The first time I heard about Grazed Knee Cider was when I saw an advert on Facebook. They were ‘a-peeling’ to Isle of Wight residents for local apples to make their cider which they would happily swap for fresh apple juice. I thought it was a fantastic idea and sums up the Island community life or at least what I hope it will be one day – “have you got too many apples to know what to do with? I’ll take them and juice them for you, keeping a few for myself”. The Isle of Wight needs to be a community that works together. A favour exchanged for a borrow, a payment made in produce instead of cash. That is how communities grow and become stronger. All the people benefit in their own way and everyone is linked to a network of people they call on when they need something and who may call on them, if they too are in need. It was safe to say Grazed Knee had piqued my interest with their ingenuity and had made a positive and exciting first impression.
The first time I had contact with Helen and Katherine was in December 2020. We had just launched our new shop for Eat Street and were putting together beautiful hampers of handmade goodies. Our ‘ultimate hampers’ consisted of everything you needed for a lavish Christmas with a twist and were for sale at £160. It was a big hamper and great value but nonetheless it was a lot of money we were asking so we wanted to ensure we did it justice and packaging it in a cardboard box seemed underwhelming. I had toyed with the idea of building wooden boxes but I just didn’t have the time or inclination during that busy period. I put out an ad for old shipping crates and apple boxes online and contacted a few farms with no luck. Then I remembered Grazed Knee. I sent them an email and as luck would have it Katherine came back to me and said they had some vintage apple crates that they could sell us as they didn’t use them much. A bit tatty but available. We were pushed for time and were happy of this break so snapped them up and went to Ventnor to find them!
We parked up and spent a few minutes walking around trying to find the place, unsure if we were in the right area even. It was on the industrial estate on Old Station Road and just didn’t feel like it was the home of a cidery. We finally found it round the back of another building and discovered the large doors, ajar slightly. I called out and we made our way in. The cave was like a tardis, much bigger inside and hard to believe it existed behind the 19th century quarry wall.
Somehow I was expecting a bearded young guy with tattoo sleeves and a leather apron. Helen and Katherine seemed an unlikely duo for such a trendy brand but actually they are in many ways much cooler then the expectation. They are in fact, a married couple who shared an interest and vision and had had the gumption to go for it and turn it into a reality. A couple of pals who instead of talking about making their own cider actually do it and have made a business from it! A chance ‘grazed knee’ on a cycle ride had led to a lightbulb moment and eventually to this cave hidden round the back of Ventnor industrial estate. Instead of forever pondering if they could manage it whilst ‘backseat brewing’ they bit the bullet and started growing some trees to make cider!
One thing I am always moaning about is a lack of identity with some brands. Trading names pop up and seem to have no relevance to the product, company owners have muddled viewpoints or contradicting messages. Even if you didn’t know the story behind Grazed Knee and that troublesome bike ride, the name still works! It conjures images of climbing apple trees as a child, falling and grazing or scratching on the branches and thorns in the bramble bushes. As a child these scratches and grazes were part of the adventure and symbolizes a time with no worries or cares, no bills or responsibilities. Just “how late can we get away with staying out and what adventures will tomorrow bring?” It is comforting and feels like home, exactly what you want from a beverage!
On the same lines of childhood nostalgia, I decided to make an old classic dish using the cider and opted for the ‘Island Time’, a bottle conditioned dry cider. I used to make a ‘Huntington Fidget pie’ with my Dad when I was a child and thought it was great fun, although I suspect the name had a lot to do with it at the time. It turns out it was not the only fidget or fitchett pie but there is also a Shropshire version and a Cheshire one. In fact these pies were made all over the midlands and were a version of the Cornish pasty or the Lancashire hot pot – a working men’s pie consisting of meat and pastry. A fidget pie consists of apples, bacon and cider with a pastry lid. Perfect to try the Grazed Knee brew out! Look out for the recipe at the bottom of this blog post. First, I had a chat with Helen from Grazed Knee and asked a few questions –
Grazed Knee – Our Story
As you’ll have read on our bottle, this is the story of how Helen and Katherine started making cider. Once upon a bike ride, a gravelly puddle caused a tumble. Recovering from the graze over a glass of local cider, we wondered whether we too could produce something as delicious. We located a plot surrounded by the Isle of Wight’s outstanding natural beauty, planted an orchard, assembled our cidery in a cave under St Boniface Down, gathered knowledge and friends and got down to work. Grazed Knee Cider was born. We planted the first trees in 2015, made our first trial cider in 2017, acquired and fitted out our current workshop in 2019, which is in a cave under St. Boniface Down, and started to sell our first nano-batch in 2019.
What is unique about your cider?
Cave crafted cider made from Island grown apples, Island fermented, Island processed and Island matured. Where does it start? — Good Cider starts with apples, great apples.
So we started our cider journey first by planting an orchard here on the Island. After a lot of research into the types of apples we wanted to grow, we found that there are apple varieties which originated right here on the Island, so we started our collection with these and then orchard grew from there to a size which is happily managed by just the two of us. It’s always tempting to add more though.
Our orchard is planted with local island apples such as the IOW Pippin, Nettlestone Pippin, Howgate Wonder, Bembridge Beauty, Sir John Thornycroft and, most recently, Little Pax, as well as traditional cider varieties with wonderful names like Slack Ma Girdle, Porter’s Perfection, Cider Lady’s Fingers, Sops in Wine, Hangy Down, Brown Snout and Sheep’s Nose.
Most of our 250 trees, 60 varieties, are on vigorous rootstock, which means they can grow up to 8m+ high. They were planted on a well-spaced hexagonal pattern, giving them plenty of space to grow into a low intervention, chemical free, low carbon footprint biodiverse traditional orchard.
Until our trees are fully grown and producing, we have supplemented our crop with apples donated by Islanders West to East, which we hand pick and take back to the cave, swapping our pressed apple juice for their apples. Each apple contributes to the flavor and complexity of the cider to come, telling the story of its place, the Island.
The apples are then pressed, naturally fermented using wild yeasts and matured in our cave, where the stable temperature (relatively cool in summer and warmer in winter) is perfect for storing the finished cider.
And as part of the island’s circular economy, the spent apple residue left from the pressing, known as pomace, is given to local pig farms. The pigs love it and hopefully it makes for tasty meat.
Because we are small scale – designed and developed to be so, we only sell to island outlets to visitors looking for something Island Grown, certified as such by the Wight Marque award, and to locals, who know something good when they taste it.
How has the cider industry changed over recent years and has it been affected by the increased popularity of craft beers and small batch brews?
The cider business was reinvigorated 30 years ago by the ad campaigns of Magners/Bulmers, introducing more people to a product produced from fermented apple juice. The big producers manufacture on an industrial scale striving for consistency and reliability from year to year.
The explosion in craft beers and nano-batch beers has opened people’s eyes to focus more on how the product is made and what goes into the product. This in addition to today’s quest for local good quality and authentic products has seen a huge rise in interest in craft cider.
Unlike beer, and more like wine, craft cider production is seasonal, as we harvest apples when they’re ripe, juice them, then the natural wild yeast starts the slow fermentation. Once the fruit sugar’s turned to alcohol, the cider matures; all sorts of magic takes place before it’s ready to drink. For us, there’s no rushing the once-a-year process, the taste depends on the apples, the land, the weather, perhaps a little intuition and skill from us.
As people start to explore these craft ciders, they are starting to understand and look forward to the fact that cider doesn’t have to be consistent year to year, as long as it is good. And that is all part of the joy, the adventure, of small batch craft cider. If you are a commercial cider drinker, you may find craft cider a bit more challenging. Take your time, ease into it, taste the chalk hills, the green green pastures and smile.
What is your favourite cider from your range?
Helen likes the bone dry still Spell Unker. It’s got a fresh bright acid forward taste, apple-y citrus-y flavour that goes well with most meals. Katherine’s keen on Island Time, with its natural bubbles produced by bottle-conditioning rather than forced carbonation. For bottle conditioning, we bottle cider that has a low level of sugar, either added or residual from partial fermentation in the batch, which then ferments to produce more carbon dioxide captured and absorbed by the cider in the bringing a delightful, lovely sparkle zinging on your tongue, perfect for a summer’s day at the beach.
Have you cooked anything creative using your cider?
We love our cider with BBQ sausages in the summer, in slow cooked stews, with cheese before dinner.
The lovely snap of tartness in Spell Unker pairs nicely Spanish style food like chorizo.
Cider with pork is always a perfect pairing, justifiably a classic. As a farmer’s drink, it’s not surprising that cider goes well with farm food. Try it with home grown grilled squash or any of your summer’s veggies.
Or try using it as a mixer in a cocktail. A good cocktail is sloe gin, a few drops of Angostura bitters and Island Time.
This winter we created a cider for mulling. We sold this with spices for steeping and instructions for the perfect drink for surviving the cold weather. It was on sale at The Travelling Tavern down at Freshwater Bay and went down a treat warming the cockles of the hearts of walkers after a hike up Tennyson Down.
What is next for Grazed Knee?
We spend a lot of time in the cave experimenting with our cider, blending, mixing. We are currently perfecting a small batch PetNat (petillant naturel) cider bottled with residual sugar, made by minimal intervention with no added yeast, sugar nor water.
We are so ready for cafes and restaurants to reopen, so that we can get our cider into more places in time for the nice weather.
What is the importance for you in people buying from local producers such as yourselves?
We hope we can introduce more locals to cider from apples grown on our little island and match this with local food, surrounded by the beautiful environment and also give visitors something to remember of their trip so they’ll want to come back for more.
What makes the best type of apple for cider?
Like wine, cider is best made from a blend of apples, getting the balancing act just right for acidity and depth, aroma and taste. Being so deeply connected to the growing process right through to the bottling allows us the luxury of time to watch the trees and learn which apples produce the perfect combination of complexity, tannins and acidity.
Also like wine, there are some cider apples that naturally seem to grow with a perfect balance to create a lovely single variety cider, mostly famously Kingston Black. While we patiently wait for our apple trees to produce their magic, for the weather to be perfect, for the pollinators to drop by, time will tell us if a single variety cider will be on the cards for Grazed Knee Cider.
Recipe – Fidget pie
250g plain flour
160g softened butter
Pinch of sugar
1tsp of Island Time cider
- Mix the flour with the salt and sugar and rub in the butter with your fingertips until fully absorbed.
- Add the egg and cider and mix well until you have a dough
- Knead the dough a few times until smooth
- Wrap in paper and rest in the fridge for several hours to firm
500g streaky bacon, chopped
200g onions, sliced
500g cooking apples, peeled and chopped
150ml Island Time cider
1 egg for eggwash
Oil for cooking
- Add a little oil to a hot pan and fry the chopped bacon and onions to colour slightly
- Add the apples and cook for a few minutes more.
- Add the cider and remove from the heat then leave to cool. Add a little pepper if preferred but don’t add any salt as the bacon will be salty enough
- When cool place into a suitably sized dish and then roll out some pastry to cover
- Cut 4 slits from the centre and fold back little triangles to expose the filling in the middle of the crust
- Eggwash the pastry and bake at 200C until golden and flaky
- Serve with veg and…..well cider of course