The Provençals say “Qu’ a visit Paris, se noun a vist Cassis, n’a rèn vist” (“Who has seen Paris and not Cassis, has not seen anything”). The British also have a saying, “If you haven’t been to Herefordshire, you haven’t tasted great Cassis!”
Cassis has its imitators. Not the place, east of Marseille in the Bouches-du-Rhone is the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region of southern France, but the dark red drink. In the west of England.
Jo Hilditch makes her pioneering and luxurious British Cassis with blackcurrants grown on a family farm in Lyonshall.
British White Heron Cassis is the key ingredient in a Herefordshire Mule as well as a patriotic Kir Royal.
The liqueur and key component of a Champagne or Prosecco “Kir Royale” first hit the palate in 1841. It assumed the mantle of “ratafia de cassis”, a French drink which was infused with almond, peach or cherry. And not distilled. Crème de Cassis is a speciality of Burgundy.
Blackcurrants have been grown at Whitterns Farm since 1876 and grown commercially since 1953. Farmer Jo Hilditch founded White Heron Drinks and started to produce her own liqueur range. She also makes ‘British Framboise’ made with raspberries.
“At school, I studied History of Art, Italian and French and was dilettante in my studies, I ended up not going to university. I was quite pleased at the time, as actually all I wanted to do was to get to London and find a boyfriend! I travelled and worked as a babysitter, cook, tutor, driver, shopper, seamstress and window cleaner whilst on a dressmaking a course. My first actual job was working as the PA to the managing director of a large pr agency. I took over the farm when my brother died.
“As a teenager having been a blackcurrant grower for Ribena for such a long time, Cassis was the obvious solution to the surplus crop we had one year. As a teenager on French exchanges, I discovered Kir! Ours is made more like a wine, allowing the fruit flavours to really sing out and it doesn’t have the sickly sweet and cloying result like other fruit liqueurs.”
Whittern derives from “white ern” or white heron which were once bred at the farm. Freshly picked British blackcurrants are fermented naturally with champagne yeast, blended with vodka to fortify and a little sugar to bring out the intensely fruity flavours.
“Although perfect in summer drinks, Cassis can be used all year round. Used in cooking, it’s a perfect liqueur for trifles, crumbles as well as a delicious adjunct to gravies and meat dishes.”
Cassis can be served as a spritz, frappe (with shaved ice) or as an aperitif, digestif or all-purpose cocktail.
To make a Hereford Mule, you will need 25ml British Cassis, 12 Fresh blackcurrants, 60ml Vodka and some Ginger Beer.
Pour the British Cassis, vodka and lime juice into a pewter cup or highball glass over ice, then top with some ginger beer and finally garnish with a lime wedge and some blackcurrants.
To prepare a Blackcurrant Martini you will need 50ml Vodka, 25ml British Cassis and some Liquorice paint.
Pour the British Cassis and vodka into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake. Then add a brushstroke of liquorice paint to the inside of a Martini glass before straining and serving.
And finally, to prepare a Blushing Brit you will need ½ Teaspoon of Butterfly pea tea powder, 100ml Vodka, 100ml British Framboise, ½ a lime and some soda water.
For two cocktail serves, fill a highball glass with ice. Mix half a teaspoon of butterfly pea flower tea powder with two measures of vodka, shake with two measures British Framboise and then split between the two glasses and top with soda water. Squeeze half a lime into each glass and watch the colour change before your very eyes!
Kevin Pilley is a former professional cricketer and chief staff writer of PUNCH magazine. His humour, travel, food and drink work appears worldwide and he has been published in over 800 titles.
Photographs courtesy of White Heron Drinks