Saturday, 27 October 2007

Pork & Apples

Small-scale cidermaking must surely be one of the more sustainable food and drink industries. Unlike brewing, there is no need to boil the juice prior to fermentation (which is why cider is made, not brewed by the way!). More often than not the raw materials are sourced locally, and most of the cider is likely to be sold locally too. Admittedly we currently need to buy most of our fruit from further afield, but our eventual aim is to increase the amount of local apples in our ciders, including the fruit from our garden orchard which should start cropping next year. Ideally we would like to buy a couple of acres and plant our own orchard of cider varieties so as to become totally self sufficient in fruit, though with land prices as they are, and demand so high, we're not holding our breath on this one.

One area of the cidermaking process we have been wrestling with for the last couple of years is the accumulation of spent pomace after pressing. By the time we finish pressing this year we'll have pressed almost two tons of fruit, leaving us with the problem of disposing of around a third of a ton of fairly dry, pulped apples. Traditionally, cidermakers have dealt with this problem by either 'losing' it under a field hedge, obviously not an option for us, or feeding it to their livestock. Pigs love it, and cattle are also more than happy with the temporary change of diet (though probably not dairy cows, as it could taint the milk). Sheep stomachs are apparently too delicate for more than an occasional nibble of pomace, which is a shame as there are plenty of sheep grazing in Middleton and Cottingham, but almost no cattle or pigs to my knowledge. Disposing of our pomace in an environmentally sensible way had become a bit of a headache.

We'd resigned ourselves to hiring a mini-skip, at no small cost, and hoping the skip company were true to their promise of taking the contents to the green waste recycling site. We were not particularly happy with this arrangement, but in this part of Leicestershire/Northants, the only other 'livestock' grazing the fields are the whinnying & clopping variety, so couldn't see any other realistic options.

We started our main cidermaking on Friday, and as a last treat before the week-long slog ahead I squeezed in a Thursday night visit to a few pubs in the market town of Uppingham. On my third attempt at getting served a drinkable pint of Bombadier in a pub whose name escapes me now, I happened to overhear a chap at the bar discussing his rare-breed pigs. My ears were by now in full 'pricked-up' mode. The chap turned out to be a very amiable builder named Rob, who when not building, helps out on his fathers smallholding in the picturesque village of Medbourne, a 'lick and a spit' from us in Middleton. A lucky meeting indeed, and just in the nick of time. Rob has now collected the first batch of pomace, and I trust the porkers are now enjoying their new orchard diet.

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