On Monday Helen visited The County Ground at Taunton to attend the Taste of the West category finalists lunch. Needless to say we were delighted to discover that our bottled Red Hen cider so impressed the judges that it was awarded the accolade of Champion Cider 2015 against some stiff competition from Perry’s Cider, the legendary Dowlish Wake makers. Delicious food at the swish do including canapés, duck, and great cheese, plus the best ice cream we’ve tasted for ages – Lemon Pavlova by Orange Elephant. We don’t usually dine so well on a Monday lunchtime. Thanks to everyone who made us so welcome – we’re really overjoyed with the gong.
At the farm, Neil enjoyed a tin of soup and put together the finishing touches to the pressing set-up. The first apples came on Tuesday, five tons of early bittersweets, filling the air with that unmistakable late-September scent of cider apples. Awards are great, but the next few months is probably the most important time for Worley’s Cider – making sure the right fruit is pressed at the right time, and at its peak.
Wednesday saw the official start of pressing. Sunny day, perfectly ripe bittersweet apples, and Neil reported excellent juice content. Last year, many of the apples were ripening so fast they were clogging the pressing cloths before we could work our way through them.
Our pressing process
Here’s a rundown of our pressing procedure – we can go into more details over the coming weeks, but this is the gist of what happens to give you an overall picture.
Apples that are stored in the silos are poured into the stainless steel hopper on the outside of the pressing shed. They drop through an aperture in its base and are taken into the shed by a flighted conveyor belt set at a slight incline. The apples then drop onto a grading conveyor where the grots, rots, twigs and stones (and tennis balls!) are picked out and discarded, before the apples drop into a water bath. Helper Will controls this process, stop-starting the belts using the control panel.
The apples then bob about in the water bath at the base of the mill. Inside the mill shaft there’s a giant ‘screw’ that draws the apples upwards out of the water and henceforth to their doom. They are then hurled against a giant cheese grater that turns them into pea-sized chips of apple that are then perfect for pressing.
The chopped fruit gathers in the chamber above the press and when Neil’s ready to start building the cheese, he opens the hatch. To start building the cheese, he lays out a slatted wooden rack. On top of that lays a metal former that determines the height of each layer of fruit, and on top of the former, Neil lays a cloth turned to a 45° angle (so the corners overlap the straight sides). When the hatch is opened, out plops a measured amount of wet, chopped apple that is spread out to fill the cloth inside the former. The corners of the cloth are then folded on top of the chipped apples, and the metal former removed. Another board is laid on top, then the whole process is repeated until there are nine layers forming the apple ‘cheese’.
Neil then swings the bed of the press around and starts the hydraulic pump. It works from the bottom-up, with the pressure being applied from underneath, squeezing every last drop of juice from the cheese. It’s amazing how much juice you get from each stack. This juice is filtered into a blue barrel, and then pumped to one of our 1,000-litre fermenting tanks.
When the press has finished its work, the cloths are opened one by one, and the pomace shaken out. The pomace is pretty dry, and flat as a board, but it still contains much goodness, so it’s shovelled onto a trailer and taken for animal feed. Our fancy new conveyor for taking the pomace away is a few days from completion, so until that glorious day, we have to shovel it by hand.
There’s so much more to tell – we’ll keep updating the blog regularly during pressing and hopefully post a video or two. Look out for us at Wells Food Festival on 11th October. – it’s a great family day out – well worth travelling for, in case you’re in two minds. We’ll be there with the bar, or you can take home some of our lovely Champion Cider 2015 Red Hen bottles. Or possibly even both