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How cider is made: II

Milling & pressing

It’s so easy to enjoy cider and perry it’s easy to forget just how much hard work and magic go into our favourite drinks. With a little knowledge and armed with some fascinating new facts you can start to hone your appreciation of cider and perry to the next level.

In this second installment of his series on how cider is made Gabe Cook takes us on the journey fruit makes from arrival at the cidery to juice ready for fermenting.

Gabe Cook

Gabe is leading the charge for a cider revolution: an international consultant, writer, broadcaster, and educator on all matters cider. Resident cider expert for C4’s Sunday Brunch. 

How cider is made: II

Milling & pressing

It’s so easy to enjoy cider and perry it’s easy to forget just how much hard work and magic go into our favourite drinks. With a little knowledge and armed with some fascinating new facts you can start to hone your appreciation of cider and perry to the next level.

In this second installment of his series on how cider is made Gabe Cook takes us on the journey fruit makes from arrival at the cidery to juice ready for fermenting

Gabe Cook

Gabe is leading the charge for a cider revolution as a writer, broadcaster, and educator on all matters cider. 

Fruit arrives at the cidery

With harvesting complete, the next phase of the cider making process moves from the orchard to the cider mill. This is the term traditionally utilised to describe the place where the cider is made, but can cause some confusion because it is also the name of a particular piece of equipment (which you will shortly be introduced to). I’ve started to use the term cidery, akin to the word winery to help avoid any misunderstanding.

The first job in the cidery is to receive the apples (or pears) and prepare them ready for milling and pressing.  If the fruit has been picked from the ground, as will be the norm for West Country Cider apples, then they will tend to arrive in anything from a couple of old sheep feed sacks to articulated lorries carrying up to 28 tons!

Fruit arrives at the cidery

With harvesting complete, the next phase of the cider making process moves from the orchard to the cider mill. This is the term traditionally utilised to describe the place where the cider is made, but can cause some confusion because it is also the name of a particular piece of equipment (which you will shortly be introduced to). I’ve started to use the term cidery, akin to the word winery to help avoid any misunderstanding.

The first job in the cidery is to receive the apples (or pears) and prepare them ready for milling and pressing.  If the fruit has been picked from the ground, as will be the norm for West Country Cider apples, then they will tend to arrive in anything from a couple of old sheep feed sacks to articulated lorries carrying up to 28 tons!

Grading and sorting

Whether a large or small cider maker, this process will involve some kind of Quality Assurance system to ensure that apples, and apples only, are processed.  Even when hand picking apples, but especially if machine harvesting, it is amazing what else can be brought into the cidery from the orchard.  I have personally born witness to the removal of grass, mud, twigs, barbed wire, tree stakes and even a pineapple (no word of a lie).

If a cider maker is using dessert or culinary apples, they will generally be receiving the fruit in apple bins, picked into straight from the tree at harvest time. These apple bins will either head straight to the cidery for milling at pressing, or head to a cold storage facility to be utilised by cider makers throughout the year at their discretion.

It’s also at this point that those cider makers endeavouring to minimise, as much as possible, the opportunity for microbiological issues further down the line will ‘grade out’ apples that just don’t wake the cut – the rotters. There is sometimes a fine line between ripe and rot and it is up to each cider maker to make a call on this.

Grading and sorting

Whether a large or small cider maker, this process will involve some kind of Quality Assurance system to ensure that apples, and apples only, are processed.  Even when hand picking apples, but especially if machine harvesting, it is amazing what else can be brought into the cidery from the orchard.  I have personally born witness to the removal of grass, mud, twigs, barbed wire, tree stakes and even a pineapple (no word of a lie).

If a cider maker is using dessert or culinary apples, they will generally be receiving the fruit in apple bins, picked into straight from the tree at harvest time. These apple bins will either head straight to the cidery for milling at pressing, or head to a cold storage facility to be utilised by cider makers throughout the year at their discretion.

It’s also at this point that those cider makers endeavouring to minimise, as much as possible, the opportunity for microbiological issues further down the line will ‘grade out’ apples that just don’t wake the cut – the rotters. There is sometimes a fine line between ripe and rot and it is up to each cider maker to make a call on this.

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Milling and pressing

So, with the with fruit thoroughly inspected, graded and washed, it is now time for its transformation into juice. Unlike grapes, which are wonderfully soft and can even be crushed under foot to release the juice, apples have such a strong cell structure that it necessitates a two stage process – milling & pressing. Any endeavour to skip the milling stage is foolish and to crush apples underfoot might well result in bruised soles!

Traditionally the mill was a heavy, circular stone, placed in a stone trough and pushed round by a horse (or naughty child) to crush the fruit – much like a flour millstone. As an aside, it also crushed the pips, which released its trace level of cyanide into the juice, resultant cider and eventually accumulated in the human gut.

Pre 19th century, this led to some of the old boys and girls who consumed vast quantities of cider to experience stomach cramps or potentially even worse! 

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