Fall may have just officially arrived Thursday evening. But for New England’s most notable cider doughnut enthusiast, the best part of the season has been in full swing for weeks.
Alex Schwartz, known to legions of fans online as the “Cider Donuteur,” has already begun making pit stops at many of the region’s apple cider purveyors.
The 35-year-old’s crowd-sourced New England Cider map, which gained widespread attention last fall, now includes a whopping 310 locations that make and sell cider doughnuts — 50 of which he’s visited himself.
Since his journey to find the best doughnuts kicked off last year, the popular map has been viewed nearly 2.5 million times.
Now that he’s a seasoned explorer and expert on all things fried and sugar-coated, he’s sharing some more insight about his process and urging fans of sweater season to expand their horizons.
Schwartz recently moved from Cambridge to southern Maine, so he’s become familiar with the flavors you can find outside of Massachusetts.
“My joke is the further north you go, the earlier the doughnuts turn colors,” he said.
But it turns out he may be onto something: As you travel to higher latitudes, you can detect seasonal changes to the flavor profiles of the cider — and thus the doughnuts, he said.
Schwartz said he heard this anecdote from an 80-year-old, fifth-generation orchard owner he met on a porch swing in Maine.
“She was telling me about the fact that the early season apples make for more tart cider, and late-season apples make for a more sweet cider,” he said. “So it may be partially true.”
Go off the beaten path
The less subtle differences, though, can be found in the character of the orchards themselves. Away from populated urban areas, the plots of land dedicated to apples get bigger, less crowded, and — in his opinion — more charming.
“You get what I would call a classic homey feel the further out you go,” he said. “So the chances you’re going to walk into a farm store and they’ll have the actual orchard owner who’s in their 80s making cider doughnuts, and they’ve been doing it for 40 years, that percentage increases as you go more out there into rural areas.”
Don’t get him wrong — he’s not knocking the orchards near cities, he said. But some of the more famous spots can get too crowded for his taste.
“And then you go to a farm off the beaten path and there’s one person working there, and they sell you a bag for 10 bucks and it’s, like, ‘Go nuts,’ ” he said.
Plan some ‘cider side-missions’
Schwartz said his hope is that the map can be used not only as a way to identify ideas around day trips to orchards, but also as a fall day-trip enhancer. Heading out for a hike? Going pumpkin picking? Getting a head start on holiday shopping? Consult his map and add a cider doughnut stop — or two, or three — along the way.
“That’s how I use it,” he said.
He hasn’t decided on a name for this method. “Doughnut dovetailing,” perhaps. Maybe “opportunistic orcharding,” or taking “asiders.” But whatever you call it, he said it’s a perfect way to transform humdrum afternoons into fall adventures.
“If you’re out in New England and doing some kind of errand out of the city, there’s a high potential that you’re near one of these tasty treats,” he said.
Enjoy some cider doughnut enhancements
Some orchards are not content to simply churn out baked goods, and are dressing their doughnuts with ice cream and other toppings. Do not miss experimental options like the hot cider doughnut sundae with a caramel drizzle you can find at Bolton Orchards, he stressed.
This year, he’s especially excited about tracking down a doughnut-ice cream combo made with a “creemee,” a frozen treat unique to Vermont that uses extra-high milk fat and typically maple syrup.
That, he said, is “fall hedonism at its best.”
And lastly, always be on the lookout for greatness
Schwartz said he’s still looking for a doughnut that can top those at Russell Orchards in Ipswich, which he claims are the best he’s had to date.
“My goal for this year is to find a new reigning champion,” he said.
If you find any promising contenders, be sure to let him know.