No -- it's not a bottle of booze. No -- it's not a bottle of fine scotch whiskey. Although I will admit that those are some mighty fine gifts to receive for Christmas -- it's not the "good stuff" I am referring to.
It's the type of stuff that gives gardeners like the wife and I the immediate urge to run out and plant seven or eight different varieties of apples in the Back 40 of our North Natomas spread.
Gentle readers -- I give you the good stuff -- freshly juiced Clendenen's Apple Cider straight from the farm known as Clendenen's Cider Works in the Humboldt County community of Fortuna.
I know what you're thinking. Trust me -- I do. "It's apple cider, who cares?"
True -- it is cider. But it's unlike any cider Venus and I have ever tasted. One taste of this stuff is eyeball-roll-back-in-the-skull reactionary stuff. To put it short and sweet -- yeah there are a lot of apple ciders out there. But the absolute -- most amazing -- best tasting cider I have ever tasted in my life -- bar none -- comes straight to our table from the Clendenen Cider Press located inside a ramshackle barn-storefront just off Highway 101 outside of Eureka.
It's pretty simple stuff really. The Clendenen family -- which has been in the cider business for darn near a century -- picks apples from an orchard collection located just outside the back door. The apples are then sorted (I'm told) -- washed -- put onto this conveyer belt and then cut and crushed into a fine pumice.
From there -- the apples are placed into a series of racks covered with a fine cloth -- and that's when the press is started up and the good stuff flows. It's then bottled and brought out front where it vanishes as quickly as the family can put it inside a freezer.
Why that fast? One taste will tell you why. It's pure heaven.
This is unpasturized heaven at its best. That's right -- I said NO PASTURIZATION. No sugars are added. No artificial this. No artificial that. No flash this. No flash that. It's bottled and sold. The Clendenen family practice hasn't changed one solitary bit since Great Grandaddy Clendenen bought the apple farm and started selling apples.
My brother first introduced me to this "heaven in a plastic jug" when he brought some it down for Thanksgiving. Little did he know that I would confiscate said bottle and not give it back -- despite his most insistent of choke-holds. A visit to the Clendenen operation followed less than three weeks later -- where my brother arranged a meeting with Clif Clendenen -- who had just finished up a batch of his famous cider.
The following interview with Clif -- who also serves as a Humboldt County Supervisor -- shows just how closely guarded the cider secret is:
Clif: "Who are you?"
Me: "A Republican"
Clif: "We haven't seen one of those in Humboldt County in decades."
Me: "Well, maybe if I tell some people about this fabulous cider, you'll get more of us."
Clif: "Don't do us no favors."
Tongue in cheek interview aside -- Clif was quite gracious in answering every question we posed -- and still managed to not give away the details of the "family secret." The famous Clendenen Family blend is a mixture of over 25 apple varieties according to Clif -- and the family concoction is much in demand. The best variety for juicing I asked? "Upland," was Clif's quick reply.
Venus and I bought enough jugs of cider to fill a standard cooler -- which we kept well iced on the way home and into the freezer they went when we arrived. But demand -- surprisingly -- was less than stellar. I found that even the most organic of growers and consumers checked their organic street cred at the door when I offered a bottle or a taste: "Unpasturized apple juice? Thanks -- but I'll pass," many of them claimed.
You'd think I was offering them a bottle labled "strychnine," or something. No folks -- it's just apple cider -- old fashioned cider at that made the old fashioned way. The sales job didn't work. They still ran screaming in terror.
Organic only goes so far with some.
I'm pleased to report that the Clendenen family operation isn't going anwhere. The Clendenen family cider press -- which has been in operation since it was purchased in 1916 -- isn't going anywhere either. They will keep pressing their famous blend of apples. I will keep on consuming it.