Tonje's Travelogue 4: Apples that make you tipsy
In recent years, Norway and Hardanger in particular, have marked themselves on the world map as a cider destination, with several prizes in international competitions. Cider from Hardanger has become a unique brand similar to Champagne from France, and tourists flock every summer to the lush landscape around the Hardangerfjord to taste the freshest batches from local cider producers.
Earlier this year, I interviewed Joar from Aga Sideri over the phone, and it all sounded so idyllic that it was an obvious stop for Douglas and I when we were planning our summer vacation. You can read the interview here.
Having driven from Røldal, passing Folgefonna National Park, along the beautiful Hardangerfjord we got an early taste of the local offerings when we picked up a box of delicious cherries from one of the many stalls along the road. This made us even more excited to join the cider tasting, not to mention the fact we both love cider.
Hardangerfjord in Western Norway is known for vista landscapes with mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and fjords luring tourists, as well as many writers and artists, over the years. In Norway at least, the area is also known for fruit growing with apples, pears, plums and cherries all flourishing and contributing 40% of all Norwegian fruit production each year.
Before we even reached the small quay we could see an impressive looking boat which we hoped was ours. Vision of the Fjords, a beautiful electric hybrid passenger catamaran that is specially built for sightseeing in Norwegian fjords, was already docked waiting. When we boarded we were surprised that we were almost alone. This gave us ample opportunity to have another photoshoot, this time on top of the boat while we cruised in the deep blue Hardangerfjord.
The Hardangerfjord is 183 kilometers long and is Norway's second longest fjord after the Sognefjord, and the fifth longest fjord in the world. The fjord is considered to run from Halsnøy and Huglo in the west in Sunnhordland to Odda and Eidfjord in the east in Hardanger.
The actual boat trip did not take us long, and we soon saw the red building with Aga Sideri written in large white letters. Apple trees abound, stretched all the way from the fjord and 150 meters up the slope. This looked like a cider lover's dreamscape.
There was a young man painting a building (that we later found out was the new cider shop) and we asked him where the cider tour started. It soon became apparent that there had been a slight misunderstanding. He called his boss right away and it turned out that we were several hours late! Step forward our hero of the hour, Joar Aga himself, the man behind Aga Sideri, was absolutely fantastic and dropped everything to give us a private cider tasting after he figured that we were not solely at fault.
Not only did he give us a private tour at a moment's notice, he was also a champ when posing for photos and film. He really spiced up our experience with local stories and dark humor, and is oozing the inspiration that the Aga brand is based on. Joar Aga (b. 1988) grew up on Aga in Hardanger, between mountains and fjords, ancient cultural monuments and large orchards. He has also lived for many years in Bergen, and enjoys urban city life as well as the beautiful orchards of his homestead.
First, we got to taste Lagmann Sider. A fruity and slightly bubbly cider that is well suited to drink on hot summer days. Next to it, we were served beautiful and sweet brown cheese that melted on the tongue. This was a perfect combination and we were grinning (almost purring too) like Cheshire cats. The story behind the name of this cider was as follows:
Around 800 years ago, there was a stout and powerful man who lived on the farm Aga. His name was Sigurd Brynjulfsson. He was a knight, councilor and Gulatingslagmann (local judge). The cider has been named 'lagmann Sider' in his honor as before Sigurd was found headless in the fjord in 1303, he was held in high regard and thought of as a clever man with a good head! (An insight into Joar’s wicked humor).
The next cider we got to taste was called Humlepung. A stronger cider with lots of flavors that was well balanced by the hard yellow cheese we were served alongside. When Joar and his family were to take over the farm at Aga, it was with a desire to keep old traditions alive, at the same time as they brought with them new ideas and impulses. This is how the cider Humlepung began. Humlepung is a traditional Hardanger sider, added with hops. Old traditions meet new impulses.
Finally we got to taste Bøddel, a dry and even stronger cider that explodes on the palate. For this we got a very good blue cheese and we were starting to feel our cheeks become as rosy as the apples in the cider. The name of this cider also has a rather dark history behind it:
Samson Isberg (1795-1873) grew up on the farm Isberg, just south of Aga. He sought refuge from his father and stepmother, and joined the military in Bergen. In 1834 he was appointed as an executioner and would become Norway's second last executioner. Despite the gloomy professional title, Samson was portrayed as a kind-hearted and popular man. After fifteen executions, Samson retired due to old age and was quoted "it will be hard to meet them again on the other side, the people I have separated from life".
After our constant bombardment of questions and finishing the final cider Joar gave us the chance to choose another glass of our favorite. Douglas chose Executioner, and I chose Lagmann. We enjoyed the last glass as we looked out over the fjord with the authentic red barns and the fruit-heavy apple trees. Giggling and giddy we followed Joar up to the shop to purchase some bottles of our own. During the sale, Joar recommended visiting Agatunet, the home of the aforementioned Sigurd Brynjulvson. Agatunet is an Idyllic listed hamlet with 30 buildings ranging from the Middle Ages to present-day, the oldest building is over 800 years old!
Knights and peasants, government officials, hunters and homesteaders have all lived there with a courtroom, a chapel, a telegraph office, and a school among the buildings protected today. We thanked Joar so much for the great culinary experience and took Vision of the Fjords back to the harbor and the campsite where we shared an Executioner nightcap.
If you want to experience local tastes and a magnificent fjord landscape, we highly recommend the Cider tour to Hardanger! On our summer adventure in Norway, we used a car to get around. For the Cider tour to Hardanger you do not need a car as you can start the tour from Bergen. There are also shorter alternatives that start from Lofthus or Odda.
The tour includes several cider tastings in Hardanger, as well as a sustainable fjord cruise with the ultra-modern catamaran Vision of the Fjords. During the tour, you will experience an orchard-walk in Lofthus, visit the Norwegian cider champion Aga and learn more about cider and cider production in Norway. You will also be served a delicious lunch at Aga Farm!
All the best, there's more to come!
Douglas and Tonje
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