FROM ORCHARD TO BOTTLE
If you’re not familiar with the method of ‘keeving’ you’d be forgiven! This traditional cider making method, dating back to the mid 1600’s, has largely died out in commercial cider making methods in the UK. However the slower method is it still alive and well in the production of ‘cidre bouche’ in north west France.
Keeving is a method of making a naturally sparkling cider, the extended fermentation process allowing for a refreshing apple flavour and soft, smooth taste.
Pilton cider, based in the cider-making heartland of Somerset, is an artisan producer spearheading the way for this traditional method in the UK. They have developed a unique and special cider that differs from the French varieties thanks to our unrivalled English crop of sweet apples. Martin, from Pilton Cider, turned his hobby into a business in 2010 and has been producing fantastic cider ever since.
Martin explained that the process begins in the orchards. Apples are collected from traditional cider orchards in and around the parish of Pilton, now including their own small orchard. Martin’s orchard holds a variety of types of apple that are only collected once they’re fully ripe and naturally fall from the trees. Using only fully ripe apples ensure that the apples are naturally lower in nutrients which helps with the ‘keeving’ process. Which essentially aims at removing nutrients from the juice at an early stage to ensure a long slow fermentation.
Martin tests the ripeness of apples using a simple chemistry test. Using iodine he checks the odd apple for starch. The darker the apple inside turns, the less ripe the fruit and more full of starch. When the starch has turned to sugars the apple reacts less to the test.
To begin the process, fully ripe, bittersweet cider apples are collected and milled. The puree is then left to stand for a period before then pressing the pulp. This is called the maceration period. Leaving the pulp to stand means a longer production time but it allows oxidisation to take place which creates a darker colour juice with a rich flavour.
After a few days, the pectin gel that forms on the top of the juice is then removed along with most of the actively fermenting yeast and the nutrients it needs to fully ferment the apple sugars into alcohol. It then ferments slowly. The liquid has to be kept cool throughout the process to prevent the fermentation speeding up. The cider is then bottled before it completes its fermentation with a cork alike to a champagne bottle.
Pilton only press and produce their cider throughout October and November, so the process is just beginning in preparation for next year’s stock. Here at Gloucester Services, we couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of more Pilton Cider taking its place on our shelves. Pilton cider is available in a variety of sizes in our farmshops now.