Meet Polly Hilton – Co-Founder of Find & Foster Fine Ciders
Malus Magazine asked me to write a feature about Britain’s Cider Women so I sent the same questions to several of the UK’s leading orchardists, cider makers, advocates, and retailers. I did not have room in the magazine feature to include all their responses and did not want to waste their fascinating comments, so I have posted them individually on this blog. I asked them not to be modest in their answers because I was ‘bigging’ them up for feature.
For the feature, I cast the interviewees in an imaginary film called ‘Sisterhood of Cider, The Movie’ so please meet Polly Hilton, The Saviour.
What is your role in cider?
I founded Find & Foster Fine Ciders in 2015 and continue to run it with the help of my husband Mat.
What does your work entail?
My work is incredibly varied, which is one of the reasons why I love it.
I make champagne method, keeved, pet nat and still ciders, so all of the cider making this entails, from disgorging to bottling as we do all of this by hand.
We work with farmers to help breathe life back into the traditional orchards on their farms; to prevent further decline and the extinction of important local apple varieties and work to turn their orchards into balanced, biodiverse ecosystems that thrive with wildlife and require minimal intervention. So we graft, top work, plant and prune apple trees.
Our most useful and most sustainable tool for managing the orchards we foster is a flock of Shropshire sheep we’ve grown over the years, so some days I am a shepherdess, which may involve herding sheep to move them between the orchards, lambing, assisting my husband Mat with shearing etc etc!
I design my labels so sometimes my work involves drawing, painting and designing.
We hold events like cider & crepe nights at our cider house in beautiful Huxham Barns, so sometimes my role is front of house or events organiser.
During harvest I spend months on end handpicking and pressing apples from early morning into the night.
If you were to be nominated for an award for your ceaseless work for cider why should you win it?
When I first started researching the decline of orchards in Devon it became apparent that there were many orchards in very poor condition and that they had lost their purpose – their owners lacked the incentive/ time/ money/ skills/equipment to look after them. One of the reasons I wanted to start Find & Foster was because I saw that in order to save orchards it was essential to make doing so economically sustainable.
I looked into how to make this possible and how to communicate the value of the fruit grown in these orchards. I quit my job and asked orchard owners in the Exe valley if they would like me to look after their orchards for them and use the fruit, (which they hated see going to waste,) in order to make something to sell and thus make the orchards pay for themselves. I had an overwhelmingly positive response so I learnt how to manage orchards and make cider. Two years later, thanks to the fine cider company my ciders were on wine lists in Michelin star restaurants.
I think I should win the award because I’m determined to show people that fine cider should be appreciated in the same way that fine wine is, (I’m always really happy to hear from retailers and sommeliers that people have chosen my cider over Champagne and sparkling wine and now prefer it,) and because I have helped to reveal the quality potential of the orchards we work with in Devon and prevented them from falling into disrepair and being forgotten.
If you have a favourite apple what is it and why?
Veitches Perfection – has all the flavour and aromatic qualities of a russet but has been breed to look more beautiful than a russet so has a lovely red/orange blush. It was bred in Exeter by the Veitch family.
What slogan should be on cider t-shirts?
Think Outcider The Box