Cider – A Local Story


Jeremy Northcott


Cider has been made here for as long as anyone can remember and certainly, after influence from the Romans and the Normans, it was a well-documented part of rural life by the 14th century. Undoubtedly by the 18th Century it was at the heart of the local economy being an essential part of many agricultural worker’s wages, although this was eventually stopped by an act of parliament in 1887. Littered with wonderful names like Foxwhelp, Tremlett’s Bitter, Dabinett, Yarlington Mill, Brown Snout, Michelin, Chisel Jersey, Ellis Bitter, Sweet Coppin it makes a colourful contribution to our cultural heritage not to mention oiling the wheels of the agricultural industry and leading to a veritable feast of music and dance.


Three Counties thriving at Haywood Farm, St Mabyn


The principles of its production are much the same now as they always were. Collect, crush and extract the juice from the fruit then let it transform itself through fermentation into the delightful, aromatic thirst quenching burst of sunshine in a glass we call cider.


Tom Bray new generation cider maker


Modern orchards start with the careful selection and cultivation of a range of types of apple trees, bearing in mind that some varieties are more suited to cider production than others. One approach is to grow and a blend of different varieties which each have prominent flavour characteristics in order to eventually achieve a balance of sharp and sweet flavours. These are all set against a mouth feel, which is dominated by tannin for dryness and body, acidity and sometimes sparkle. The flesh of cider apples tends to be high in fermentable sugar and more fibrous than other apples because this helps to make it easier to extract the juice. Sharp qualities may be contributed by a variety like Granny Smith for example and sweetness may come from Golden Delicious.


Different varieties have prominent flavour characteristics


Commercial apple trees are generally grafted with roots from one plant controlling the overall size of the tree and the fruit bearing part of another determining the fruit character. Trees should have at least six feathers (branches) and these are most productive when angled towards the horizontal. Management or husbandry of the tree is really all about balancing growth against fruiting potential.


The orchard becomes a riot of pink and white as Spring arrives


The orchard becomes a riot of pink and white as Spring arrives and this is the time when the bees need to do their work pollinating the blossoms in order to set the fruit. Many farmers and cider makers keep bees to ensure the success of this stage of the process and certainly Richard has historically kept extensive hives at St Mabyn primarily for honey production even before the orchard was planted.


After the Summer comes plump ripe fruit


After careful monitoring of pests and diseases through the summer at last Autumn arrives and the trees are hopefully full of plump ripe fruit which needs to be picked. On large modern farms this is now usually done by a tree shaker attached to a tractor followed by a whirling rubber paddled harvester, which sweeps up the fallen apples from the ground. In many smaller orchards, friends and family volunteers, who often work in an uplifting spirit of community and comradery, pick the apples by hand.


Friends and family volunteers often pick apples by hand


Once gathered in the drama of scratting and pressing the apples begins. First of all the apples have to be pulped in order to effectively extract the juice. At Haywood Farm father and “Heath Robinson” specialist engineer, Richard Bray has adapted a corn crusher, which runs at a mighty 3000 rpm and was designed to crush the tiny seed heads of wheat, by replacing the screen and one or two other tweaks to pulp the apples on an impressive scale. The power is provided by his tractor engine which seems to purr effortlessly as it sets about transforming in the region of 3 tons of lovely red, yellow and green fresh picked apples to a pulp.


Brian tips apples into the scratter to convert them to pulp


Once pulped the buckets are taken across to the press where Tom Bray and friend Steve Hyde are building the “cheese”. This is the traditional name given to the layered stack of apple pulp and straw that will eventually be pressed to squeeze all the juice out of the apples. The juice runs freely as the cheese is being built, slowly turning from a light golden colour to deep “rusty” red as the tannin in the pulp is exposed to the oxygen in the air. It runs in a channel around the growing cheese stack through a large metal sieve initially to trap the larger bits of straw and clumps of pulp that have broken away from the layers and then it is filtered more thoroughly by a fine muslin cloth before passing from the holding bucket into the large 1000 L initial storage container which stands in the cool store about 2M below the press level.


The layered stack of pulp and straw is called a “cheese”


It is here that the first vigorous stage of the fermentation will take place. This can produce a lot of CO2 and a crusty head so the container is only covered initially before being protected from the possibility of contamination by wild yeasts and bacteria naturally occurring in the air, by an air lock where the CO2 escapes through a barrier of water. The prolonged primary fermentation can take weeks  before it is judged to be complete. The progress is measured using a hydrometer which is a sort of float that has been calibrated to float to a standard index at 1.000 in water. The more fermentable sugar present in the liquid the “thicker” it appears to be the higher the float rises. So generally a reading will be taken at the beginning to determine the “gravity” The yeast can be pitched from a separate culture in a controlled way or the cider maker may traditionally rely on yeasts, which are naturally present on the skins of the apples. Once through the primary fermentation the cider is often transferred to wooden casks that may have been used to mature sherry or whisky or other spirits for maturation. The casks introduce interesting enriching flavours and colours depending on their “history”. Full maturation can take years, but tasting regularly after a month or two to test for progress is always “advised!”


Cider is often matured in wooden casks


Many English Counties, Cornwall and Northern regions of France have a strong reputation for producing excellent cider and there are usually some common factors that can be observed to explain the geographical connection. Good horticultural conditions with the right soil, sunshine warmth and plenty of rain are key factors. A stable agricultural population often allows the passing of craft skills from generation to generation ensuring that natural intuitive judgments are made about how and when to effect changes to the process rather than relying on a formula. Cider making is a relatively low-tech process so that it is not dependent on substantial investment to initiate or maintain a sizable production. And finally it is essential to have a community of people accustomed to enjoying the inevitable song, dance and merrymaking that drinking cider has a habit of leading to . . .


Cider drinking can lead to merrymaking . . .


There are so many great places to enjoy Cornish cider produced at one of the many farms and orchards around the County. Some of the better known are;


Haywood Farm at St Mabyn

Healy’s Cornish Cyder Farm – Callestick, Penhallow, Truro

Cornish Orchards – Westnorth Manor Farm, Duloe, Looe

Middle Penpol Cider Farm, St Veep, Lerryn, Lostwithiel

Skreach West Country Cider – St Buryan, Penzance

The Cornish Cider Company, Trevean Farm, Coombe Lea, Truro,

Touchwood Cider Touchwood Cider, Mithian, St Agnes,

Davards Cider & Apples, Trevilla, Linkinhorne, Callington,

Haye Farm Cider, St Veep, Lerryn, Lostwithiel,

Penpol Farm Cider, Middle Penpol Farm, St Veep, Lostwithiel,

Polgoon Vineyard, Rosehill, Penzance,

Skreach Cider, Trewoofe Wartha Farm, St Buryan,

Sutton Barn Cider, Sutton House, Sutton, Upton Cross, Liskeard,

Helford Creek Cider, Mudgeon Vean Farm, St Martin, Helston