The Savoy Hotel in London has just started a programme to ensure it has a ready stock of fine cherries all year around. Chris Moore, head bartender at the Beaufort Bar, revealed all.

For the last five years, cherries have been my nemesis. During the season, while they are at their best, they are a joy, loaded with sweet juices and just an edge of acidity, providing a delicious flavour accompaniment to classic cocktails. Their deep, rich red colour also looks fantastic.

A sense of loathing and dread never fails to arrive every September when, without fail, we have to make that dreadful decision; which of the artificial, sugared or chemical-loaded cherries we should use to replace the sheer deliciousness of nature.

Last year this particular dilemma plagued me even more than usual. Even with the reopening of a 120-plus-year-old institution, I still couldn’t get cherries off my mind. So the trial began, sample after sample of commercially preserved cherries, each one rejected after the next. Even our purchasing department were surprised by the lack of quality available after I’d rejected upwards of 15 samples.

So I bit the bullet. We paid £120 for a kilo of Fabbri Amarena Cherries. They came much heralded – indeed, they are the cherry that Heston Blumenthal uses to top off his much-lauded black forest gateaux. With much anticipation, I prized off the lid, and, along with my back-of-house team, tried them. We were in agreement. They were disappointing. The best product we could possibly find out of season just wasn’t good enough.

So, this May I was particularly excited when the time of the year came around again where we could receive our first delivery of fresh, seasonal cherries. For the last few years I’ve favoured using a glaze to finish cherries, preserving all of the natural flavour inside, but giving them a wonderful sheen and a slightly sweet, boozy kick, made up of a mixture of Cherry Heering, sugar syrup and Angostura Bitters. The cherries seem to hold their flavour well, but always had to be kept refrigerated while they were being marinated to preserve the glaze itself.

In mid-August, that dreaded feeling returned, but this time a chance conversation with our beverage manager and executive sous chef changed everything. If we weren’t happy with the quality of the cherries that could be found during the Autumn-Winter hiatus, then why couldn’t we preserve the cherries ourselves, and control the outcome of them, thereby achieving exactly the results we wanted?

It’s a solution that our industry is embracing at the moment, and is something I’m a big advocate of: if there isn’t a product out there which fits the required flavour profile, then we make it. It’s something which is driving producers and suppliers as well, forcing them to bring out products and ingredients which we are requesting, but don’t exist. This means that there is a growing number of wonderfully produced, high quality products being brought to the market, resulting in an even higher quality of beverage than has ever been created. Hopefully this means that at some point somebody will be producing the exact type of cherry I constantly search for every winter.

There was however, a problem with the plan. We now had to consider the sheer logistics of what we wanted to create. After some simple maths, we calculated that to service two bars with the type of volumes we were thinking of, and a kitchen with an even larger output through the eight-month period we were looking at, we would need 800 kilos of cherries, enough marinade and somewhere to store them.

Following some research, we decided that to preserve the cherries, they would have to be stored in a liquid which was at least 25% abv. It would also require a reasonably high sugar content, not just for preservation, but also because the cherries would become overloaded with alcohol and inedible otherwise. Alcohol would also break down the texture too much without the presence of sugar, turning them to mush.

More simple experiments told us that for every 2kg of cherries, we needed a litre of marinade. This meant that the sheer cost of 400 litres of marinade had to be taken into account. Even if we managed to persuade the powers-that-be to buy the stock for this, we then had the issue of what to do with the hundreds of litres of liquid that would be left over once the cherries were used. For us, this last one was an easy fix. Each outlet has created a different recipe for their cherries, but the marinade we decided to use for the Beaufort Bar was simply the glazing mix we used through the Summer (Cherry Heering, sugar syrup and Angostura Bitters), fortified with Grey Goose vodka. We have a drink on our menu which calls for both vodka and Cherry Heering as its main components. We tried using a mock-up of the marinade in the drink on the menu, and, as luck would have it, it made it even better. The American Bar has created a drink especially celebrating their marinade as well.

The next part was a straight race against time, as by this point we were now in the last week of the season for cherries – obtaining 800kg of cherries was therefore going to be difficult. Our purchasing department came through in style, and took delivery of this massive order over the course of two days.

The next part was massively time-consuming. Every single cherry had to be washed, laid out and covered in a walk-in fridge to dry out for 24 hours. This dries them out slightly and prepares them for absorbing the marinade. The following day, they were weighed out and placed in to sealable glass jars, 2kg at a time. After this, the ingredients were measured out one jar at a time, sealed, and transported down to the cellar.

The results so far have been as good as we could hope, but time will only tell whether they go the full distance to eight months. We at The Savoy feel very lucky to have the space, facilities, staffing and support from a managerial level to take on a project of this scale. But most of all, I look forward to not having to embark on the endless quest for acceptable cherries out of season.

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