Autumn is the traditional time for making cider as the apples ripen and fall off the trees. Cider makers are particularly busy during this period practicing their art. The cider making process comprises:
Selecting the apples: The majority of real cider in East Anglia is made from a combination of dessert and cooking apples. The apples may be either hand or machine picked and are then sorted for quality prior to washing to remove any soil or dirt or other contaminates. The rule-of- thumb regarding quality is if the apple is good enough to eat then it is good enough to make into cider. To dispel the myth, rotten apples are unsuitable and are discarded from production.
Mulching the fruit: The apples are first milled to break them into small pieces. This is carried out in a “scratter”. Historically this would have been done by hand but nowadays electro-mechanical methods are used often consisting of spinning blades not dissimilar to the waste disposal unit in a kitchen sink or a garden shredder.
Extracting the juice: The chopped apple is then transferred to the cider press. Various types of press exist but the principles are broadly similar. In a rack and cloth press, thin layers of apple pulp are pressed between wooden boards effectively forming a multi-layered sandwich. Mechanical pressure is applied which comprises many tonnes and the juice starts to flow. The amount of juice depends very much of the type of apple but yields of 60% to 70% are typical. What this means is that for every 10kg of apple, 6 to 7 litres of juice is produced.
The juice is drawn off and the resultant dried apple pulp (called pomace) is commonly used for animal feed.
Fermentation: The apple juice is fermented in large vessels which might hold 1000 litres of juice. Fermentation occurs using either the “wild” yeast contained in the apple else by using introduced yeast cultures. The sugars in the apple juice react with the yeast thus creating alcohol. The time this conversion process takes depends on various factors with the key one being temperature. Once fermentation is complete, the real cider is racked off the lees or sediment then the cider may be left to mature for several months in wooden barrels.
Blending and Sweetening: During the fermentation process all the available sugars are converted to alcohol thus producing a dry cider. The key role of the cider maker is then to blend different varieties of cider and to sweeten either using natural sugar else artificial sweeteners like saccharin or sucralose. Other fruit may be added at this stage e.g. blackcurrant or raspberries as appropriate. However a real cider should just comprise apple juice, permitted sweeteners and water which is used to dilute the product to achieve the required alcohol content (%ABV).
Local Cider: there are a number of cider makers in Norfolk and Suffolk who make cider by the traditional methods described above. These are referred to as “Real Ciders” as they are made following a natural process. Each cider is unique but all make a great refreshing drink which may be enjoyed in both summer and winter. The ciders are typically sold in bag-in- a-boxes or BiBs to preserve freshness.
Cider with Food: Cider compliments a number of foods. The East Anglian ciders are particularly good with pork, fish, pizzas and cheese. In the winter months, cider is also pleasant if it is mulled with added spices (e.g. cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg) or served as a hot toddy with cloves, ginger, lemon juice and honey.