Leslie Thomas fretted on Friday as she waited her turn to transform apples into fresh cider at Pressed for Cider in Knox.
Thomas had gathered bushels and bushels of apples with her Searsmont neighbor, Eric Ostroff, wtih the goal of pressing enough for hard cider as well as fresh cider. But as she eyed the fruit, it was clear that she was worried.
“I have apple anxiety,” Thomas said. “I hope I have enough.”
She did, reassured business co-owners Ken Lamson and Debi Stephens, who helped her dump the apples into a washer to get clean before they began their journey up a conveyer belt and into a grinder. In fact, it seems hard to feel too anxious at Pressed for Cider, with its hypnotic apple conveyer and its intoxicating smell of fresh apples. In a lot of ways, the business is a labor of love, according to Stephens, who has long been involved with orchard preservation in Waldo County. When she met Lamson and Adrienne Lee, who own New Beat Farm, they learned they shared a love of local organic agriculture and decided to join forces this fall in the cider pressing enterprise, which is located at the farm.
“It’s been a big group effort,” Lamson said.
Stephens’ big, vintage Palmer press is the star of the cider show. Because its grinder chops the apples so fine and the hydraulic press exerts so much force on the resultant pulp, the machine can extract three times as much cider from the same amount of apples as a hand press can. It’s a noisy endeavor, and Lamson must wear ear protection as he stacks trays of ground apples separated with layers of cheesecloth to await the press. The cider they make in their state-inspected pressing room is raw, and they are required to notify their customers that it hasn’t been pasteurized and therefore could pose a health risk. But the people who waited their turn last Friday didn’t seem worried about that.
“I think organic cider is about as good as it gets,” Steve Smith of Northport said after sampling some of the cider that his bushels of Wolf River, Northern Spy and Empire apples made.
In Maine, cider pressing once was a standard fall activity, and a good way to preserve the apple harvest. Cider freezes well, and also stores for a long time if it has been fermented or turned hard. Just a few Maine businesses continue to offer custom pressing, including Pressed for Cider and the Albion Cider Mill in Albion.
For Lamson and Lee, part of their enthusiasm stems from the chance to diversify their farm and extend their growing and producing season into the fall.
“We want to make a living as farmers. I want to reach the point when the farm pays our bills. We don’t want to just add more vegetables,” Lamson said. “[Pressing cider] makes for a busy year. To throw a 12-week season onto the end of the vegetables should help round out the farm economy.”
Of course, customers are likely most concerned about what the fresh-pressed cider tastes like. After Thomas and Ostroff’s batch of apples had been processed, they filled small cups and, with ceremony, sipped. The cider tasted sweet but tangy, and had a complex flavor that was very different than the pasteurized products sold at supermarkets.
“Ooooh, that’s good,” Thomas said enthusiastically.
“I really like it,” Ostroff added, drinking a bit more. “This is thirsty work.”
Pressed for Cider will be custom pressing apples by appointment only Fridays through Sundays until early November, with a five bushel minimum. Those interested should use the contact form on the business’ website, pressedforcider.com.