This particular weekend is proving to a very long and exhausting one. The first cidermaking session of the year is always a challenge, but this year we've got the added difficulty of a new mill and press to get to grips with. Usually we have a small pressing session in September to help iron out any problems and get up to speed in readiness for the main pressing in October, but this year we've been thrown in at the deep end with a ton and a half of organic dessert apples urgently in need of processing.
Karen has pulled out all the stops, multi-skilling between washing apples, mashing tea, and delivering cider (see Billesdon Slow Food Lunch), whilst still managing to juggle the demands of three needy hens and an equally needy fella! Between the two of us we've managed to press 150 gallons of juice so far, with another 50 gallons or so to press on Monday when we've had a chance to recover.
The new press is a joy to use, delivering up to 13 gallons of juice per pressing. Fermenters are filling up at a dizzying rate, and the dry apple pulp (pomace) is accumulating almost as fast. This year we are very lucky to have Adam & Serena of Keythorpe Rare Breeds taking our spent pomace. They have a lot of hungry pigs to feed, and porkers like apples apparently. I'm pleased to say that Adam & Serena like our cider too, the feeling is entirely mutual since we very much like their pork!
So, everything in the orchard's rosy then?... Well, not quite!
Every great leap forward in technology comes with an equal and opposite, and often entirely unforeseen drawback. Our press is very efficient, squeezing the pomace satisfyingly dry, and therefore giving us a good quantity of juice. Unfortunately the apples we're currently pressing are delicate little things, and really not designed to be squeezed this tightly.
One of the characteristics of a good cider apple is that the flesh is very chewy. This makes them totally unsuitable for eating, but ideal for pressing in a traditional 'Rack & Cloth' press. In this system the milled pulp is wrapped in nylon cloths, and then sandwiched between slatted racks. The huge pressure of the press squeezes out the juice leaving the fibrous flesh neatly enclosed within the folded cloths ready for disposal. Unfortunately many dessert and culinary apples lack this chewy texture, and during pressing the mushy flesh can be squeezed through the weave of the cloth making them very difficult to clean following pressing. So this has been today's minor headache, the cloths are a mess.
Once again, our first pressing session has been characterised by a spell of glorious weather (after the fog has lifted), and a wide range of spectacularly aching muscles. Oh well! We can be comforted by the knowledge that nothing good in life ever comes easily.