Terry Bradshaw Vermont Calais, VT Orchard-Crafted Hard Cider in the New American Tradition

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Considerations for Operating a Commercial, Non-HACCP Cider Mill in Vermont

 

 

Juice for Cider

It cannot be stated enough that good cider is made from good apples.   While any fresh juice will ferment out into cider, some apples will make a better finished product than others.

I (and many others) am of the opinion that a slow fermentation produces the best ciders.  Fruit from well-fertilized orchards may have excess nutrients in their juice that allow for a rapid fermentation.  For this reason I prefer to juice fruit from unmanaged wild or farmhouse trees or from trees where nutrition, especially nitrogen, is held off a bit. That said, most commercial orchards do not tend to over-fertilize and juice from their fruit can make good ciders given some other techniques to help slow the ferment.

Clean fruit are important to cidermaking as well.  Because the apples are ground and squeezed we are not talking about cosmetics here, but rather crap in or on the fruit.  Any rotting or severely bruised fruit should be tossed to the pigs, because they make a lousy cider and carry all sorts of bacteria and other microorganisms that can foul up your best cidermaking efforts.  I will not press nasty fruit, period.

Finally comes the subject of fruit variety.  There are numerous apple varieties that make good cider, and the variety can be very important based on the style you are looking for.  Generally the standard US commercial varieties are not considered to make a good cider on their own.  Included in this list would be Red Delicious, Fuji, Gala, McIntosh, and Cortland.  They just don't have the complexity of flavors needed to hold up after fermentation.  Consider that when fermenting the juice you are removing the sugars, so the underlying flavor profile behind the sweetness alone needs to stand on its own.  My first cider, and all-McIntosh squeeze, was pretty bad; thin, insipid , and with a funky aroma. On the other hand I have tasted ciders made primarily from Cortlands by Quebec cidermaker Claude Jolicoeur that were exquisite, and some of the best I've ever had.  This goes to show that juice and technique combine to make the cider.

Generally the best ciders are made from blends  rather than single varieties.  Fruit can be grouped into sweet, aromatic, tart, and astringent and a general blend of those used for cidermaking.  Proulx and Nichols have a good chart outlining the principles of this blending.  While we can often find sweet, tart, and aromatic apples in our standard varieties, it is the astringent part which is hard to find.  This character refers to the tannin level of the fruit which helps develop mouthfeel and body in the cider.  Think of the drying sensation of a cup of unsweetened tea, or a full-bodied red wine. Many cidermakers use wild or cultivated crabapples in their blends to get this flavor, maybe 5-10% of the total squeeze.

Another entire class of fruit is the European cider apples from France, England, and Spain.  These fruit are generally grown specifically for cidermaking, as they taste bad to horrible fresh off the tree.  They are classified by tannin and acid content and tend to have high levels of fermentable sugars.  While grown fairly extensively in their countries of origin, these fruit are fairly rare in North America.   Growing interest in real ciders, both commercial and amateur, are creating a growing demand for these fruit which need to be tested in many of the locations they are being planted.  One of the best sources for cider trees is Cummins Nursery, and cider fruit (at least in my neck of the woods) can be had from Poverty Lane Orchard.  I am growing a section of these fruit in my orchard to be used in my own ciders as well as the blends I offer to other cidermakers.

Cider blends are one of the primary areas for experimentation amongst cidermakers.  I use and offer juice from numerous sources and varieties to make real ciders that can truly stand on their own.

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All material Copyright Terence Bradshaw 2006-2013

terryb at lostmeadowvt dot com