We’re deep into Autumn now, and the colours are beautiful. Outside our house, the colours of the garden have mellowed, seed heads are popping and the abundance of summer has gone.
It’s one of the most important times of year here – we keep talking about pressing apples, but this is when the magic starts. So far, Neil is about three-quarters of the way through our apple quota for the year and the press is going great guns. Our brilliant rack & cloth press gets about 140 litres of juice from a full cheese (nine layers), squeezing the life out of each layer until only a coarse, dry mash is left. We love our press, but there’s no doubt it’s the limiting factor in the pressing process, and will yield less juice per hour than the mighty belt press – a conveyor-belt type affair that squeezes juice from apple pulp on a continuous loop.
There’s something comforting about our current press though. It’s the method used to press apples for centuries, whether through cloths or straw, and although we have help from the huge hydraulic ram, the principle of juice extraction is exactly the same.
We’re not sure how many years we can continue using this press, but it’s served us well so far. The racks and cloths are an important part of the process. The racks are lattice boards, made of strips of acacia wood which is strong but flexible, able to withstand the huge pressure exerted by the press. The cloths are polyester with an open weave to allow the juice to flow freely. The cloths filter the juice to a degree, and a polyester ‘sock’ fits over the end of the pipe to further filter the juice before it ends up in the barrel. These cloths need to be washed regularly on a 90° wash to sterilise. We wash the cloths at home in our ancient washing machine and when it’s raining outside they get to dry on the drying racks in the kitchen. The kitchen is filled with the smell of apple sauce, it’s delicious, especially with the fire lit and the rain smattering the windows.
Yep, sounds a bit rude, we’ve done all the jokes…
Despite all the filtering done by the cloths, there’s still a large amount of sediment that sinks as the apple juice settles in its final IBC resting place. This sediment is left to settle until the cider is ‘racked off’ a few months further into the process, once fermentation has almost come to a complete halt. The cider is pumped from its original tank to a clean one, leaving the sediment behind. This is also called ‘taking it off the lees’. It’s a vital process when making real cider – it slows down the final stage of fermentation and protects the cider from the possibility of developing off-flavours if the lees start to break down. Our cider is left to ferment through the winter, and the first cider should be ready to drink around April or May the following year. If we have a really cold winter though, it sometimes isn’t ready until June or even July. Following this process is why craft cider is so special and why you won’t find high-volume cider makers following these practices.
We’re thrilled to have made our first delivery to Newton Farm Foods this week. It’s a wonderful farm shop with its own butchery, selling local produce at the shop and café. It’s in the heart of the beautiful village of Newton St Loe between Bath and Bristol, and is a great, welcoming destination if you’re visiting our fine area. There are some country walks around and about, and the views are breathtaking. They’re stocking our full bottle range, plus our gift packs, which make great presents for Dads and Uncles, and let’s not forget Mums and Aunties.
If you’re not in the area, all our ciders are available online, so please visit our full range at our webshop here. On Sunday 1 November, we’ll be heading for our regular spot at the Frome Independent market, alongside Field to Fire our favourite pizza guys. If you’ve never been you have to visit – it’s the best market for miles around and worth visiting Frome for the weekend if it’s a market Sunday.
In the next blog, we’ll post a few winter recipes – including our easy mulled cider, and a winter dish or two. See you next time.