Shop Find & Foster's premium cider here.