A day in the shoes of an apple cider producer and the Rack and Cloth Method - how does it make apple cider so renowned?
The demand for crisp Cold Hollow cider continues to grow, and we needed two presses to keep up. In 2000, we bought a second press from a couple in Wisconsin who were getting out of the cider business. Since we have no intentions of leaving the business any time soon, it was a great solution for both of us. Apple cider has been made the way we make it, with the rack and cloth method, for hundreds of years and we’re proud to continue the tradition!
Most orchards throughout the country have progressed to modern day technology, but we are proud of our 1920-vintage press and visitors love to see it in action. In winter and summer, we press three to four days a week and from mid-September through mid-December, we press seven days a week. Many of the modern presses require press aids, like wood chips and rice hulls to help squeeze out the juice, which we found tainted the flavor. We don’t use any press aids thanks to our old-fashioned press, we use the best Vermont apples, and only press the pomace once to make our flavorful, crisp cider. Curious how the rack and cloth method produces our renowned cider? Visit our press viewing room at the mill or keep reading!
Step One: We bring in a lot of apples, and by a lot we mean millions of pounds. In 2015, we used 7.5 million pounds of apples! The apples are what makes our cider truly the best. Many cider producers use apple drops—apples that have fallen off the trees—but we use apples hand-picked right from the tree. We individually inspect and wash the apples—we only accept the best. The apples come to us in 20-bushel (800 pound) bins. In the fall, we go through as much as two tractor-trailer loads per day. To learn more about the apples we use in our cider, click here.
Step Two: The apples are transported up an elevator to a high-speed grinder. The grinder mashes the apples into pomace, including the seeds, stems, and skins.
Step Three: The pomace is pushed through a tube onto the cheesecloth by a powerful screw pump. The cheesecloth is a heavy close-knit nylon material that filters the juice from the pomace when pressed to ensure no seeds, skins, or stems are in the apple cider. The juice moves on to the next step, and the squeezed out pomace is picked up by local farmers for livestock feed or goes into a compost pile for Vermont gardens. Every last bit of apple from the cider-making process has a use.
Step Four: The cheesecloth is folded over and a rack made of oak is laid on top. The rack is designed to help the cider flow from the center of the batch to the edge. More layers of pomace, cloth, and racks are stacked on top of one another until 18 layers are created. Each layer contains roughly five bushels of apples, with each batch containing 70 bushels of apples.
Step Five: Once the layers have been formed on the rack, a hydraulic piston squashes down to squeeze out every last drop of apple nectar, leaving the cloth dry as can be. Juice begins dripping from the pomace in step four due to the weight of the rack and upper apple layers, but once the piston comes down, the juice pours out like Niagara Falls. The piston presses down slowly to ensure the juice does not spray everywhere and is caught in the catch basin below. The hydraulic piston applies 2,500 pounds-per-square-inch of pressure. We only press the pomace once to make sure the cider is full of flavor, called a first press method. Other producers may use a multi press process, meaning they would add water to the pomace and press multiple times to squeeze out more juice, which dilutes the crisp apple taste. Each pressing yields about 230 gallons of fresh apple cider. With one operator, the output is 300 gallons per hour, and with two operators working together, the output is 500 gallons per hour.
After the cider has been produced using the rack and cloth method, it’s pumped into refrigerated bulk tanks before going to our bottling plant. The freshly bottled cider is put on our shelves and shipped directly to stores and customers around the country. To ensure our cider is safe, the cider undergoes a “flash” pasteurization. The cider is rapidly heated to 172 degrees Fahrenheit and then quickly cooled back to 36 degrees to pasteurize the cider without affecting the taste.
The rack and cloth method is typically only used by those who produce cider in small batches or as a hobby. We may just be the only commercial cider producer in the world who uses a rack and cloth press on such a large scale. However, we believe the crisp, pure taste of our Cold Hollow cider could never be achieved with a modern day press.