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Fruit and Cider Talk from Calais, Vermont. Maintained by Terry Bradshaw, fruit guy.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

His is a pressing business Calais man says making the mash is 'kind of a Zen thing'

His is a pressing business Calais man says making the mash is 'kind of a Zen thing'

From the Barre Montpelier Times Argus,
September 20, 2007
photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur/Times Argus

By Mel Huff Times Argus Staff

CALAIS – Terry Bradshaw, wearing a neoprene apron over his T-shirt and jeans, dumps a box of apples into the top of his apple grinder and pushes them toward the hopper. When they are all ground, he pours a bucket of the pulp into a press box, lays a cloth over it, fits a wooden rack and cloth on top and adds another bucket of ground apples, layer after layer.

Even before Bradshaw tightens the press, juice begins to bead on the cloth and run into the box.

"Aside from the noise of the grinder, it's kind of a Zen thing," Bradshaw says of the art of cider making.

By profession, Bradshaw is a research specialist for the University of Vermont's "apple team" and assistant director of the UVM Horticultural Research Center. He grew up on a dairy farm in Chelsea.

"I had virtually nothing to do with apples," he says, "but I knew I wanted virtually nothing to do with cows." He started working in the UVM orchard as an undergraduate and found he had a knack for it.

For six weekends this fall, starting Sept. 22, Bradshaw will sell fresh juice from Lost Meadow Cider Mill at his home off County Road in Calais. Although he squeezes a small quantity of sweet juice, his main product – blends of fermenting stock for making hard cider – is the result of a hobby gone wild.

Bradshaw got interested in cider-making a dozen years ago when he read a book by Annie Proulx ("the Annie Proulx") and Lew Nichols called "Sweet and Hard Cider." He says most people think of making cider in the same terms as brewing beer, but Bradshaw maintains the process has more in common with wine-making: "The same rules apply. The best ciders are made in the orchard." He discusses apple varieties in terms of acid balance, tannin and "mouth feel."

Although Bradshaw's hard ciders have won national awards, he doesn't sell them; he just makes them for himself and his friends. What he sells is fermenting stock for the home-brewing market. Bradshaw notes that the market for making hard cider is smaller than that for beer or wine. People have the impression that cider is "sweet, fizzy woodchuck stuff."

Bradshaw blends his fermenting stocks from apples grown specifically for cider-making. To a base of domestic apples, he adds bittersweet or bitter sharp varieties like Foxwhelp, Ellis Bitter, Yarlington Mill, Chisel Jersey and Dabinett. Many of the varieties he uses, like Kingston Black – a dry, sharp, garnet-red British apple – are European.

"Old-timers throw a certain amount of crab apples into the mix," he says. He'll use them this year because the crop is so good. And he might add some wild roadside apples. "I can tell with my palate what's going to make decent cider," he says.

Bradshaw's own orchard, 28 dwarf trees and two rows of nursery stock that he grafted himself, is dedicated to varieties for cider-making, which he says are inedible. They are drier and sharper in flavor than table apples. He supplements the fruit from his orchard, which is just coming into production, with apples he buys from Vermont and New Hampshire growers. He uses only fresh, tree-picked fruit – no falls or fruit that has been in cold storage.

"The hard-cider movement goes back hundreds of years in Europe and even a couple hundred years in North America. My great-grandfather used to make cider and my grandfather used to make a barrel once in a while – he was a teetotaler, but he made it for the farm help," Bradshaw says. But now, "Most people have forgotten what cider is. When they think of cider, they think of something sweet and fizzy that comes in a six-pack and tastes like apple juice."

People ask Bradshaw why, since his work life is filled with apples, he has chosen cider-making as a hobby. He says he likes preserving the history and culture of the craft and, "I found a way to take the science of the thing I know how to do and turn it into an art."

Apple juice flows from the press through clear tubing and swirls around the walls of a 7-gallon glass jug as Bradshaw opens two bottles of fermented cider. "These are two very different styles, both European styles," he says. He pours the first into flute glasses for visitors. "This is a dry, British-style cider, bitter sharp." He aged it in his cellar for two years.

"This is completely different style," he says, pouring a sweet Norman dessert cider.

Bradshaw observes that cider-making is just beginning to find a following in this country; it's where the micro-brew movement was 25 years ago, after Jimmy Carter signed a bill legalizing home-brewing. "This is cheaper and easier than beer," Bradshaw says, watching the glass jug fill. "The home brewer can't make beer as good as you can buy. The cider-maker can make a product that you can't buy."


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