Tag Archives: tastes

Ciders give America’s favorite fruits a chance to sparkle

If you hail from the Midwest, fresh-pressed apple cider makes you think of autumn — the season where a bountiful harvest results in something a little out of the ordinary that puts one of America’s favorite fruits in a glass. 

Other parts of the world don’t feel the same, but it’s for a good reason. In the same way “football” denotes soccer everywhere but here, globally the word “cider” refers specifically to hard cider, a fresh-pressed fruit beverage that benefits from the addition of alcohol.

More and more, ciders have come into vogue as an alternative to beer, wine and cocktails. In addition to traditional apple cider, there are pear ciders, cranberry ciders and a host of other flavors. Ciders can be sweet or dry, sparkling or still and pour from a bottle, can or barroom tap.

Making cider is similar to making wine. The fruit is pressed, the juice extracted and the remaining pulp composted, used for animal feed or, in some cases, distilled into fruit liqueurs. Calvados and applejack are both distilled from cider and its byproducts.

The juice is fermented for three months before it’s bottled and ready. Sometimes extra sugar is added to make it effervescent, but that takes time and requires special equipment, bottles and corks.

The United Kingdom consumes the most cider per capita, but the beverage also has its fans in Ireland, France and northern Spain. Other parts of Europe offer their own variations on cider.

Cider can be a boutique beverage product, but all the major brewers have hopped on the wagon. MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Stella Artois, Boston Beer Co. (Samuel Adams’ brewer) and C&C Group (Magners Irish Cider) all either produce their own lines of alcoholic U.S. cider or have bought up a company that does.

Regardless of where you stand on the micro versus macro brewing argument, one thing the volume producers can offer is consistency and quality. But cider fans know there is reason to explore some of the smaller brands available throughout Wisconsin. Here are some notable ones:

As one of the newest boutique brands, Island Orchard Cider also has a Wisconsin pedigree. Milwaukeeans Bob and Yannique Purman own a farm on Washington Island, off the tip of Door County, which has its share of apple trees. That resource, combined with an investigation into Yannique’s French roots, led to the couple’s decision to produce traditional French-style ciders.

At their tasting room (12040 Garrett Bay Road, Ellison Bay) on the peninsula’s northern end, Island Orchard offers a medium dry brut apple cider whose tart fruit characteristics only get better in its oak-aged version. The pair also produces a pear and apple-cherry cider as well.

Seattle Cider, from its Washington namesake city, takes a more adventurous approach to its products. Pint cans of the company’s dry, semi-sweet and citrus hard cider can be found in most package stores. The flavors are refined and tend more toward the dry rather than sweet side. Expect a little spice here and there as well.

Some of the firm’s varieties can be harder to find. Cider Three Pepper, brewed with jalapeno, habanero and poblano peppers, is one, as is Gin Botanical, with layered flavors made from gin ingredients, including lemon, cucumber and juniper, and featuring gin-and-tonic overtones.

Sonoma Cider, from the heart of wine country in Healdsburg, California, takes the beverage in another bold direction. In addition to an apple cider (The Hatchet) and a pear cider (The Pitchfork), the cidery established by father- and-son team David and Robert Cordtz in 2013, also produces The Anvil, an organic apple cider blend aged in a former bourbon barrel.

Barrel-aging is all the rage nowadays, and Sonoma does well with The Anvil. Expect flavors of butterscotch, vanilla and honey on the palate, with apple and oak bringing up the rear.

Who wouldn’t love a cider called Original Sin? And what name would be more appropriate for a cider produced in New York City?

Cider maker Gidon Call taps orchards on the family farm in upstate New York to make the traditional dry cider, working hard to capture the notes and tones found in early American cider styles. In addition to apple, apricot, elderberry and pear ciders, Call also produces single batch ciders pressed from heirloom varietals. The line includes ciders from Newtown Pippin and Northern Spy apples, as well as Cherry Tree, a blend of heirloom apple and tart cherry ciders.

Speaking of heirloom varietals, AeppelTreow Winery & Distillery in Burlington, Wisconsin, is home to 130 heirloom apple varieties. In addition to wine and spirits, AeppelTreow also produces apple and pear ciders in the traditional pre-Prohibition style.

With such a small yield, the ciders (made by owners Charles and Milissa McGonegal) are often hard to find. But you can always visit the tasting room (1072 288th Ave., Burlington) for a sample. Charles, a chemist by trade, will be happy to tell you more about heirloom apple varieties than you ever thought possible.

Of course, not every Wisconsin cider-maker has the interest or means to get their product from the ground to the grocery store, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t great travel destinations.

Bayfield Winery (86565 County Hwy. J, Bayfield) is the state’s northern most cidery, overlooking Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Located within Hauser’s Superior View Farm, the winery produces ciders from local fruit. Look for hard-to-find flavors like blueberry, cherry, cranberry and raspberry. Arrive in the fall and you can even pick your own apples.

About a half-hour south and west of Bayfield, White Winter Winery (68323 Lea St., Iron River) was established in 1996 as Wisconsin’s first commercial mead producer. Mead-maker Jon Hamilton soon expanded to produce wine and ciders. Specialties like cyser, a blend of honey and cider, and paarynat, a naturally sparkling pear cider, make White Winter a worthy stop.

Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery (W 12266 King Lane, Stockholm) sits high on the bluffs above the Mississippi River in Pepin County. Heirloom varietals drive much of the cider production, which includes the Kingston Black Limited Semi-Sweet Cider made from apples of the same name, and Somerset Semi-Sweet Still Cider, made from Kingston Black and St. Edmund’s Russet, classic English cider apples.

Maiden Rock even produces Crabby Cider, made from zesty Dolgo crabapples, proving they have both a sense of adventure and a sense of humor.

7 sassy chardonnays to brighten your summer

We all know that summer and chilled white wines go together. And few whites are more reliable than chardonnay, one of the country’s top white choices.

The adaptable chardonnay grape has flourished in cooler as well as warmer places, such as its native southern France. When other countries discovered chardonnay, an unintended hybrid of the Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc grapes, its status and availability grew.

Once chardonnay crossed the Atlantic, the market exploded. Growers began to clear their slopes of many lesser-known varietals to plant chardonnay. Acres of historic vines and entire enological legacies were lost to make way for the upstart. The result was an eventual market glut that made chardonnay somewhat passé.

Fortunately, the varietal is regaining popularity. Consider the following seven sassy chardonnays produced by U.S. vineyards.

Winemaker Philippe Coquard does not produce his Wollersheim Chardonnay ($17) from grapes grown on his estate just south of the Wisconsin River. Instead, he contracts for a custom-grown grape from Washington State, which he uses to create a fine example of chardonnay in his winery near Prairie du Sac. 

Two-thirds of Wollersheim Chardonnay is matured in French oak barrels and one-third in stainless steel containers. The wine captures the vanilla-and-spice essence of the oak while tempering it with the cleanliness of the stainless steel. The result is a dry, crisp, clean wine with a pleasant fruitiness and subtle acidity.

California wine country has no shortage of chardonnay producers. In Sonoma County, Joseph Carr 2012 Chardonnay ($18) was made according to a method known as the Dijon clone. The grapes were cold-pressed and then the juice was aged sur lie — in new French oak barrels along with the sediment that settles to the bottom during fermentation. The result is a wine with more complex character. Carr’s chardonnay offers a nose hinting at apricot, vanilla and peach, as well as a palate with overtones of apricot, strawberries and citrus.

The Ferrari-Carano 2012 Chardonnay ($21) was made with fruit from 60 different chardonnay lots. These were cold pressed and aged sur lie in two ways — 30 percent in new French oak, 60 percent in older cooperage. The result is similar in character to the Carr wine, featuring a slightly different flavor profile of peach, lemon and a hazelnut. In neither case does the wine disappoint.

The Flowers 2011 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($41) was produced using a similar sourcing pattern, including cold pressing and a variety of oak cooperage, but with slightly different effect. The wine exhibits a slight flintiness thanks to its terroir, providing an interesting edge to its flavor profile that’s reminiscent of Honeycrisp apples. Flowers’ chardonnay also has an abundant mouthfeel and a fine acidity.

The Laguna Vineyard Ranch in the Russian River Valley has been producing chardonnay for some 40 years, and the Laguna 2012 Chardonnay ($28) was made using the same approach as the Sonoma vineyards. The wine, once again cold-pressed and oak-aged, opens with delicate notes of apple, pear and tangerine. The wine is well balanced, with supple mouthfeel and a fine lingering finish.

The winemakers at Frog’s Leap, located in Napa Valley, take a different approach, placing emphasis on the soil in which the grapes were grown. The Frog’s Leap 2012 Chardonnay ($26) was made with fruit from the Carneros district, whose soil often yields chardonnays with a more vibrant acidity. Ninety-five present of Frog’s Leap 2012 Chardonnay was aged sur lie in concrete vats, and only 5 percent of the developing wine was exposed to wood.

The Frog’s Leap profile is crisp and very clean. The acidity blends nicely with the flavors of fruit. Slate and hints of lemongrass on the nose give way to a palate of peach and citrus with an underscoring mineral quality that make this wine stand out.

Much further south, the winemakers at Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard in California’s Santa Barbara County follow similar a technique, but one that leads to yet another unique result. The Fess Parker 2012 Ashley’s Chardonnay ($28), produced from grapes harvested in Ashley’s Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills, was also barrel-aged in French oak. The wine offers aromas of pear, peach and honey that give way to a palate featuring pear, green apple and pastry crust, along with a hint of vanilla courtesy of the French oak.

Chill any of these and serve and you will quickly see the chardonnay, sassy or not, is no longer passé.

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Tomayto, tomahto: Either way it’s a nutritious summer treat

Let’s make one thing clear. A tomato, despite its uses, is botanically a fruit — specifically an ovary, together with its seeds, of a flowering plant.

However, a tomato has far less sugar than any other fruit, making it less suitable for all those tasty usages to which fruit is put. Yes, there are green tomato pies, but would you ever dollop chopped tomato over vanilla ice cream? 

Still, tomato — or “tomahto,” if you prefer the British pronunciation — is one of the botanical and culinary joys of late summer. Our garden is ready to burst with this year’s heirloom varieties, and we can’t wait to get them on our plates.

We’re waiting patiently for our Big Rainbow heirloom beefsteak variety, its yellow flesh mottled with red, to be sliced and served drizzled with olive oil and fresh basil as a succulent appetizer. Our Lemon Boys will be quartered and chunked into salads, adding their delightful flavor and colorful contrast to succulent Bibb lettuce and peppery arugula.

As to the remaining heirloom cultivars — Chocolate Cherry, Cherokee Purple and Black Krim — their colors and flavor variations will also delight us. Our garden also is home to cantaloupe, cucumber, eggplant, and both black and pimento peppers; but it’s clear that our rubyfruit jungle of tomato varieties will always be the anchor tenant.

Tomatoes, like potatoes, originated in South America’s Andes Mountains. The plant takes its name from the Nahuatl word tomatotl, and records show that by 500 B.C. tomatoes were being cultivated in Mexico. 

Although European colonists first thought tomatoes, a member of the deadly nightshade family, to be poisonous, conquistador Hernán Cortés was recorded to have taken some small yellow tomatoes to Europe in 1521. There is also evidence that Christopher Columbus may have introduced tomatoes to Spain as early as 1499.

Tomatoes are considered among the world’s healthiest foods. They’re an excellent source of the antioxidant lycopene, vitamins C and K, and a host of minerals and other nutrients. 

Our dish of sliced Big Rainbow tomatoes is, in fact, one of the healthier serving options, because olive oil helps increase the body’s absorbance of lycopene, a naturally occurring compound that has been linked to a reduced risk for cancer, heart disease and age-related eye disorders. Add a little oregano, some buffalo mozzarella cheese and dashes of pepper and sea salt and you have an insalata Caprese, one of the most popular summer salads.

Tomatoes offer nutrition and flavor without a lot of calories: A cup of chopped raw tomatoes contains only 32.

Tomatoes are delightful both raw and cooked. Here are several tasty ways to use your summer harvest.

For more tomato recipes, visit

Watermelon-peach salsa and tomatoes

If you like your summer dishes sweet and hot and your tomatoes raw, this salsa may be just the thing to get your taste buds tingling. You’ll need:


½ cup hot pepper jelly

1 tbsp. lime zest

¼ cup fresh lime juice

2 cups seeded and diced fresh watermelon 

1 cup peeled and diced fresh peaches 

1 cup chopped fresh basil

¼ cup chopped fresh chives

3 cups baby heirloom tomatoes, halved

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish: fresh basil sprigs


Whisk together pepper jelly, lime zest and lime juice in a bowl, then stir in watermelon, peaches, basil and chives. Season halved baby tomatoes with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and spoon into cocktail glasses. Top with salsa and garnish with basil sprigs.

Grilled tomatoes with basil vinaigrette

Many foods are grillable, but few fare as well as tomatoes. Here’s how to make the most of those lovely little orbs over red-hot coals. You’ll need:


3 yellow tomatoes

3 red tomatoes 

3 tbsp. olive oil, divided

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground pepper

2 tsps. white balsamic vinegar

2 tbsps. chopped fresh basil

Garnish: fresh basil sprigs


Cut tomatoes in half and thread onto skewers, alternating colors. Brush with 1 tablespoon oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over medium heat (300 degrees to 350 degrees) for 10 minutes, turning skewers often. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons oil, vinegar and basil and drizzle over kabobs. Garnish, if desired.

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What you ‘like’ on Facebook can be surprisingly revealing

Clicking those friendly blue “like” buttons strewn across the Web may be doing more than marking you as a fan of Coca-Cola or Lady Gaga.

It could out you.

It might reveal how you vote.

It might suggest that you’re an unmarried introvert with a high IQ and a weakness for nicotine.

That’s the conclusion of a study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers reported analyzing the likes of more than 58,000 U.S. Facebook users to make guesses about their personalities and behavior, and even whether they drank, smoked, or did drugs.

Cambridge University researcher David Stillwell, one of the study’s authors, said the results may come as a surprise.

“Your likes may be saying more about you than you realize,” he said.

Facebook launched its like button in 2009, and the small thumbs-up symbol has since become ubiquitous on the social network and common across the rest of the Web as well. Facebook said last year that roughly 2.7 billion new likes pour out onto the Internet every day – endorsing everything from pop stars to soda pop. That means an ever-expanding pool of data available to marketers, managers, and just about anyone else interested in users’ inner lives, especially those who aren’t careful about their privacy settings.

Stillwell and his colleagues scooped up a bucketful of that data in the way that many advertisers do –through apps. Millions of Facebook users have surveyed their own personal traits using applications including a program called myPersonality. Stillwell, as owner of the app, has received revenue from it, but declined to say how much.

The study zeroed in on the 58,466 U.S. test takers who had also volunteered access to their likes.

When researchers crunched the “like” data and compared their results to answers given in the personality test, patterns emerged in nearly every direction.

The study found that Facebook likes were linked to sexual orientation, gender, age, ethnicity, IQ, religion, politics and product use. The likes also mapped to relationship status, number of Facebook friends, as well as half a dozen different personality traits.

Some likes were more revealing than others. Researchers could guess whether users identified themselves as black or white 95 percent of the time. That success rate dropped to a still impressive 88 percent when trying to guess whether a male user was gay, and to 85 percent when telling Democrats from Republicans.

Identifying drug users was trickier – researchers got that right only 65 percent of the time, a result scientists generally describe as poor. Predicting whether a user was respectively a child of divorce was even dicier. With a 60 percent success rate, researchers were doing just slightly better than random guesses.

The linkages ranged from the self-evident to the surreal.

Men who liked TV song-and-dance sensation “Glee” were more likely to be gay. Men who liked professional wrestling were more likely to be straight. Drinking game aficionados were generally more outgoing than, say, fans of fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett. People who preferred pop diva Jennifer Lopez usually gathered more Facebook friends than those who favored the heavy metal sound of Iron Maiden.

Among the more poignant insights was the apparent preoccupation of children of divorce with relationship issues. For example, those who expressed support for statements such as “Never Apologize For What You Feel It’s Like Saying Sorry For Being Real” or “I’m The Type Of Girl Who Can Be So Hurt But Still Look At You & Smile” were slightly more likely to have seen their parents split before their 21st birthday.

Some of the patterns were difficult to understand: The link between curly fries and high IQ scores was particularly baffling.

Stillwell, designer of the myPersonality app, said revenue from it came from advertising. “I’d prefer not to say how much, but it wasn’t enough to live on,” he said.

Jennifer Golbeck, a University of Maryland computer scientist who wasn’t involved in the study but has done similar work, endorsed its methodology, calling it smart and straightforward and describing its results as “awesome.”

But she warned of what the work showed about privacy on Facebook.

“You may not want people to know your sexual orientation or may not want people to know about your drug use,” she said. “Even if you think you’re keeping your information private, we can learn a lot about you.”

Facebook said the study fell in line with years of research and was not particularly surprising.

“The prediction of personal attributes based on publicly accessible information, such as ZIP codes, choice of profession, or even preferred music, has been explored in the past,” Facebook’s Frederic Wolens said in a written statement.

Wolens said that Facebook users could change the privacy settings on their likes to put them beyond the reach of researchers, advertisers or nearly anyone else. But he declined to say how many users did so.

For the unknown number of users whose preferences are public, Stillwell had this advice: Look before you like.

The like button is “quite a seductive thing,” he said. “It’s all around the Web, it’s all around Facebook. And it’s so easy.”