Cliff Currier picks up a wooden crate from a pallet filled with bright green and red apples. After overturning the box onto the conveyor belt, he sorts the apples, picking out the drops too bruised or damaged for pressing, and they tumble down the line for a wash and dry. The belt moves the apples into a grinder, then they fall into a large yellow bucket holding pounds of juice and apple pulp, a mash of browns, greens and flecks of red.
Apple picking season is a family affair at Currier Orchards in Merrimack. Eber and Trudy Currier oversee the process, their granddaughter Joy Currier works in the store and grandson Cliff Currier presses apples into fresh cider on the weekends.
“The [cider] base is Mac and Cort — that’s the true flavor,” farmer Eber Currier said. “A Red Delicious has a lot of juice in it but not that much sugar. It’s not as sweet, whereas a McIntosh is sort of different. It’s not really that sweet, but the juice in the apple is a snappy, tart flavor.”
Cliff Currier said his grandfather made the cider press himself. After the apples are ground into a juicy mash, Cliff Currier scoops the pulp into a plastic pitcher and pours it out onto a cloth. At the pressing station, a pattern of wooden boards and pulp wrapped in cloth are stacked on top of one another. He wraps the pulp into a square of cloth and places another layer of wooden board over the pulp one layer at a time.
After the layers of wood, cloth and apple pulp are stacked, a weight is added to the top and, through a hydraulic mechanism, the juice is squeezed out of the apples with weight from above and below. Juice drips down into a container and piping takes the freshly pressed cider into a tank in a refrigerated room.
Macs are used for the first presses of the season in September. As the season progresses and other varieties ripen, the flavor of the cider will change. The third week of September makes some of the best cider, according to Eber Currier, for that reason.
“We try to select a good variety of apples to put in the cider,” he said. “It will be mostly Macs [at the beginning]. Macs at that time won’t have their maximum sugar content. … Then comes the other varieties like the Honeycrisp, the Galas, the Empires and Red Delicious. … They all mature a little later. We use a few of those in the cider, but not too many.”
Eber Currier said people notice when the flavor changes, especially families who purchase cider throughout the season.
The first presses have a green, fresh and slightly tart flavor, almost like apple juice. The higher the sugar content of the apples, the sweeter the cider. Currier Orchards sells some of the frozen cider from last year. Compared to the first press of the season, last year’s product from the last presses of the season is sweet, sugary and thicker in consistency.
“Back many years ago, we used to sell to the stores,” Eber Currier said. “Then they came out with this rule of pasteurizing the cider. … So we stopped selling to the stores, because we only pasteurize what we give to the children [on school trips].”
The unpasteurized cider at Currier Orchards doesn’t have any preservatives either and lasts a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.
“What you buy at the store doesn't have the same flavor as what you buy from your local farm,” Eber Currier said. “Ours is just all natural. As a result, it will turn to vinegar sooner than what you buy in the store. … We have to have it on the label if the cider is not pasteurized — that’s required by the state. That’s sort of up to the person who buys it. That’s why we sell so much of it — they come to us to get the natural cider.”
Apple cider can be served hot, mulled, chilled or made into hard cider. Eber Currier said he sees a lot of customers coming in to purchase the fresh cider to make into wine and beers.
“When it’s hot, I prefer the cold cider, but when it’s cold, I prefer the hot cider,” he said.
The hot mulled cider at Currier Orchards is made with orange slices and cinnamon sticks.
In 2010, apple cider became the state beverage when students of Jaffrey Grade School wrote to their representative in Concord.
“Most people just drink it during the harvest season,” Eber Currier said. “You can drink it year round. It’s a hearty and healthy drink.”