Even when it’s no longer time for apple picking, winter is the prime time to enjoy local apples by eating them… and drinking them. From September to May, Weaver’s Orchard in Morgantown, PA presses the apple cider that you enjoy at Wolff’s. Then from late spring to early fall, they freeze their preservative-free cider so that they can offer it outside of the cider-pressing season.
Weaver’s Orchard, established in 1932, has been pressing their own cider on site since 1965. Before then, says Weaver’s Orchard President Ed Weaver, they offered cider made from their apples, but they would take the apples to a cider mill down the road in Gibraltar, PA.
Currently, Weaver’s makes about 40,000 gallons of cider per year from about 12,000 bushels of apples. The process starts around Labor Day when varieties like Honeycrisp, Gala, and early Golden Delicious varieties begin to ripen. Later in the season, when varieties like Fuji and Pink Lady are in season, they will be used for the cider too.
It takes about 11 pounds of apples to make one gallon of apple cider.
For most of the year, a batch of cider will blend seven or eight apple varieties because, as Ed Weaver explains, it’s the blend of apples that makes a good-tasting cider. He explains that for Weaver’s sweet apple cider, the mix is two-thirds sweet and one-third tart apples. Why use tart apples in a sweet cider? These have a stronger apple flavor, says Ed. So the end result is a sweet cider that tastes like biting into an apple that’s fresh off the tree.
The grade of apple is also important for cider-making. Though there’s a myth that cider is a way to use up rotten or fallen apples, the truth is that neither of these should be used in cider. Instead, Weaver’s uses apples that fall just shy of the premium grade they like to offer customers for an eating apple. Their cider apples tend to be smaller, not as bright or nicely colored, or have small blemishes. These are all apples that have gone through the regular packing line and have been sanitized and washed. Pressing cider is a way for farmers to turn this grade of apple into something delicious so that nothing gets wasted.
As the cider-making process begins, the cider apples get washed a second time, then the machinery chops them into fine pieces, and then it’s time for the actual pressing. The cider press is made up of fourteen layers of plastic racks and nylon cloths. This gets rolled into a hydraulic press that applies 3,000 pounds of pressure. (Watch the process here.)
For safety, cider producers are required to either pasteurize their cider or use an FDA-approved ultraviolet treatment. Weaver’s uses the ultraviolet treatment, a state-of-the-art process that is also used for bottled drinking water. It’s an insurance policy so that if any harmful bacteria were present, they would be killed instantly. (Avoiding the introduction of harmful bacteria in the first place is one of the main reasons Weaver’s does not use apples that have fallen on the ground.)
This year, Weaver’s has a new automated bottling process to streamline production. It makes the process about three times faster, even with labeling and capping still being done by hand.
What’s not part of the process? Ed points out that heat is not part of their cider-making, and that this is one of the key differences between cider and juice. The lack of heat is also why cider retains its true, all natural apple flavor.
Cider uses a cold press, while juice is heated, and then the pressed juice is filtered, bottled or canned while hot, and then sealed. That’s why juice will last so long, he explains. Cider, on the other hand, has a three-week shelf life until it begins to ferment into either hard cider or vinegar. It’s not harmful, he explains, just no longer a sweet cider.
If you’ve purchased some sweet cider you might not use up right away, you can easily freeze it. Just pour a little off the top to give them bottle room to expand, and then pop the jug of cider into the freezer.
Warming up with a mug of Weaver’s Orchard Sweet Cider is the perfect way to get through the winter and enjoy what local farmers are making right now!
Find our favorite cider recipes in this apple cider recipe roundup.