Cheddar Gorge

Cheddar cheese apparently comes from Cheddar, England, or something like that. I’m not too sure, but my turophile friend Diana Pittet has a thing for Cheddar that exceeds socially-acceptable bounds for woman-cheese love.

Hanging out with Diana normally just involves a passing mention of cheese, or even her pulling out a couple parchment-paper wrapped treasures that I’m always happy to eat. But lately she’s gone further, and has been working in various parts of England making cheddar cheese. We met up for a 4 day vacation in the heart of Cheddar-country.

Traditional English Countryside

We stayed in Wells, the smallest city (meaning it has to have a Cathedral) in England, drove around the amazing countryside, and even hiked the rim of Cheddar Gorge. The gorge, just above the town of Cheddar, is so steep you forget you’re in England. You only get an idea of the vertical drop when you see the car in this picture, just visible by Diana’s knee.

After hiking Cheddar Gorge, and avoiding the painfully touristy caves and cheese shop (no real Cheddar available) we hit the other attraction Somerset is famous for – the cider.

American readers will be thinking of cloudy apple juice, but in England cider means the alcoholic fermented pressing of cider apples. And it’s often really, really good. I confess, English beer doesn’t do it for me. You drink enough Deschutes Brewery (Oregon) or Dog Fish Head (Maryland) and you don’t want any more bland, tacky English pints. But the cider in the UK blows away most of what we have in the states, and I should know, as a good friend is involved with a traditional cider maker in Oregon, Wandering Aengus Ciderworks.

So we hunted down what turned out to be an amazing, local cider maker. And I do mean local. His guests included some die-hard cider drinkers. Patrons simply show up, takes a glass, fill it up from one of two barrels (dry or sweet) and proceed to get drunk. Payment is at your discretion, and left with farmer Wilkins or somewhere on the table. It doesn’t get better than this.

Here’s farmer Wilkins filling up a barrel of cider. And yes, that’s a giant hose pumping cider.

And what do you do when you pump it? This is a man who, by his own reckoning, used to drink 20 pints a day of his own cider in his younger years, and is proud he ‘never got the shakes in the morning’. Well, you test it. Test it again, even if you just tested it. And then drink the rest.

An impressive man. And while I’m not sure he’s into facebook, it’s certainly into him. His Facebook fan club has over a thousand followers!

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