Recently, cidermakers from all over Massachusetts competed in the 8th annual Massachusetts Cider Taste-Off. Sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture, the contest drew nearly 30 entries from orchards across the state to be judged by a panel of food writers and fruit experts.

What makes the best cider?

"Good, wholesome, ripe apples," says Eddie Davidian of Dividian Brothers Farm, which won first place overall. "The apples do the work; all we do is put 'em in the machine."

The "recipe" is also important. "Every batch comes out a little different," says Mr. Davidian, who says they use a lot of McIntosh apples.

What's the difference between apple juice and cider? Fresh cider is fresh, raw apple juice - with pulp - that hasn't been filtered or pasteurized.

In New England, cider has historical significance. "In Colonial times, it was the drink," says Kevin Gilmore of Fay Mountain Farm, who says they also use "a lot of Macs" in their cider.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture, cider was consumed in greater quantities than any other fruit juice in the United States up until 1930 when citrus juices became more widely available.

During the last decade, apple cider has gotten popular again. Consumers drink, on average, the equivalent of 13.2 pounds of apples in the form of cider or juice - more than three times the amount consumed in 1974.

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