Sweet Apple Cider – Making The Best!

by Gary Mount

I have come full circle in my attempts to make the best apple cider that I can at Terhune Orchards. Make those two full circles. Ideas that I tried when I first started, than abandoned, then tried again in a different way are now either back in or back out. What I have found over the years is that there is more than one way to make apple cider. But, just keep to the basics and you’ll be all right.

apple_cider2What are the basics? Start with sound, ripe apples. Don’t use just one variety of apples. Look for a blend of different types. Keep everything as clean as you can. Cool the cider immediately after pressing and pasteurizing.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is, although it’s not that hard to get it wrong. One of the most common mistakes in cider making is using immature apples. Maturity in an apple means the starches in the fruit have mostly changed to sugar. Eating a starchy apple will bring out adjectives like woody, tasteless, green, or mealy.

And just what is a “sound” apple? I tell the cider makers here at Terhune Orchards that if they would not eat the apple, then don’t let it go into the cider press. No decay, no major bruises. Just that simple, but it makes a big difference.

Keeping everything as clean as possible is critical as well. It’s a lot of work. Sometimes, when we are only make four or five hundred gallons, it takes longer to clean up afterwards than to press the cider! Items to be cleaned: bin dumper, sorting rollers, apple washer, bucket elevator, apple grinder, pomace (ground up apple) tank, pomace pump, the cider press itself, press cloths, cider pumps, cider filter, storage tanks, pasteurizer, and jug filler. Using a pressure washer at 1000 psi does the trick for most items.

Finally, there is cooling. Each of our four hundred gallon storage tanks has its own two horsepower cooling system. Good quality cider is made without preservatives. At warm temperatures, fermentation starts quickly. Refrigeration (as close to 32 degrees as possible) is essential.

That’s about it — except for the actual blend of varieties that we use. Each cider maker has a preference. The exact mix usually changes over the season and is not often divulged. Asking is like asking a Maine lobsterman where he catches his lobsters. Ey-yup!

The more I learn about making cider, the more I realize that the basics count. I keep trying new ways to get at the basics–this year we will debut a plan for cider quality and safety. I have worked this out in conjunction with the US FDA and the New Jersey Department of Health at a seminar sponsored by the New Jersey Horticultural Society, of which I am treasurer. This plan should go a long way towards keeping Terhune Orchards Apple Cider the very best.