Making apple cider is pressing work

  • A carton of apples at Carter Hill farm in Concord.

  • Apples from Carter Hill are ready to be made into cider. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Landon Woodward turns on the conveyer that brings in apples to make cider at Carter Hill Orchard. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Rick Wayne uses a hose to spread the apple pomace into the press. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Landon Woodward shovels out used pomace as Rick Wayne empties the press while they make cider at Carter Hill Orchard. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 9/24/2016 11:00:28 PM
Modified: 9/24/2016 11:00:08 PM

You want a classic New England fall beverage? Forget pumpkin spice lattes. Apple cider is simple – just one ingredient – and the process to make it is pretty simple, too.

“It’s quintessential New England,” said Chuck Souther of Apple Hill Farm in Concord.

First, the apples are picked by hand, as it is at most New Hampshire farms. In the fall, Carter Hill Orchard and New England Cider Works hires additional workers from Jamaica to harvest the apples from the 50-acre orchard, said Todd Larocque, who’s been making cider there for about 10 years. The farm produces some 40,000 to 50,000 gallons a season.

All species of apples will be used for cider, said Larocque, usually in a mix. Right now, the orchard is using a mix of Macs, Cortland and Gala, but it will change at some point in the season.

Apple Hill Farm in Concord also uses a mix of apples, Souther said. But at the end of the season,  it will make a batch just with Golden Russet apples, an exceptionally sweet run. In a typical season, Apple Hill will sell about 5,000 gallons of cider at their farmstand and 30,000 gallons wholesale.

The fruit that won’t be sold whole will be gathered in a giant hopper.

At Carter Hill Orchard, Landon Woodward turns on a conveyor and apples pop out of the hopper. He grades the apples and removes any debris, like sticks and leaves. 

The apples continue on the conveyor through a washing station, and then are sent up an elevator conveyor.

Noisily, the apples drop into the grinder, which turns them into “pomace.” The grinder is loud, and workers in the press room wear hearing and vision protection.

The pomace travels down a hose that Rick Wayne uses to fill the mesh sacks of the cider press.

Carter Hill Orchard and Apple Hill Farm press cider with accordion presses or “squeeze boxes,” which use hydraulic power to press horizontally in two halves. While one half is being pressed, the other side can be filled.

Carter Hill Orchard’s press can hold about 15 bushels of apples ground into the pomace, which makes about 50 gallons of cider, Wayne said.

Apple Hill Farm’s press can hold about 8 to 10 bushels, Souther said. A bushel is a dry measure equal to 128 cups.

The press at Apple Hill Farm exerts 2,200 pounds of pressure per inch on the apple chunks, Souther said. It’s adjustable, he said. The farm tries to find a middle point where it is powerful enough to get as much juice as possible, but not powerful enough to pop the seeds, which can make the cider bitter, Souther said.

After being pressed, the pomace is pretty dry, but it is still put to use. Wayne said, the pressed pomace has a lot of nitrogen and makes a good fertilizer. Farms also stop by to pick it up as pig feed.

The liquid cider drips into a pan below the press, where it’s pumped into a holding tank.

Carter Hill Orchard then filters its cider three times to get rid of pulp. Then, it goes through a UV machine to kill any bacteria. Specially adjusted lights are used to treat the cider.

The FDA requires that cider that is sold wholesale be treated either with the UV process or with heat pasteurization. Cider that is not treated can still be sold at the farm at which it was made, but bottles must state that is has not been pasteurized.

Apple Hill Farm does not pasteurize its cider, which is something they discuss every year, Souther said. However, the farm is able to sell cider wholesale, with a special exception from the FDA, to distilleries and wineries.

 The process of turning cider into vodka, gin, hard apple cider, wine and other alcoholic beverages kills off any bacteria that may be in the cider.

For the cider sold in the store, Souther said, any bacteria would be the same as that from eating a raw apple.

When the cider is finished, it goes through a bottler that spins, filling plastic jugs with brown liquid and forcing caps on top with pressure. 

Finally, it’s off to the store.

Carter Hill Orchard sells its cider in stores in an area reaching from Ossipee to New London to the Seacoast, Larocque said. It has a two-week shelf life and requires refrigeration.

Apple Hill Farm only sells bottled cider in its store in Concord, but it has a tanker truck to deliver to processors like Flag Hill Winery and Distillery. Even small homebrewers can show up with barrels to buy cider in bulk.

“Apple cider is just pure, straight apple,” Larocque said.

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