Oviedo: City of Cider

applesThey say peacocks live in the trees that line the palace-strewn squares of Oviedo — and there’s certainly no shortage of the strutting birds down on the ground. It seems a fitting touch for a wealthy and sophisticated city that’s long-been the capital of what’s now the principality of Asturias in northern Spain. Highlights include the usual banquet of convents, churches and museums, but I was interested in a less high-minded attraction on Calle Gascona, a pedestrian street crammed with sidrerias, or cider houses, an Orviedo specialty.

photos courtesy of Turespana
photos courtesy of Turespana

Sidreria Tierra Astur (http://www.tierra-astur.com) is  a lively  restaurant, with a small store at the front offering local specialties. Giant hams dangle over tantalizing circles of cheese, and Asturias is, I learned, indeed a paradise for turophiles — cheese-lovers. Tempting, but not suitable for carting about in a carry-on suitcase with another week to go.

Never mind, I’d get my fill here. We sat on long benches, eagerly awaiting trays of appetizers. Boar pate, anchovies, olives, chorizo . . . .  Heaping bowls of lethally-smooth sangria, too, were on offer, but I was saving myself for the several varieties of sidra natural, made from naturally-fermented apples. More than anything, I think, I looked forward to the attendant theatrics.

In a bravura performance, the waiter holds a glass at arm’s length, as low as it will go. In his other hand, he brandishes a bottle, also at arm’s length, way over his head. Without looking, he pours a sparkling stream from on high. The cider splashes on the side of the glass and  he hands it to you with a flourish. This technique, escanciada, oxygenates the ‘still’ cider, but only for a few seconds, so you are meant to down it quickly to keep it aerated.

Because it is unpasteurized and unfiltered, the cider is slightly cloudy. I took a few sips: it was dry and delicately-flavored, and since it is only 4-6% alcohol, I didn’t anticipate seeing flocks of peacocks on the way home.

This is a sociable tradition, so you are supposed to leave a bit of the libation at the bottom, then toss the dregs onto the straw-covered floor to sterilize the rim of the glass. Apparently, it works. Others think, however, that the habit stems from the Celtic belief in returning to the earth a portion of what came from it. Either way, this is one custom I won’t repeat at home.  At least not until summer arrives and I can practice outside. Information: www.spain.info

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