The autumn, when most farming activity is starting to wind down for the winter, marks the beginning of the cider and perry makers’ year. Indeed the period from September to December is one of constant activity with the gathering of the fruit, extracting the juice and then storing it in suitable vessels for fermentation. In the subsequent months as the fermentation slows and then stops, there will be tasting and blending before arriving at the final product. Perry is made in a similar way to cider so let us look in a little more detail at the key elements of the cider makers’ craft.
Gathering the fruit
Sound fruit is the foundation of the final product. Getting it right therefore meant the cider maker was well on his way to a successful cider. Dirty, rotten fruit is to be avoided, even though washing can help. Cider apples are tough, though! The two main methods used therefore take advantage of this by shaking the tree by either a pole attached to the branches or a mechanised tree shaker powered by a tractor. The apples are then stored preferably in the dry to ripen further so increasing the sugar content.
Extracting the juice
When the fruit is soft – the traditional gauge was when you could make an imprint with your thumb – it is ready to be juiced. There are two stages involved. Firstly the apples are chopped up or milled into little pieces and secondly the resulting mash, or pomace, is pressed to extract the juice. Small producers essentially carry out this latter process similarly to days of yore by wrapping the pomace in cloths placed on top of each other and applying pressure to the top of the pile. The stack of pomace filled cloths is called a cheese. The cloths used were known as hairs, (as they had traditionally been made from horsehair).
Fermenting the juice
The juice is collected and stored in vessels which may vary in size from a few to many hundred gallons. There will probably be a mix of different types of apple juice but many of the specialist craft producers now make single variety ciders from one type of apple. The fermentation will rely either on the natural yeasts in the apples or have dried yeasts added. Although the main fermentation will be over in about 8 weeks the cider will continue to develop over the following months.
In the spring the skills of the expert cider maker will be required when the fermented juice from the various vessels will be blended to produce the desired cider. This is no easy task and experience of the qualities of the different varieties and a sensitive palate are needed.
Last but by no means least the cider can then be dispensed straight from the wood, bottled, bottle conditioned, bottle fermented, blended with cider brandy, distilled for cider brandy but above all enjoyed for the many different ways the fermented apple can be utilised.
Apple juice is simply the cleanest of apples, milled and pressed, then bottled and pasteurised immediately to prevent the fermentation process commencing. Apple juice can be in the bottle a week after picking the apples.