The best ciders are the result of careful blending. Opinions differ as to which apples make the best cider. Some experts believe that only certain, special varieties, rich in tannins, make decent cider.
Apples used to make hard cider are more closely related to wild crab apples than ordinary eating apples and have high tannin content. Pomologists divide cider apples into two broad categoriesbittersweet and bittersharp. Bittersharps have a higher acid content than bittersweets. Both yield juice that is rich in natural sugar and ferments to produce alcohol. Cider mills normally use a blend of bittersharps and bittersweets to give the cider a balanced taste. Some cider mills have been known to add small amounts of crab apples to their blends in order to create a more unique taste.
After harvesting, the fruit is crushed, or scratted, in the cider mill. After crushing, the pulp, known as the pomace or pommage, is wrapped in cloth, ready for pressing. The pomace cloth is generally made from nylon, but some traditional cider-makers still press their apples through straw. The wrapped pomace, often known as the cheese, is then placed on the cider press and the unfermented juice, or must, is extracted by applying varying amounts of pressure.
For hard cider, the must is transferred directly to fermentation vats or casks. To produce dry cider, fermentation continues until all the sugar is converted to alcohol. For sweet cider, the juice is filtered at an early stage to retain the required percentage of unfermented sugar.
The initial fermentation process usually relies on the wild yeast present in the apples. Commercial cider producers add cultured yeast (often champagne yeast) to the must in order to ensure a consistent end product.
After about three months of maturation, the must is filtered to remove sediment that contributes to a cloudy appearance. Some traditional cider makers insist on retaining this natural cloudiness as a token of authenticity. Most commercially produced hard ciders and some traditional ciders are then carbonated. American cider tends to be less carbonated than its European equivalent, mainly to avoid the country”s high sparkling wine tax.
Today, cider drinking is very much in vogue and cider producers, both commercial and traditional, are meeting this increasing demand for volume and quality.