Pressing Matters

Pressing Matters

by James Asbel, Portfolio Curator

The contemporary Asturian cider mill, llagar, emerged in the late 19th C. as a proto-modern industry that has continued to grow through a continuity of artisan practices to a large scale of production. Francisco Ordoñez of Sidra Viuda de Angelón was asked by the local press if this evolution has produced a lesser quality of sidra than in the old days. His response was that in earlier times, given the diversity of conditions in which sidra was being made and non-professional status of llagareros, truly good sidra stood out against a backdrop of generally poorer cider than what is consistently produced today.

Pressing Matters A small sample of labels of more than 80 commercial cider producers in Asturias

That general increase in quality can be attributed to the emergence of a critical mass of professional llagareros and apple farmers concentrating on the art and science of sidra, their organization into a guild and the dedication of governmental resources to technical research centers such as SERIDA in Villaviciosa. A cadre of dedicated researchers work closely with growers and makers as in most modern cider producing communities. Additionally, the developmernt of university enology programs, while not offering education in cider making (much as the case in the U.S.), at least offer highly related training to technicians who work for some of the larger Spanish cider companies or consult with smaller producers Fran Ordoñez himself graduated in enology from Universidad de Valencia and then worked for wine makers before taking over his family llagar. Having this expertise himself, rather than outsourcing it, drives what is acknowledged to be the most inventive cider operation in Spain.

Carlos Ballesteros, also raised in a sidra-making family, but educated in data driven social sciences before taking over at Sidra anjul, has become an avid modernizer of CIder making technology through computerized metrics and operations management. This has permitted

him to run a large llagar and orchards primarily by himself. While most lagares employ a mix of chestnut, fiberglass and stainless steel fermenting and maturation vessels, Carlos has dispensed with his inherited chestnut tonelas to assure the sterility of his fermenting environment for maximum consistency and to limit available oxygen to what is dissolved in the freshly pressed, preventing osmosis through the wood. This allows him to control acetic levels to a very fine tolerance.

Modern screw press

Raul Riestra draws on his university education in international business to market his sidra througout the EU, exposing him to other important European tastes, leading to his development of a champagne method sidra brut and familiarity with appropriate apple varieties for import.

What appears to present a challenge to the continuity of the old craft in modern Spanish cider making is the evolution of the press itself. The enormous leverage of the pre-modern long beam-presses allowed llagareros to press large troughs (maseras) of shredded pomace. The hand-carved wooden screw at the far end from the masera was screwed up to bring the press-head down into the masera as far as resistance permitted. The expressed juice gradually slowed from a rush to a trickle over hours before enough liquid volume had run out of the pomace to back the press out, fluff the pomace with hand-carved wooden pitch-forks, and bring the press-head back down to squeeze out more juice.

Hydraulic Press

This was done repeatedly over as many as three days until no more juice could be extracted. t produced a high volume of juice per bushel for the time, but was slow. In fact, what I am calling a press-head was really just a horizontal beam transferring the force of the lever to a plane of separate parallel planks laid across the top of the pomice confined to the corral. Between each cycle the separate planks had to be pried up with the pitch-forks and then set back down one-by-one.

The first modern innovation to these presses was the replacement of the huge, space-consuming lever beams with compact electric-powered hydraulic jacks. This was not merely a change of equipment, but of the whole configuration of the lagar. Now the same space could be filled with several smaller maseras each with its own jack-press. In smaller maseras the pomace could be squeezed dry in 1/3 the time, smaller components made the hand work lighter and quicker, and total tonnage being pressed per day was multiplied. Whether old-school wood-framed maseras with transfer beam and planks or modern steel cylinders with a piston head, hydraulic presses are still used.

Pneumatic Press

The new kid on the block is the large cylindrical bladder press adopted from modern wine-making. In these a large fabric bladder stretching from end to end along the center axis of a stainless steel cylinder is inflated pneumatically to expand with great force, pressing a fill of pomace against the perforated walls to force out the juice. The cylindrical chamber is set horizontally to keep it at a manageable height, to allow for a level hinged filing hopper and so that gravity will help drain the juice along its entire length. Given the force limits of such an apparatus, this type of press extracts less juice per bushel than its precursors, but it does its work much faster, netting significantly more juice per day over the harvest season. During peak harvest, though, the hydraulic presses are also kept operating to keep apples moving through the process when the lone, or few, expensive pneumatic presses are fully occupied. During peak harvest llagareros are working day and night.

A nice tannic apple starts to turn brown with the first bite. You won’t find these in the supermarket.

Llagares can now lay up more sidra for breadth of selective blending than ever before, and volume storage is one of the keys to the craft of making sidra. But the devil is in the chemical details. With pomace time in the press now reduced from 1/3 (hydraulic) to 1/24! (pneumatic) since the days of the lever-beam press, the traditionally and inherently long maceration process is short-circuited. And, that’s the process by which a significant amount of polifenols (tannins) are produced by pre-fermentation of the pomice seeds, skins and al – before the juice is even extracted for tank fermentation. This may not be a problem for regions pressing very tannic apple varieties, but for Spain, with an abundance of acidic fruit and a dearth of tannic varieties, the response of lagareros would suggest that maintaining the more gentle balance of tannins in their traditional style requires new tactics. I say this because I see, among my own producers a distinct effort boost the tannins in their blends.

Raul Riestra follows the development of his sidra, sampling regularly from his tonelas.

While Raúl Riestra imports partly to secure higher volume in low-yield years, he specifically selects tannic varieties to boost the number of tannic batches in the bodega for use in his blending cycle. He follows the development over time of the sidra in of each of his many tanks.

Carlos Ballesteros explains his planning ofhis orchard in the region of León.

Carlos Ballesteros cultivated a new orchard in the adjacent Province of León, on the dry southern slopes of the Picos de Europa, successfully propagating tannic varieties that do not do well in the wet soil of Asturias. He gets moisture readings from sensors in soil a 2 hour drive from his headquarters in Asturias and activates drip irrigation from his mobile phone. His first production scale harvest was 2018, and he is enthusiastic about the results.

At Viuda de Angelón, Fran Ordoñez segregates a certain amount of pomice from the triturador, or grinder, and holds it for extended maceration before pressing. Higher tannin batches can be produced from this juice that can then be blended into the straight-to-press cider to achieve the customary Asturian light tannic profile.

Francisco Ordoñez

Raul Riestra, Carlos Ballesteros and Fran Ordoñez each demonstrate a personal response to evolving practice in making sidra. Each comes from a long family tradition of cider making, inheriting a skill-set of purely indigenous craft, each contributing aspects of their own modernity. For Raúl, educated in Business Administration, his approach to changes in pressing methods is through international business practice. He has traveled to identify new apple sources. For Carlos, the response has been to extend orcharding practice through digital technology. For Fran, the response has come from internationally shared wine-making practice newly applied to a formerly parochial craft.

These days we celebrate the label “craft”. We do so mostly to distinguish hands-on, locally sourced goods from mass-produced, mass-marketed things made without the touch of personal integrity; and we attach a constellation of real and mythic characteristics to the label. Being a bit leery of slippery labels I should hesitate to add more grist for misappropriation, but as a conclusion to a piece on modernity and tradition in sidra it occurs to me to propose that “artisan” is not merely “craft”, for which it is commonly regarded as an interchangeable term. Looking at sidra l suggest that to be an artisan is to employ and critique one’s inherited craft from the vantage point of the conditions of one’s time, new insights, and expanded capabilities to take one’s output to the highest possible level of quality according to personal conviction and sensibility. We don’t expect any less from serious writers and painters. Why would we do so for serious cider?

Pressing Matters

by James Asbel, Portfolio Curator

The contemporary Asturian cider mill, llagar, emerged in the late 19th C. as a proto-modern industry that has continued to grow through a continuity of artisan practices to a large scale of production. Francisco Ordoñez of Sidra Viuda de Angelón was asked by the local press if this evolution has produced a lesser quality of sidra than in the old days. His response was that in earlier times, given the diversity of conditions in which sidra was being made and non-professional status of llagareros, truly good sidra stood out against a backdrop of generally poorer cider than what is consistently produced today.

Pressing Matters A small sample of labels of more than 80 commercial cider producers in Asturias

That general increase in quality can be attributed to the emergence of a critical mass of professional llagareros and apple farmers concentrating on the art and science of sidra, their organization into a guild and the dedication of governmental resources to technical research centers such as SERIDA in Villaviciosa. A cadre of dedicated researchers work closely with growers and makers as in most modern cider producing communities. Additionally, the developmernt of university enology programs, while not offering education in cider making (much as the case in the U.S.), at least offer highly related training to technicians who work for some of the larger Spanish cider companies or consult with smaller producers Fran Ordoñez himself graduated in enology from Universidad de Valencia and then worked for wine makers before taking over his family llagar. Having this expertise himself, rather than outsourcing it, drives what is acknowledged to be the most inventive cider operation in Spain.

Carlos Ballesteros, also raised in a sidra-making family, but educated in data driven social sciences before taking over at Sidra anjul, has become an avid modernizer of CIder making technology through computerized metrics and operations management. This has permitted him to run a large llagar and orchards primarily by himself. While most lagares employ a mix of chestnut, fiberglass and stainless steel fermenting and maturation vessels, Carlos has dispensed with his inherited chestnut tonelas to assure the sterility of his fermenting environment for maximum consistency and to limit available oxygen to what is dissolved in the freshly pressed, preventing osmosis through the wood. This allows him to control acetic levels to a very fine tolerance.

Modern screw press

Raul Riestra draws on his university education in international business to market his sidra througout the EU, exposing him to other important European tastes, leading to his development of a champagne method sidra brut and familiarity with appropriate apple varieties for import.

What appears to present a challenge to the continuity of the old craft in modern Spanish cider making is the evolution of the press itself. The enormous leverage of the pre-modern long beam-presses allowed llagareros to press large troughs (maseras) of shredded pomace. The hand-carved wooden screw at the far end from the masera was screwed up to bring the press-head down into the masera as far as resistance permitted. The expressed juice gradually slowed from a rush to a trickle over hours before enough liquid volume had run out of the pomace to back the press out, fluff the pomace with hand-carved wooden pitch-forks, and bring the press-head back down to squeeze out more juice.

Hydraulic Press

This was done repeatedly over as many as three days until no more juice could be extracted. t produced a high volume of juice per bushel for the time, but was slow. In fact, what I am calling a press-head was really just a horizontal beam transferring the force of the lever to a plane of separate parallel planks laid across the top of the pomice confined to the corral. Between each cycle the separate planks had to be pried up with the pitch-forks and then set back down one-by-one.

The first modern innovation to these presses was the replacement of the huge, space-consuming lever beams with compact electric-powered hydraulic jacks. This was not merely a change of equipment, but of the whole configuration of the lagar. Now the same space could be filled with several smaller maseras each with its own jack-press. In smaller maseras the pomace could be squeezed dry in 1/3 the time, smaller components made the hand work lighter and quicker, and total tonnage being pressed per day was multiplied. Whether old-school wood-framed maseras with transfer beam and planks or modern steel cylinders with a piston head, hydraulic presses are still used.

Pneumatic Press

The new kid on the block is the large cylindrical bladder press adopted from modern wine-making. In these a large fabric bladder stretching from end to end along the center axis of a stainless steel cylinder is inflated pneumatically to expand with great force, pressing a fill of pomace against the perforated walls to force out the juice. The cylindrical chamber is set horizontally to keep it at a manageable height, to allow for a level hinged filing hopper and so that gravity will help drain the juice along its entire length. Given the force limits of such an apparatus, this type of press extracts less juice per bushel than its precursors, but it does its work much faster, netting significantly more juice per day over the harvest season. During peak harvest, though, the hydraulic presses are also kept operating to keep apples moving through the process when the lone, or few, expensive pneumatic presses are fully occupied. During peak harvest llagareros are working day and night.

A nice tannic apple starts to turn brown with the first bite. You won’t find these in the supermarket.

Llagares can now lay up more sidra for breadth of selective blending than ever before, and volume storage is one of the keys to the craft of making sidra. But the devil is in the chemical details. With pomace time in the press now reduced from 1/3 (hydraulic) to 1/24! (pneumatic) since the days of the lever-beam press, the traditionally and inherently long maceration process is short-circuited. And, that’s the process by which a significant amount of polifenols (tannins) are produced by pre-fermentation of the pomice seeds, skins and al – before the juice is even extracted for tank fermentation. This may not be a problem for regions pressing very tannic apple varieties, but for Spain, with an abundance of acidic fruit and a dearth of tannic varieties, the response of lagareros would suggest that maintaining the more gentle balance of tannins in their traditional style requires new tactics. I say this because I see, among my own producers a distinct effort boost the tannins in their blends.

While Raúl Riestra imports partly to secure higher volume in low-yield years, he specifically selects tannic varieties to boost the number of tannic batches in the bodega for use in his blending cycle. He follows the development over time of the sidra in of each of his many tanks.

Raul Riestra follows the development of his sidra, sampling regularly from his tonelas.

Carlos Ballesteros cultivated a new orchard in the adjacent Province of León, on the dry southern slopes of the Picos de Europa, successfully propagating tannic varieties that do not do well in the wet soil of Asturias. He gets moisture readings from sensors in soil a 2 hour drive from his headquarters in Asturias and activates drip irrigation from his mobile phone. His first production scale harvest was 2018, and he is enthusiastic about the results.

At Viuda de Angelón, Fran Ordoñez segregates a certain amount of pomice from the triturador, or grinder, and holds it for extended maceration before pressing. Higher tannin batches can be produced from this juice that can then be blended into the straight-to-press cider to achieve the customary Asturian light tannic profile.

Carlos Ballesteros explains his planning ofhis orchard in the region of León.

Raul Riestra, Carlos Ballesteros and Fran Ordoñez each demonstrate a personal response to evolving practice in making sidra. Each comes from a long family tradition of cider making, inheriting a skill-set of purely indigenous craft, each contributing aspects of their own modernity. For Raúl, educated in Business Administration, his approach to changes in pressing methods is through international business practice. He has traveled to identify new apple sources. For Carlos, the response has been to extend orcharding practice through digital technology. For Fran, the response has come from internationally shared wine-making practice newly applied to a formerly parochial craft.

Francisco Ordoñez

These days we celebrate the label “craft”. We do so mostly to distinguish hands-on, locally sourced goods from mass-produced, mass-marketed things made without the touch of personal integrity; and we attach a constellation of real and mythic characteristics to the label. Being a bit leery of slippery labels I should hesitate to add more grist for misappropriation, but as a conclusion to a piece on modernity and tradition in sidra it occurs to me to propose that “artisan” is not merely “craft”, for which it is commonly regarded as an interchangeable term. Looking at sidra l suggest that to be an artisan is to employ and critique one’s inherited craft from the vantage point of the conditions of one’s time, new insights, and expanded capabilities to take one’s output to the highest possible level of quality according to personal conviction and sensibility. We don’t expect any less from serious writers and painters. Why would we do so for serious cider?

I am often asked how Spanish cider makers achieve consistency in their spontaneous wild yeast fermentation. I am encouraged by the question, because it indicates a pretty good grasp of how cider is made and that many are making their own cider as well. And, it indicates a growing interest in natural fermentation. America: Cidery as Laboratory
Saccharomyces yeast culture
In the U.S. potassium meta-bisulphite is used to sterilize the juice. Proper selection of and inoculation with a commercial yeast is considered part of the craft. Serious cider makers regard cultured yeast varieties to be as important a variable in projecting cider outcomes as apple varieties. Some even select yeasts that will more assertively express themselves in the finished cider than the fruit. These are legitimate aesthetic choices. From a practical standpoint sterilization and inoculation offer predictability. Much professional cider making in the U.S. is laboratory intensive. Having measured acidity, specific gravity and other factors, and controlling temperatures in the fermentation vessels; the cider maker can apply data provided for a cultured yeast to predict the development of alcohol and residual sugar levels along a predictable timeline. All this permits a high degree of manipulation and uniformity of desired cider characteristics. For the cider maker with limited cooperage, or the large commercial producer, controlling fermentation also facilitates a high turnover production schedule. This is FAST CIDER. How do the Spanish manage these variables with a spontaneous fermentation? Well, they don’t. I used to follow this reply with the observation that with generations of experience comes a familiarity with the result and that predictability comes with long experience. But that’s too glib. After all, those wild yeasts are coming in on apples from diverse slopes and valleys in Asturias. Should we be tempted to speculate that a predictable, common set of yeast strains has spread over time across the region, then we have to consider the importation of apples from Galicia and even Normandy. Not to mention the coexistence of diverse strains in any one place, on the apples and environment of the llagar (cider house). Spain: It’s a Jungle in There
Dance Party in the Juice
Fermentation in Spain is exactly the opposite of our yeast selective approach. In Spain a whole pack of hungry microbes are left free to feed unhindered on the nutrients in freshly pressed juice. First, saccharomyces yeast burn off entrained oxygen while converting natural sugar to alcohol. Like wolves at the kill the more aggressive strains feed first, followed by strains that can hang around longer as oxygen is depleted. This results in a layered and complex fermentation with aromatic results as varied as the multiple vats filled from juiced apples from different orchards. Sidra is fermented at ambient temperature. In Asturias, at harvest time that is in the mid-fifties Farenheit. Within a few days the saccharomyces fermentation has mostly depleted the oxygen it requires, having produced nearly 90% of the total alcohol that will be generated. With the cider then racked and sealed with an air-lock, lactobacyllis begin their anaerobic conversion of endogenous malic acid to lactic acid in what is known as malolactic fermentation. The lactic acid is softer on the tongue than its precursor, but this process is what generates the notorious earthy aromas of sidra, once strange to Americans, but now increasingly popularized as “the funk”. (“Gotta have it.”) But wait. Even though oxygen has been depleted, once significant alcohol is present, endogenous acetobacteria will begin a restrained aerobic conversion of alcohol to a limited amount of acetic acid – aka vinegar – yielding a modest tang. Sidra is not considered matured for release until April, but most is reserved longer, for up to two years, in huge vessels. Only then do sidra makers actively intervene, responding to the varied outcomes in the many vessels – more than the keys on a piano – which they have been sampling throughout their evolution to shape chords that please finely-tuned, personal sensibilities. This is where the art of blending takes over. This is SLOW CIDER. In my next post I will introduce Spanish apple varieties and be able to discuss the blending process in detail.

Pressing Matters

by James Asbel, Portfolio Curator

Pressing Matters A small sample of labels of more than 80 commercial cider producers in Asturias

The contemporary Asturian cider mill, llagar, emerged in the late 19th C. as a proto-modern industry that has continued to grow through a continuity of artisan practices to a large scale of production. Francisco Ordoñez of Sidra Viuda de Angelón was asked by the local press if this evolution has produced a lesser quality of sidra than in the old days. His response was that in earlier times, given the diversity of conditions in which sidra was being made and non-professional status of llagareros, truly good sidra stood out against a backdrop of generally poorer cider than what is consistently produced today.

That general increase in quality can be attributed to the emergence of a critical mass of professional llagareros and apple farmers concentrating on the art and science of sidra, their organization into a guild and the dedication of governmental resources to technical research centers such as SERIDA in Villaviciosa. A cadre of dedicated researchers work closely with growers and makers as in most modern cider producing communities. Additionally, the developmernt of university enology programs, while not offering education in cider making (much as the case in the U.S.), at least offer highly related training to technicians who work for some of the larger Spanish cider companies or consult with smaller producers Fran Ordoñez himself graduated in enology from Universidad de Valencia and then worked for wine makers before taking over his family llagar. Having this expertise himself, rather than outsourcing it, drives what is acknowledged to be the most inventive cider operation in Spain.

Modern screw press

Raul Riestra draws on his university education in international business to market his sidra througout the EU, exposing him to other important European tastes, leading to his development of a champagne method sidra brut and familiarity with appropriate apple varieties for import.

What appears to present a challenge to the continuity of the old craft in modern Spanish cider making is the evolution of the press itself. The enormous leverage of the pre-modern long beam-presses allowed llagareros to press large troughs (maseras) of shredded pomace. The hand-carved wooden screw at the far end from the masera was screwed up to bring the press-head down into the masera as far as resistance permitted. The expressed juice gradually slowed from a rush to a trickle over hours before enough liquid volume had run out of the pomace to back the press out, fluff the pomace with hand-carved wooden pitch-forks, and bring the press-head back down to squeeze out more juice.

Hydraulic press

This was done repeatedly over as many as three days until no more juice could be extracted. t produced a high volume of juice per bushel for the time, but was slow. In fact, what I am calling a press-head was really just a horizontal beam transferring the force of the lever to a plane of separate parallel planks laid across the top of the pomice confined to the corral. Between each cycle the separate planks had to be pried up with the pitch-forks and then set back down one-by-one.

The first modern innovation to these presses was the replacement of the huge, space-consuming lever beams with compact electric-powered hydraulic jacks. This was not merely a change of equipment, but of the whole configuration of the lagar. Now the same space could be filled with several smaller maseras each with its own jack-press. In smaller maseras the pomace could be squeezed dry in 1/3 the time, smaller components made the hand work lighter and quicker, and total tonnage being pressed per day was multiplied. Whether old-school wood-framed maseras with transfer beam and planks or modern steel cylinders with a piston head, hydraulic presses are still used.

Pneumatic Press

The new kid on the block is the large cylindrical bladder press adopted from modern wine-making. In these a large fabric bladder stretching from end to end along the center axis of a stainless steel cylinder is inflated pneumatically to expand with great force, pressing a fill of pomace against the perforated walls to force out the juice. The cylindrical chamber is set horizontally to keep it at a manageable height, to allow for a level hinged filing hopper and so that gravity will help drain the juice along its entire length. Given the force limits of such an apparatus, this type of press extracts less juice per bushel than its precursors, but it does its work much faster, netting significantly more juice per day over the harvest season. During peak harvest, though, the hydraulic presses are also kept operating to keep apples moving through the process when the lone, or few, expensive pneumatic presses are fully occupied. During peak harvest llagareros are working day and night.

A nice tannic apple starts to turn brown with the first bite. You won’t find these in the supermarket.

Llagares can now lay up more sidra for breadth of selective blending than ever before, and volume storage is one of the keys to the craft of making sidra. But the devil is in the chemical details. With pomace time in the press now reduced from 1/3 (hydraulic) to 1/24! (pneumatic) since the days of the lever-beam press, the traditionally and inherently long maceration process is short-circuited. And, that’s the process by which a significant amount of polifenols (tannins) are produced by pre-fermentation of the pomice seeds, skins and al – before the juice is even extracted for tank fermentation. This may not be a problem for regions pressing very tannic apple varieties, but for Spain, with an abundance of acidic fruit and a dearth of tannic varieties, the response of lagareros would suggest that maintaining the more gentle balance of tannins in their traditional style requires new tactics. I say this because I see, among my own producers a distinct effort boost the tannins in their blends.

Raul Riestra follows the development of his sidra, sampling regularly from his tonelas.

While Raúl Riestra imports partly to secure higher volume in low-yield years, he specifically selects tannic varieties to boost the number of tannic batches in the bodega for use in his blending cycle. He follows the development over time of the sidra in of each of his many tanks.

Carlos Ballesteros cultivated a new orchard in the adjacent Province of León, on the dry southern slopes of the Picos de Europa, successfully propagating tannic varieties that do not do well in the wet soil of Asturias. He gets moisture readings from sensors in soil a 2 hour drive from his headquarters in Asturias and activates drip irrigation from his mobile phone. His first production scale harvest was 2018, and he is enthusiastic about the results.

Carlos Ballesteros explains his planning ofhis orchard in the region of León.

At Viuda de Angelón, Fran Ordoñez segregates a certain amount of pomice from the triturador, or grinder, and holds it for extended maceration before pressing. Higher tannin batches can be produced from this juice that can then be blended into the straight-to-press cider to achieve the customary Asturian light tannic profile.

Raul Riestra, Carlos Ballesteros and Fran Ordoñez each demonstrate a personal response to evolving practice in making sidra. Each comes from a long family tradition of cider making, inheriting a skill-set of purely indigenous craft, each contributing aspects of their own modernity. For Raúl, educated in Business Administration, his approach to changes in pressing methods is through international business practice. He has traveled to identify new apple sources. For Carlos, the response has been to extend orcharding practice through digital technology. For Fran, the response has come from internationally shared wine-making practice newly applied to a formerly parochial craft.

Francisco Ordoñez

These days we celebrate the label “craft”. We do so mostly to distinguish hands-on, locally sourced goods from mass-produced, mass-marketed things made without the touch of personal integrity; and we attach a constellation of real and mythic characteristics to the label. Being a bit leery of slippery labels I should hesitate to add more grist for misappropriation, but as a conclusion to a piece on modernity and tradition in sidra it occurs to me to propose that “artisan” is not merely “craft”, for which it is commonly regarded as an interchangeable term. Looking at sidra l suggest that to be an artisan is to employ and critique one’s inherited craft from the vantage point of the conditions of one’s time, new insights, and expanded capabilities to take one’s output to the highest possible level of quality according to personal conviction and sensibility. We don’t expect any less from serious writers and painters. Why would we do so for serious cider?

I am often asked how Spanish cider makers achieve consistency in their spontaneous wild yeast fermentation. I am encouraged by the question, because it indicates a pretty good grasp of how cider is made and that many are making their own cider as well. And, it indicates a growing interest in natural fermentation. America: Cidery as Laboratory
Saccharomyces yeast culture
In the U.S. potassium meta-bisulphite is used to sterilize the juice. Proper selection of and inoculation with a commercial yeast is considered part of the craft. Serious cider makers regard cultured yeast varieties to be as important a variable in projecting cider outcomes as apple varieties. Some even select yeasts that will more assertively express themselves in the finished cider than the fruit. These are legitimate aesthetic choices. From a practical standpoint sterilization and inoculation offer predictability. Much professional cider making in the U.S. is laboratory intensive. Having measured acidity, specific gravity and other factors, and controlling temperatures in the fermentation vessels; the cider maker can apply data provided for a cultured yeast to predict the development of alcohol and residual sugar levels along a predictable timeline. All this permits a high degree of manipulation and uniformity of desired cider characteristics. For the cider maker with limited cooperage, or the large commercial producer, controlling fermentation also facilitates a high turnover production schedule. This is FAST CIDER. How do the Spanish manage these variables with a spontaneous fermentation? Well, they don’t. I used to follow this reply with the observation that with generations of experience comes a familiarity with the result and that predictability comes with long experience. But that’s too glib. After all, those wild yeasts are coming in on apples from diverse slopes and valleys in Asturias. Should we be tempted to speculate that a predictable, common set of yeast strains has spread over time across the region, then we have to consider the importation of apples from Galicia and even Normandy. Not to mention the coexistence of diverse strains in any one place, on the apples and environment of the llagar (cider house). Spain: It’s a Jungle in There
Dance Party in the Juice
Fermentation in Spain is exactly the opposite of our yeast selective approach. In Spain a whole pack of hungry microbes are left free to feed unhindered on the nutrients in freshly pressed juice. First, saccharomyces yeast burn off entrained oxygen while converting natural sugar to alcohol. Like wolves at the kill the more aggressive strains feed first, followed by strains that can hang around longer as oxygen is depleted. This results in a layered and complex fermentation with aromatic results as varied as the multiple vats filled from juiced apples from different orchards. Sidra is fermented at ambient temperature. In Asturias, at harvest time that is in the mid-fifties Farenheit. Within a few days the saccharomyces fermentation has mostly depleted the oxygen it requires, having produced nearly 90% of the total alcohol that will be generated. With the cider then racked and sealed with an air-lock, lactobacyllis begin their anaerobic conversion of endogenous malic acid to lactic acid in what is known as malolactic fermentation. The lactic acid is softer on the tongue than its precursor, but this process is what generates the notorious earthy aromas of sidra, once strange to Americans, but now increasingly popularized as “the funk”. (“Gotta have it.”) But wait. Even though oxygen has been depleted, once significant alcohol is present, endogenous acetobacteria will begin a restrained aerobic conversion of alcohol to a limited amount of acetic acid – aka vinegar – yielding a modest tang. Sidra is not considered matured for release until April, but most is reserved longer, for up to two years, in huge vessels. Only then do sidra makers actively intervene, responding to the varied outcomes in the many vessels – more than the keys on a piano – which they have been sampling throughout their evolution to shape chords that please finely-tuned, personal sensibilities. This is where the art of blending takes over. This is SLOW CIDER. In my next post I will introduce Spanish apple varieties and be able to discuss the blending process in detail.
In the previous post on Deep Dives (“What is Artisanal” ) I discussed the origins of today’s Asturian cider mills, llagares, as a pre-modern industry that has continued to grow through a continuity of artisan practices to a large scale of production. Francisco Ordoñez of Sidra Viuda de Angelón was asked by the local press if this evolution has produced a lesser quality of sidra than in the old days. His response was that in earlier times, given the diversity of conditions in which sidra was being made and non-professional status of llagareros, truly good sidra stood out against a backdrop of generally poorer cider than what is consistently produced today.
Just a handful of labels from 99 commercial llagares in Astúrias
That general increase in quality can be attributed to the emergence of a critical mass of professional llagareros and apple farmers concentrating on the art and science of sidra, their organization into a guild and the dedication of governmental resources to technical research centers such as SERIDA in Villaviciosa. A cadre of dedicated researchers work closely with growers and makers as in most modern cider producing communities. Additionally, the development of university enology programs, while not offering education in cider making (much as the case in the U.S.), at least offer highly related training to technicians who work for some of the larger Spanish cider companies or consult with smaller producers. Fran Ordoñez himself graduated in enology from Universidad de Valencia and then worked for wine makers before taking over his family llagar. Having this expertise himself, rather than outsourcing it, drives what is acknowledged to be the most inventive cider operation in Spain. Carlos Ballesteros, also raised in a sidra-making family, but educated in data driven social sciences before taking over at Sidra Fanjul, has become an avid modernizer of cider making technology through computerized metrics and operations management. This has permitted him to run a large llagar and orchards primarily by himself. While most llagares employ a mix of chestnut, fiberglass and stainless steel fermenting and maturation vessels, Carlos has dispensed with his inherited chestnut tonelas to assure the sterility of his fermenting environment for maximum consistency and to limit available oxygen to what is dissolved in the freshly pressed juice, eliminating osmosis through the wood. This allows him to control acetic levels to a very fine tolerance. Raul Riestra draws on his university education in international business to market his sidra througout the EU, exposing him to other important European tastes, leading to his development of a champagne method sidra brut and familiarity with appropriate apple varieties for import.
Rough hewn lever press in El Museo de la Sidra, Nava, Astúrias
What appears to present a challenge to the continuity of the old craft in modern Spanish cider making is the evolution of the press itself. The enormous leverage of the pre-modern long beam-presses allowed llagareros to press large troughs (maseras) of shredded pomace. The hand-carved wooden screw at the far end from the masera was screwed up to bring the press-head down into the masera as far as resistance permitted. The expressed juice gradually slowed from a rush to a trickle over hours before enough liquid volume had run out of the pomace to back the press out, fluff the pomace with hand-carved wooden pitch-forks, and bring the press-head back down to squeeze out more juice. This was done repeatedly over as many as three days until no more juice could be extracted. It produced a high volume of juice per bushel for the time, but was slow. In fact, what I am calling a press-head was really just a horizontal beam transferring the force of the lever to a plane of separate parallel planks laid across the top of the pomice confined to the corral. Between each cycle the separate planks had to be pried up with the pitch-forks and then set back down one-by-one. The first modern innovation to these presses was the replacement of the huge, space-consuming lever beams with compact electric-powered hydraulic jacks. This was not merely a change of equipment, but of the whole configuration of the llagar. Now the same space could be filled with several smaller maseras each with its own jack-press. In smaller maseras the pomace could be squeezed dry in 1/3 the time, smaller components made the hand work lighter and quicker, and total tonnage being pressed per day was multiplied. Whether old-school wood-framed maseras with transfer beam and planks or modern steel cylinders with a piston head, hydraulic presses are still used.  
Hydraulic piston and cylinder press
The new kid on the block is the large cylindrical bladder press adopted from modern wine-making. In these a large fabric bladder stretching from end to end along the center axis of a stainless steel cylinder is inflated pneumatically to expand with great force, pressing a fill of pomace against the perforated walls to force out the juice. The cylindrical chamber is set horizontally to keep it at a manageable height, to allow for a level hinged filling hopper and so that gravity will help drain the juice along its entire length. Given the force limits of such an apparatus, this type of press extracts less juice per bushel than its precursors, but it does its work much faster, netting significantly more juice per day over the harvest season. During peak harvest, though, the hydraulic presses are also kept operating to keep apples moving through the process when the lone, or few, expensive pneumatic presses are fully occupied. During peak harvest llagareros are working day and night. Llagares can now lay up more sidra for breadth of selective blending than ever before, and volume storage is one of the keys to the craft of making sidra. But the devil is in the chemical details. With pomace time in the press now reduced from 1/3 (hydraulic) to 1/24! (pneumatic) since the days of the lever-beam press, the traditionally and inherently long maceration process is short-circuited. And, that’s the process by which a significant amount of polifenols (tannins) are produced by pre-fermentation of the pomice – seeds, skins and al – before the juice is even extracted for tank fermentation. This may not be a problem for regions pressing very tannic apple varieties, but for Spain, with an abundance of acidic fruit and a dearth of tannic varieties, the response of llagareros would suggest that maintaining the more gentle balance of tannins in their traditional style requires new tactics. I say this because I see, among my own producers a distinct effort boost the tannins in their blends. While Raúl Riestra imports partly to secure higher volume in low-yield years, he specifically selects tannic varieties to boost the number of tannic batches in the bodega for use in his blending cycle. Carlos Ballesteros cultivated a new orchard in the adjacent Province of León, on the dry southern slopes of the Picos de Europa, successfully propagating tannic varieties that do not do well in the wet soil of Asturias. He gets moisture readings from sensors in soil a 2 hour drive from his headquarters in Asturias and activates drip irrigation from his mobile phone. His first production scale harvest was 2018, and he is enthusiastic about the results. Raúl Riestra follows the development over time of the sidra in of each of his many tanks.
Raúl Riestra follows the development over time of the sidra in of each of his many tanks.
At Viuda de Angelón, Fran Ordoñez segregates a certain amount of pomice from the triturador, or grinder, and holds it for extended maceration before pressing. Higher tannin batches can be produced from this juice that can then be blended into the straight-to-press cider to achieve the customary Asturian light tannic profile. Raul Riestra, Carlos Ballesteros and Fran Ordoñez each demonstrate a personal response to evolving practice in making sidra. Each comes from a long family tradition of cider making, inheriting a skill-set of purely indigenous craft, each contributing aspects of their own modernity. For Raúl, educated in Business Administration, his approach to changes in pressing methods is through international business practice. He has traveled to identify new apple sources. For Carlos, the response has been to extend orcharding practice through digital technology. For Fran, the response has come from internationally shared wine-making practice newly applied to a formerly parochial craft. These days we celebrate the label “craft”. We do so mostly to distinguish hands-on, locally sourced goods from mass-produced, mass-marketed things made without the touch of personal integrity; and we attach a constellation of real and mythic characteristics to the label. Being a bit leery of slippery labels I should hesitate to add more grist for misappropriation, but as a conclusion to a piece on modernity and tradition in sidra it occurs to me to propose that “artisan” is not merely “craft”, for which it is commonly regarded as an interchangeable term. Looking at sidra I suggest that to be an artisan is to employ and critique one’s inherited craft from the vantage point of the conditions of one’s time, new insights and expanded capabilities to take one’s output to the highest possible level of quality according to personal conviction and sensibility. We don’t expect any less from serious writers and painters. Why would we do so for serious cider makers?  

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