Perry is a fermented beverage made from the juice of particular varieties of primitive pears. These fruit are inedible and are thought to be closely related to wild pears. Like cider, perry can be dry or sweet, sparkling or still, and it can have an alcohol content as high as 8.5 percent. Some of the finer bottle-fermented artisanal perrys have been likened to Champagne. (Perry should not be confused with ““pear cider,”” an over-sweet, industrial product frequently made from pear concentrate, often with the flavor of bubblegum.)
Traditionally made in the Three Counties of Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and Gloucestershire surrounding the Malvern Hills near the Welsh border, perry is such a geographically specific product that it has been granted PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status by the European Union. It is also in the Slow Food Presidia, which protects gastronomic heritage and traditions. More than 100 varieties of perry pear are still extant, with quaint names such as Late Treacle, Merrylegs, Painted Lady, and Stinking Bishop.
Historically a farmer would plant an orchard comprising up to six varieties of perry pears, not only for blending purposes to achieve a preferred flavor, but also to stagger the flowering period to prevent the entire crop from suffering simultaneous frost damage, and to spread the load at harvest time in late autumn. Each farm would make perry for consumption by family and farm workers, as it was a safer alternative to possibly contaminated drinking water. A perry orchard would also provide pasture underneath its boughs for sheep and cattle until just prior to harvest, to prevent the stock from eating the fallen fruit.
In recent years there has been a marked revival of interest in this traditional beverage. These days there are more than half a dozen artisan producers, although production is limited by the supply of fruit, as perry pear trees can take up to forty years to reach maturity.