Diary of a farmer: The art of Lehman’s Orchard cider
In 2008 the apple crop in Michiana set so heavily that even toward the end of our selling season we still had hundreds of bushels of unsold apples at the orchard.
Having recently acquired our small winemaking license, we figured that hard ciders wouldn’t be too much of a stretch.
By December of that year, I entered my first hard ciders into the Great Lakes Cider and Perry Competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Perry is the pear version of cider.)
At this small, niche competition, if you entered your ciders, you were expected to judge other ciders. I was accustomed to cider flavors produced from modern apples, but after sampling some excellent traditional ciders made from heirloom cider apples, I realized why apples had been bred for specific tastes and textures for hundreds of years: The cider maker is like an artist, mixing and blending specific apples for intense flavors. It was then that I began my quest to learn more about heirloom cider apples.
I began to study the heirloom cider apples of England, France and the colonial United States. I learned that
• Tart apples, such as Spitzenbergs and Rhode Island Greenings, make the cider more complex.
• Aromatic apples, such as Fameuse (Snow Apple) and Roxbury Russets, are important because the nose is many times more sensitive than our taste buds.
• Astringent apples, such as the Newtowns, add a tannic edge to the mouthfeel (like red wine).
• Dessert apples, such as the Ben Davis and Westfield Seek-No-Further, add sweetness.
• And some apples, such as Kingston Black and Yarlington Mill, have all of the four qualities listed above and are used to make single-varietal hard cider.
My mouth still waters each time I discover yet another distinct flavor apple, when I attend an industry show or tour a fellow cider maker’s backyard orchard. My imagination runs wild anticipating the resulting flavors of yet another season’s cider pressing.
Each season’s cider is slightly different from the previous one, and this keeps me searching for yet another unique hard cider.