The Origin of the word cider, comes from Greek Sikera. In Latin it appears as sicera and in Asturian it begins to be pronounced sizra and soon finally cider. The documents throughout history that name the cider and pomares (plantations of apple trees in Asturian language) are very numerous
The use of the apple must goes back to the prehistoric times; the use of cider had to be later since it seems to be that at those times the apples did not have sufficient sugar to use its must in a fermented drink production.
Some authors assure that the cider was already well-known by the Hebrews, Egyptian and the Greeks, although in fact this circumstance cannot be proven documentarily but based on writings of Latin authors.
Plinio (23-79 a.C.) speaks of drinks done with pears and apples “e piris malorunque omnibus generibus”, it mentions the apple wine and it says that”…is the typical drink of the territory; Estrabón, about sixty years before Christ, writes that the astures also use cider because they have little wine “zytho etiam utuntur, vini parum habent”; Palladius teaches us that in the III century the Romans prepared pear wine and even gives details of its manufacture.
As far as the Iberian Peninsula, the cider was well-known from very old times, almost from immemorial time.
Already in the High Middle Age, in the VIII and IX centuries we have enough documents that name the cider and the apple tree plantations:
- The 25-11-781 in the act of foundation of the monastery of San Vicente, that later would give origin to the city of Oviedo, the wordpomares that accompanies this foundation is named.
- In the testaments of Fakilo around year 793, and in the one of the Bishop of Braga of year 863 there are references to the pomaradas (apple trees plantation) in Asturias that both donate.
- The 26th of May of 950, Nonnina, from the villa of Pando, donates her home, in exchange for a layer, a blanket, grains, cider and meat.
- Also a bastard daughter of Alfonso VII orders that cider in abundance must be provided to the monks of Oviedo by an anniversary means.
At the Visigothic time there was a popular drink that responded to the name of sicer and which, in certain way, could approach the modern version. The term cider, showed in its old meaning of sizra, appears for the first time in Castilian Literature in the work of Gonzalo de Berceo, “Life of Santo Domingo of Silos”, written in the XIII century.
It is probable that Berceo and “Las Partidas” already refer to a similar drink than the Asturian, whereas previously, especially the Biblical documents include under the same denomination another type of fermented drinks. In the XIV century we have already documentary references on the importance of the cider and its effects. What indeed seems proven is that in Asturias, as of the VIII century the cider was broadly well-known and consumed.
In the Low Middle Age, during XII and XIII centuries the exploitation of apple trees becomes the biggest economic source of Asturias.
- The Avilés´s Treat (year 1115) says: “toth omne, qui pane aut sicere to aver vender, vendalo”, to those to whom cider can be offered, be so
- In 1280, in the testament of Anas Petrus says that it must be given by his soul 20 portions of bread and cider.
In the Modern Age much cider is not consumed since the apple trees were not cultivated, due to the food shortage that prioritizaba other first necessity crops, but it is present in the celebrations throughout those years in Asturias.
- In 1622 Luís de Valdés (Avilés) writes: “…A lot of apple cider is made and there are men who make one hundred tanks of cider, that in Castile is called apple wine, and each tank contains forty jugs, each jug eight of azumbre. It is worth 16 maravedies (old Spanish currency) the azumbre. One is sweet like honey, another is similar to wine and some do not feel the lack of wine with it.
- In 1635 P. Maestro Gil González Dávila writes in its Ecclesiastical Theater of the Saint Church of Oviedo: “…It is abundant of pears, apples, of what cider is made…”
The expansion of the apple tree was favoured by the ascent of the price of the cider, as thwell as the outstanding role played by the recently created “Sociedad de Amigos del País de Asturias” that spread new harvesting methods among the farmers. Testimony of this growth are the more than 6,000 cider tanks that were produced in Villaviciosa. Without a doubt this was possible thanks to Don Jose Antonio Caunedo Cuenllas’s advice (1725-1802).
In the XVIII century the consumption takes off thanks to the resurgence of the Asturian economy. As example we have is a letter of one our most famous illustrated men, Jovellanos (1744-1811) that in point 33 says: “…this is the apple from which excellent cider is produced…” Jovellanos writes also: “…the orange orchards of Asturias and still many meadows and heredades became appletreesby the increase of the cider prices..”
In 1785 the priest of the Parish of Amandi, Antonio Cauredo Cuenlles wrote to Leon with peculiar instructions on the elaboration of the cider, among them one of “mixed” several apple varieties to obtain a good cider. He comments also: “…given the delicacy of the fruit of Villaviciosa the reason of being superior to other coming from Biscay or England..”
In the XIX century other products like vinegar or cognac and the famous sparkling cider were elaborated
Palacio Valdés (1853-1938) says: with the apples in a pile was necessary to wait for the press-house to be cleaned; press, bobbin and barrels to be reviewed and all this to start the manufacture of the cider.
It is interesting to observe how at this moment the cider had already become a drink of strong popular implantation. Such implantation will increase: good example is the reinforcement of the espichas (traditional calebration of the first cider coming out of the press-house) from beginnings of the XIX century.
Finally we can say that in the XX century the cider consumption finally consolidates.
History of Cider II
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.