Friday, March 27, 2009

How to Make Cider : Last October, in Part 1, we helped our neighbours, Paul and Christiane, pick apples. Two weeks later, in the sequel, Part 2 : The Apple Strikes Back, we helped wash, crush and then squeeze the apples, using some very authentic and ancient tools and a bale of straw (see top photo). The liquid gold that ran off from the cider press was bucketed into a seemingly decrepit wooden cask, where it was left to ferment naturally into cider. Now this exciting story storms to its mouth-watering denouement with
Part 3 : The Return of the Apple.

During the intervening time, Paul had completed a process called sous tirage, where the nascent cider is drawn off into another (this time, plastic) barrel, the pipe going beneath the surface of the liquid but not right to the bottom, in order to reduce the sediment content. For the first time, Paul wanted to filter the cider before bottling and so, at the beginning of February, he phoned me to see if I was interested in helping him. We drove down to the local agricultural college to hire a filter for 50 € plus the cost of the cardboard filters. The lady in charge of the college’s own production of cider for sale gave us the full rundown of how we should connect up all the pipes and insert the filters and I made copious notes in a curious mixture of French and English.

The combined pump and filter is the stainless steel and white plastic device in the bottom of the photo and the filters are seventeen squares of a very refined thick cardboard, the idea being that when one becomes blocked with sediment, the next one takes over, and so on. Due to the sous tirage, the cider was in the plastic barrel, so we filtered it as we pumped it into the wooden barrel and then changed the filters to a finer grade before pumping it back into the plastic vat, where it would stay until it was bottled. When I popped round the following morning for something, Paul was sporting an expression which was somewhere between sheepish and relieved: they’d suffered “une petite catastrophe", he told me. “Little catastrophe” seemed to be a contradiction in terms until he explained. That morning, he’d detected a distinct whiff of cider in the air as he walked in the farm courtyard. At first, he dismissed it as due to the inevitable spillage from yesterday’s efforts until, impressed with how strong the smell was, he opened the door to the storage room where the vat was, to find over 200 litres of cider on the floor … oops! He explained that the plastic barrel has a drain plug and, over years of use, being dragged this way and that, it had become worn. Presumably, before filtering, the sediment had soon blocked the slight leak but having filtered the cider so that it was purer and cleaner than a very pure and clean thing, the thin liquid had continued to leak all night. A catastrophe, yes but at least he hadn’t lost all 800 litres.

Last week, we were invited to join Paul, his 85-year-old mother Simone, Christiane, and her sister, Cecile, to help bottle the cider into over 650 bottles. With much discussion, we formed into a production line of bottle washing and rinsing, filling the bottles from the vat, metal capping and then ranging the full bottles on dusty, creaking shelves. They are overly generous at times and I eventually had to lock my van once they’d put in sixty bottles in thanks for our help. We must wait for a further month before uncapping the first one to taste as it apparently develops a little further in the bottle. It won’t surprise anyone who knows me when I say that we’ve already drunk two bottles … it’s rather nice, actually.