Milling and Pressing in Preparation
From the Merridale orchards, the apples are gathered into the cidery, are washed in water and then carefully inspected. Only the firm, sound apples are sent on to the mill for grinding, where they are crushed in preparation for pressing. Merridale uses a 1960s Bucker Mill that still does a fine job of making course ground apple sauce or “pomace” for pressing into juice.
Traditionally, the dry cider apples were crushed by hand in a trough or with a mortar and pestle. Eventually, a large circular grinding stone was used for milling, most often horse-drawn. The first mechanical mills appeared in the 1600s, and although they were faster, they did not grind the apples to the same fine pulp as the traditional stones, and the pips did not get broken down as before.
Authentic cider apples and crabapples produce a dry pomace, while the softer dessert apples produce a soupy applesauce when ground. In either case, the pomace is too sloppy to stay in place for pressing, so it was contained in “cloths” while the juice was carefully squeezed out. In early days, the pomace was wrapped in “cheeses,” which were layers of cloth (originally made of horse hair) or of twisted straw. The cloth was laid out on the press bed, then several buckets of pulp were laid down, the corners would be tucked up to contain the pomace under pressure, and the layering would continue on until it was about 8 layers deep. A heavy board was placed on top and the pressure was slowly applied.
As the weight increased (or later, as the screw was turned in the “wring”), the pressure increased until the cheese was reduced to one third its height. In this way, cidermakers were sure to release the last reluctant dribbles of apple juice from the ruptured fruit cells. The dry pomace that remained was fed to the pigs on the same day, elsewise the pulp would ferment and the pigs would get tipsy ! 18
Improvements to the designs of the presses and grinding mills in the Victorian era lead to the emergence of the travelling cidermaker. These entrepreneurs would bring the entire operation to the small apple orchards throughout the countryside, towing their equipment with a team of horses, or later on, with a tractor. The travelling cidermaker often worked a set route during the short harvesting season, and charged at a piece rate – at the turn of the 20th century the fee was a penny per gallon.
Small farmers would gather their apples together so the ciderman could mill all at one place, and at other times, the local landlord would buy apples from the small farmers and the crew would set up for pressing outside of the pub. This country cider was often considered rough, as the travelling cidermaker only arrived once a year, regardless of the ripeness of the apples, which would all be harvested, ground and pressed in a matter of a day or so.
At Merridale Ciderworks, we recently retired the original vertical rack and cloth press and acquired a brand-new stainless steel horizontal press from Good Nature in upstate New York. The new press allows Rick and his crew to process more fruit in a day, and to maintain higher sanitation standards while doing so. It takes about 15 pounds of apples to yield one gallon of juice, and the horizontal press can press 15,000-20,000 pounds per day.
The fresh-squeezed juice, or “must”, is then transferred into vats to undergo fermentation. The dry pomace that is left over is moved to the Brandy House to be used in making distilled spirits and fruit brandies. What is not used there, it is either fed to neighbouring farm animals, or is composted for use in the orchards afterwards. Rick mixes the dry pomace with wood chips and lime and lets it degrade for at least 4 years before he uses the compost.