Autumn is cider season. Unlike apple juice, which is clear and has been filtered to remove solids and pasteurized to kill pathogens and expand its shelf life, apple cider has a mystique of its own. Opaque, nearly foggy, fresh-pressed cider is choke full of suspended particles and depending on preparation and storage may be a sweet, non-alcoholic thirst-quencher or become a “hard,” alcoholic adult beverage.
In 1998, U.S. FDA regulations established that “sweet cider” or “soft cider” that is sold in stores must be pasteurized to avoid health risks, but cider that is sold directly from a producer to a consumer does not have to meet this requirement. As a result, yeast that is present in a bottle of cider purchased from a roadside stand will continue to grow, even if the cider is refrigerated. After after a week or two, the cider becomes noticeably carbonated. Outside of the United States and parts of Canada, “cider” specifically refers to the fermented version of the drink – what Americans call “hard cider.” This libation contains anywhere between 2 percent and 8.5 percent alcohol depending on the preparation.
A balanced cider taste is achieved by blending a variety of apples in the preparation. “Hand apples” such as Macintoshes or Granny Smiths, which are tasty to eat raw, do not necessarily make the best cider. To start the process, cider apples are gathered and ground down to pulp known as pomace before being loaded quickly into the press to prevent oxidation through exposure to air. To make hard cider, the juice from the press is fermented at a relatively low temperature of 40-60° F; the resulting slow reaction helps preserve the delicate apple aromas. Then, when only a small amount of sugar remains the liquid is transferred into new vats, leaving unwanted solids behind. Air is excluded at this point, and the fermentation of the remaining sugar creates a small amount of carbonation.
The hard cider industry had an effect on the landscape of this young nation through the work of John Chapman, better known as “Johnny Appleseed.” The story is told that Chapman gave out seeds, but actually he picked the seeds out of the waste from pressing apples for hard cider and with those seeds he planted nurseries. As settlers needed to improve their farmsteads, Johnny Appleseed’s advanced planning meant that the seedlings were mature enough to transplant, and many apple orchards in Ohio, Illinois and Indiana owed their start to his work and to the apple cider industry.
More information about cider is available at http://www.mass.gov/agr/massgrown/cider_juice_difference.htm or http://www.tree.com/food-dining/apple-cider.aspx