Lottery-funded Research Project Unearths Cider Only Found in Wales

One of the main aims of the project – called The Heritage of Orchards and Cider Making in Wales – is to record the DNA traits of Welsh Heritage cider and perry fruit to produce a detailed online catalogue of what exists in the country. 

But thanks to the National Lottery, while listing the discoveries the research unveiled something never found before.

“The DNA investigations involve us collecting fresh leaves in the spring, and then sending them to be tested and compared to the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent,” said Jayne Hunt, Heritage Project Manager at the Crumlin-based Welsh Perry & Cider Society.

“We have a museum orchard just outside Llanarth, near Abergavenny, from where some of the leaves were collected, while others are found across the country.

“The DNA results have confirmed that 12 cider apples and nine perry pears within the museum orchard are Welsh, and a further 22 unique varieties have been identified from elsewhere in Wales that were not registered with Brogdale’s database before, and we believe to be found only in Wales.

“It’s incredibly exciting for us. The project has unearthed far more unique varieties than we ever expected – fruit that is probably found only in Wales, and which has never been recorded.

“For cider lovers with a patriotic streak, it could be just what they’re looking for.”

Alongside the DNA results, the Society is also conducting single variety fermentation trials on the unique trees to assess their cider and perry potential. These will take place at the Welsh Perry & Cider Society’s annual festival held at Caldicot Castle later this month.

As well as recording the DNA history, the project is working with 14 community groups in Wales to regenerate old orchards and to possibly identify areas to plant new trees, as well as providing training, event support, and installation of interpretation details. They will also get biodiversity management plans.

Another part of the project sees the USW-based George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling (GEECS) research centre collecting stories about the modern cider-making tradition in Wales. 

“The stories we have reveal the people behind the tradition. We have collected stories about the many ways people’s lives are connected to their orchards and to the history of cider making in Wales,” said Dr Emily Underwood-Lee, who is leading the GEECS project.

“We’ve heard about everything from an orchard romance through to the continued use of an 1890 cider press. The stories give us a really fascinating look at the rich and fascinating story of Wales as glimpsed through the lens of cider making and orchards

“These cider-maker oral histories and stories will be available online and also through national archives, such as the People’s Collection Wales, to ensure it is accessible for future generations.”