Fruit pressing and cider making both have a long and important history in Ireland and the UK. In many ways the equipment used hasn't changed as much as you might think, although it's probably rare to find a horse-operated cider mill these days. While fruit presses used for commercial purposes are very large and designed for intensive usage, there are more compact, affordable designs that are suitable for hobbyists or people who just want to dip their toes into fruit pressing or cider making.
Benefits of Fruit Pressing
It’s a great way to make use of your homegrown fruit produce, reducing food waste.
Homegrown and homemade fruit juice lacks the added sugars and sweeteners of the store-bought kinds.
It will probably contain more nutrients as well, as fruit juice is always better consumed soon after it’s been pressed (preferably on the same day).
A fruit press is designed to extract the maximum amount of juice from fruits, so you end up with more juice per pound of fruit than you would if you were using a hand squeezer or blender. 20kgs of apples can yield up to 10 litres of juice.
We stock a range of fruit presses, crushers and cider making kits from Vigo Presses. They are suitable for beginners and hobbyists, and provide a relatively inexpensive way of trying out fruit pressing and seeing if you enjoy it enough to make a habit out of it.
These kinds of units are most commonly used for making juice or cider from apples, but you can pretty much use any fruit that contains enough juice (or juice tasty enough) to make it worthwhile. This includes grapes, pears, cherries, blackberries, strawberries and peaches. Some fruits may need to be pitted and peeled first.
This is the more traditional design and has been used for winemaking going back centuries. It uses a spindle or screw to apply pressure to the fruit. As this happens, the resulting juice will pour out through gaps in the press (which often takes the form of a barrel or basket). These spindle presses are generally more compact than the cross beam types. Despite being an older design, the spindle press is regarded by many hobbyists as being somewhat more effective when it comes to pressing strength.
Cross Beam Presses
The cross beam press is also known as a ratchet press. It has supports on either side, with a cross beam supporting the central spindle and pressing plate(s). This all adds up to a more imposing, grand design. An advantage of this type of press is that it can swing away or open outwards, giving you more room to work with when adding fruit to the press. This can also make it easier to clean and maintain.
A fruit crusher is sometimes also referred to as a fruit press, but to be more exact the crusher is a different device that is used to prepare fruit for being added to the press. It tends to have a more ‘industrial’ design, and can often be placed directly over the press. The Vigo Economy Crusher that we supply is a good example. It has a strong stainless steel hopper, serrated rollers and hooked blades that act as the crushing mechanism, and a steel crank handle for operating. Halved and quartered apples and pears can be added to the crusher, and with a bit of elbow grease the rollers and blades will grind them down to a pomace suitable for pressing. The Economy Crusher can be placed on top of a press or bucket, allowing the mixture to fall down into it.
This is mainly referring to apple pressing, but much the same principle will apply to other types of fruit. Once the juice has been pressed you can drink it straight away, but there are additional steps outlined if you want to ferment the juice or you intend to make cider with it.
Harvesting: When making juice or cider you should aim to harvest apples at the peak of ripeness. This will usually be in the fall, but different apple varieties will ripen at different times (the prevailing weather will also have an influence). Signs of ripeness include how easily the apple detaches from the stem, a dark brown or black pip (although this doesn’t apply to early ripening varieties like Discovery), or more accurately an iodine starch test.
Washing and Sorting: Wash the apples so that they’re free of dirt or debris. At this point you should separate and put aside any apples showing signs of rot or mould.
Grinding or Crushing: Apples and other fruit can be crushed in a number of ways (including with good old manual labour) but it becomes far easier if you use a specially designed fruit grinder. Many of these are designed to be placed directly over a fruit press; sometimes the two are combined in one product. The process of grinding creates a pomace or pulpy residue, which ideally should have a grated consistency. Before placing your apples in the crusher you should cut them into quarters or smaller pieces. You may be tempted to use a standard blender for this task but the resulting mix will most likely not be suitable for pressing.
Pressing Once the pomace has been formed, you are now ready to use the press. Hydraulic presses are used to steadily squeeze the mixture and extract juice from it. A specially-designed straining bag can be used to contain the pomace when adding the mixture to the container. Fruit presses come in a range of sizes and there are an increasing number of affordable options for beginners. The most common designs are the spindle press and the cross beam press.
Fermentation This is the step where juice is added to a suitable container and left to ferment. Fermentation can take three to six weeks. Most (if not all) hobby cider making kits will include fermentation cylinders (such as a demijohn), as well as yeast sachets. Adding cultured yeast to the juice will speed along the fermentation process; it consumes the natural sugars and converts them into carbon dioxide and alcohol.
Racking When the cider has fermented, you can siphon it off into a clean container. This is known as racking and it separates the cider from the sediment left behind.
Aging If desired, you can allow cider to age for a number of months. Freshly made cider can have a somewhat tangy taste, but aging allows the flavour to ‘mellow’. Store in clean, airtight containers in a cool and dark place.
Cider Making Kits
The Vigo cider making kit contains everything you could need to make your own cider at home: aside from the barrel-shaped hobby press, you get a pulpmaster fruit crushing system with bucket, a pair of 15 litre fermentation buckets with lids, plastic bubbler airlocks with grommets, a yeast sachet and two steriliser sachets. Ideally you should start with a mixture of apples that will balance sweetness, acidity and bitterness.