Wednesday, 29 October 2008
Sunday, 26 October 2008
Friday, 24 October 2008
Unfortunately most of the trees and orchards we gather our fruit from are living on borrowed time, of little or no commercial value, merely waiting to be exploited as building land or at the very least for a more profitable agricultural use. Grain seems to be the flavour of the month, apples have been out of favour for decades! By continuing to harvest (and pay for) the fruit from these traditional old orchards, we like to think we're going some way towards supporting their continued existence, even if it's only in a very small way.
The cider we make from the fruit of these old, unsprayed orchards is not necessarily better than that made from more intensively grown fruit, that's all down to the blend of apples and the skills we aim to bring to the cidermaking process. But given the choice we'll always choose to make our cider from apples grown without the use of agri-chemicals, even if that means hand picking the fruit and paying more for the privilege. The more intensively managed the orchard, the more need there seems to be for sprays and chemical fertilizers, and we've found that the fruit from old traditional orchards is often largely free from the sort of diseases which are routinely sprayed for in the more intensive orchard environments. Which brings me rather neatly to the point of this blog entry, the 'O' word.
Organic ciders have to be made from apples grown organically, ie. grown subject to strict guidelines on what can and cannot be added to the soil and the trees themselves, and so reduce the growers impact on the environment in general. The organic system has always made sense to me, I don't want to eat and drink things full of artificial chemicals, and I care enough about the environment to want to support organic growers and to encourage more to think and farm in the same way. So why are things not so rosy in the organic orchard...
The cider we made in September was from a batch of fully certified organic apples, 'cull fruit' not suitable for commercial sale due to blemishes or small size, but perfectly suitable for juicing and cidermaking. We were offered the fruit by the nice people at Windmill Orchards in the Northamptonshire village of Sulgrave, and felt that it was worth making an experimental batch of cider, since not only would it be from 'Organic' apples, but also from relatively 'local' Northamptonshire fruit. Even though we knew we wouldn't be able to call the resulting cider 'Organic', we were reasonably confident that we would be able to label the cider as being made from 'organic apples'. We would therefore be able to comfortably pass on the higher cost of the apples in a slightly increased price for the cider, knowing that customers would be getting the double whammy of a truly local cider made from purely organic apples.
I decided it was time to contact the UK arbiters of all things 'Organic', the Soil Association, to find out where we stood with regard to the labelling of this 'premium' batch of cider, which is where it all started going wrong! Because we are not registered as organic producers with the Soil Association, we cannot use the word 'Organic' anywhere on labelling or publicity, this despite the fact that we have receipts for all the apples which went into this batch of cider from certified organic growers.
I suppose I can understand the need for policing the use of the word 'Organic' throughout the chain of production from growing to selling, but the problem is that very small producers like ourselves are effectively priced out of the whole Organic loop. The minimum cost for registration with the Soil Association is well over £500 per annum, which is small change for large-scale producers, but a significant percentage of our current turnover. It really isn't worth our registering for this cost, any additional value we would realise from our 'cider made from apples grown by a certified organic grower' (even this title may be breaking the law!) would be wiped out by the cost of inspection and registration with the Soil Association. There is a sliding scale for registration, based on the size of the business, but unfortunately the scale doesn't slide anywhere near our (or many other small-scale cidermakers who are also using unsprayed fruit) level.
So, we will continue to make ciders and perry from totally unsullied apples and pears (of a standard which actually exceeds that of organically grown fruit, ie. no Sulphur sprays against scab!), but it's doubtful whether we'll be repeating the experiment of producing a cider from 'Organic' apples next year, since there's little chance that we can realise the value of a cider made from fruit that we can't talk about in public!
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Monday, 20 October 2008
Smallholding dynamo's Serena & Adam are the driving force behind Keythorpe Rare Breeds, producers of high quality pork and lamb at a smallholding on the Leicestershire/Rutland border. Amongst the menagerie of (mostly!) domesticated animals living happily at Keythorpe are a sizeable stock of rare breed porkers, and as we know, pigs absolutely love apples. So once we've extracted the important bit from the apples, the dry(ish) pulp, or pomace as it's known in ciderland, goes over to Keythorpe to supplement the diet of these pampered porkers.
I was a little worried at first that the pigs wouldn't be able to keep up with the quantity of pomace we've been producing, but it turns out I was way off the mark. Demand is outstripping supply, and the arrival of each fresh batch of pomace causes quite a stir on the smallholding. Here's a message I received from Serena today...
'...One of my fatteners OD’d on the other lot of apples the other day, and spent most of yesterday sleeping and looking very sorry for itself, needless to say Adam and I went out of our way to make as much noise as possible, and to constantly wake it up. Serves it right for spending most of Saturday with its head in the apple bag.'
Appley over-indulgence... Sleeping all day and looking sorry for itself... Serious lack of sympathy from loved ones... Hmm! Sounds rather too familiar to me...
Saturday, 18 October 2008
After our experiences pressing dessert fruit in September I was sure these (by now rapidly over-ripening) pears would surely clog up the pressing cloths and make a right mess of the racks. I worried needlessly, these pears milled to a fine porridgy consistency, and pressed beautifully. We didn't manage to completely fill the press, but did manage to extract a similar amount of juice to that of a full pressing of apples. The spent pomace was very dry and we managed to almost fill one of the smaller 70 litre fermenters. All in all, we like pressing perry pears very much!
Monday, 13 October 2008
Perhaps the biggest advantage of hand picking our apples is the chance to avoid any rotten, damaged, or unripe fruit. We can also avoid the excessive mud, leaves and twigs associated with mechanical harvesting, and this should make the cleaning process far easier.
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
The sign is long gone now, but anyone who would have taken the road from Worcester to Hereford in those days may well remember the huge white barrel, lofted high on a platform and bearing the image of the company's Black Bull logo.
The Norburys started making cider around 1980 following the slump in the homegrown fruit market as a result of the UK joining the EEC. The ciders are made from a range of traditional cider apples blended with dessert/culinary varieties grown in their own orchards, and are well made and clean tasting. The 'Black Bull' title is derived from the French 'noir' (black) and 'boeuf' (bull) from which the Norbury family take their name. I think it makes for a handsome and authentically 'rural' image on cider jars such as this one.
A range of bottled Black Bull ciders can be found locally at Brockleby's Farm Shop near Melton Mowbray, and Norbury also attend several East Midlands Farmers Markets.
Sunday, 5 October 2008
This is the second of two annual beer festivals which take place at the Crown. The Oktoberfest (Thurs 9th - Mon 13th) will feature around 20 Real ales, draught German beers and a small range of real ciders, including our own Rockingham Forest Cider. This will be the last event we supply with cider this year, another significant milestone in our cidermaking year.
Update: Whilst delivering our cider yesterday I had a chance to chat with Alan. The beers are all stillaged, rigged up to cooling equipment, and settling nicely. There will in fact be 6 ciders available from Biddenden (Kent), Thatchers (Somerset) and Westons (Herefordshire), plus of course a barrel of our own from Northants.
Saturday, 4 October 2008
Friday, 3 October 2008
Apple Day events are planned throughout the country, most not actually occurring on the day itself since the 21st of October falls on a Tuesday this year. A full listing of all known events can be found on Common Ground's Apple Day Events Calendar, which is already chock-full of great days out, and is constantly being added to.
Similarly, events which have been planned by local CAMRA branches for the Cider & Perry Month campaign can be found via the Cider & Perry Month page on CAMRA's website. The ukcider Events page is also worth a look, and is an excellent resource for cider related events throughout the year.
Personally, I wish that both these seasonal initiatives were held at a less busy time of the year. We rarely get the opportunity to attend any of the Apple Day events, we managed to get to Stamford last year and hope to attend at least one local Apple Day event this year. I can't help thinking that many more cidermakers would get involved with Apple Day and Cider & Perry Month, if the events were taking place at a time of year when all the cidermaking was done and dusted, and maybe they even had some cider to sell.
Thursday, 2 October 2008
This short, gloomy video is to help give you an idea of the activity in the ciderhouse at the moment. We added a cultured yeast to this batch of juice, and fermentation has been very quick to start. All 14 vessels are now glopping away merrily as the yeast converts the natural sugars in the apple juice into alcohol. Fermentation also produces a fair bit of heat, as well as a somewhat 'funky' aroma. We're leaving the garage door open whenever possible to help cool things down a little, but nothing much can be done about the diabolical sounds emanating from the busy airlocks. With our bedroom being directly above the ciderhouse, this constant noise will be lulling us to sleep for several weeks now.