Le Cidre 2016 – Local Crop Processing Project

The cider (le cidre) is well known alcoholic drink in parts of the world like Normandie, Bretagne, South West England, Ireland, Asturias and more could be named. I’m Frantisek Algoldor Apfelbeck, and I’m really into the cider so it came to me that it would be good to visit at least one of those regions with long history of cider making. I thought it would be very interesting and beneficial for future projects in this field in which I want to be involved. After quite some thinking I’ve decided for France and it’s famous cider making region Normandie. There were several reasons for that, the main having already contacts there from our previous Dancing Drops Fermentation Tour around Europe and easy and cost effective way how to reach it, in this case by car. I’ve split my visit into two because of my harvesting and processing activities of apple crop in Kout na Šumavě which was part of the Local Crop Processing Project (LCPP).  I’ve tried to learn as much as I could about cider related activities and I’m sharing this information now with you, I hope you will find it valuable.

The mode of transport for the trip was VW minivan, the same one which we used with Food Hacking Base (fhb) several times before and which is part of the OpenLab Augsburg hackerspace. I would like to thank again for letting us to utilize it, it was a great help! The advantages of this vehicle are numerous. For me being able to relay on it’s sturdiness is number one. Because of the size and design it allows to transport quite a selection of equipment, harvested crops and still you are able to use it for sleeping if necessary. In a way the trip started with a train ride from Czech Republic to Bavaria to Augsburg, where I’ve picked up the car and return to Czech to do the first phase of harvesting. I’ve collected variety of apples for tasting which I was brining to France because I was interested, if there is a potential to use them for high quality cider production in the future. Before I hit the road I have bought some “presents” like Czech sausages, beers and spirits so I would not arrive empty handed. It was a long journey for me, I did it in one way with just minimal number of stops, it took me over 15 hours of driving but all went fine, I’ve arrived in one piece and just in time for dinner, what more could I wish for?

I’ve found the farm or rather cidrerieLa Ferme du Vastel” quite easily, it came quite handy that I’ve visited the place before. I came late in the evening so actually I was quite lucky because all the work was done and the dinner was being served. I’ve talked to the folk a bit (in English), enjoyed the fire and quite soon went to bed because I was really tired. Christophe (the owner of the cidrerie) is every year inviting his friends and people who support his business to join him for the harvest season opening his house for week or two. People help with harvest and they get bed, food and lots of fun in exchange. With just few hours of work every day in the afternoon and partying late nearly every day it is really good deal, people have been very happy to come back again over the years. I’ve enjoyed my time during the harvest a lot, learned quite a lot about the harvesting and processing work, got back to cooking preparing variety of dishes, learned a bit how the farm is operating and socialized with many interesting people. Most of the visitors spoke English, alas with me not knowing any French than, I had to pass on quite a few conversations.

Now lets talk a bit about harvesting and processing of the apple because we will probably agree on that being an important part of  the cider making activities and the main reason why I came made this trip in first place. If it is not heavy rain, the normal picking day during the collective harvest time starts around 13:30 or 14:00, that translates you are on the field ready to start and finishes latest around 18:00 or before. Christophe is first coming to the field in advance with tractor and trailer for the apple collection and transportation and the people who help with the harvest arrive later with cars. We bring food and drinks for the break time with us. When on the field people get their “le panier” basket and they start to pick the apples from the ground at the beginning of the tree line. It is really important that you start to pick from the edge because otherwise when walking around you crash the apples with your feet which would later on get rotten and likely to spoil the apples which fall down around later on. Each orchard is generaly being harvested more than once during the autumn season. Before the harvest time comes the grass is cut as short as possible, it makes the picking of the apples much more easy. So you start from the edge of the tree canopy towards it’s trunk in the center, going down on your knees and you pick all the good apples to the panier, throwing the rotten apples out from below the tree into the middle line where they are left to rot leaving the area under the tree nice and clean of all the apples. Once your basket is nearly full you call “panier” and the person who is dedicated to the job of bringing the full baskets will come and give you empty one so you can continue without having to get up and move around. Panier man is normally “employed” when there are four and more people picking, it is good to change after hour or two because with each paniet being around 10-12 kg it is quite hard job. The panier man hands you the empty basket and brings the full basket to the tractor trailer. Before he disposes the panier into the trailer trying to keep the apples level, he takes one small apple out (every time for each basket) and puts it in the counting bucket. In the meanwhile someone else is already calling “panier” so he is on his way again. The apples in the counting bucket are counted at the end of the shift so the number of panier collected is known. That is very important for the purpose of keeping track on your efficiency but also because in same cases on the rented orchards it is traditional habit that you “officially” harvest all the apples for the orchard owner, but you keep all the apples and you pay only every second panier to the owner of the orchard. However this depends on the situation and changes from place to place and person to person. The panier are therefore counted and the amount of money going to the orchard owner is set and paid later in money or products or not at all depending on the agreement. The apples in Normandie, well definitely in the region of  Vallée de Sair are generally of smaller size, as small or even smaller than usual chicken eggs, some of them are however really tiny more or less size of big cherries, picking up those is definitely taking up quite some time but they are important because of their high tannins and aromatic compound content. During our harvest time we have visited both the really traditional orchards with high trunk tree varieties designed for cattle grazing and the newer ones, where shorter trees, quarter or half trunks, are planted in lines and where the grass is generally cut by machine. Proper grass management before the harvest season is very important.

Around 15:30 or 16:00 we take a break, sit all together and we eat and drink. It is really nice, relaxed and slow moment, with lots of talking and joking. After that more picking and when the six is getting close we finish up, gather all what is needed and leave for Ferme du Vastel. If the trailer is full or if we go for another field next day, Christophe brings the tractor with the trailer back to the farm and unload it at the “parking lot” where he first disperse big plastic tarp so the apples do not get extra dirty from the soil. In this way he collects several tuns of apples before he process them. For this season he asks his neighbor who has mobile crashing and pressing unit to come because it is very time efficient, he can process around 1.5-2 metric tonnes of apples per hour (however with the wash up of the apples it takes longer). Using the mobile “apple processors” (le presseur ou le pilleur) is actually very traditional way in Normandie dating many hundreds of years back as variety of books, photographs and museums show.

During my first part of my visit this autumn we have been picking up the apples for making apple juice for drinking because the apple harvesting season was very late this year. The idea is to pick up all the apples which falls too early having therefore low sugar content which is not suitable for cider making and process them into juice which is usually pasteurized and sold later on. The first step of the processing is washing up of the apples removing soil, grass and other impurities and of course also apples which are too rotten (the apples should be processed after harvesting as quickly as possible, within one week should be quite OK if they are harvested manually). Next phase is crashing the apples into the pulp which is subsequently pressed into the apple juice. The crashed apples and apple juice are oxidizing quickly turning brown, therefore once the apples are crashed no time should be wasted and the apples should be pressed and the resulting juice pasteurized as quickly as possible, at least that is one of the ways. For this purpose Christophe has a pasteurization device EHA18 (Gebhardt Anlagentechnik) which can process around 200 l of juice per hour. The pasteurized beverage is bottled into 1 l clear glass wide mouth bottles and to the “bag-in-box” (la caisse-outre) plastic bags with spigot in paper box and stored at room temperature. During the 2016 autumn season Christophe has harvested  around 30 metric tonnes of apples in total (including apples for cider harvested later on), producing 8000 liters of apple juice. Rest of the apples were used for cider production, but at the end, only the best is to become cider. The rest goes for calvados, bisou (like pommeau) and vinegar. The pressing efficiency is around 60-75% (600-750 l) of juice from one metric tonne. Unfortunately I could not be present for the processing phase because I needed to come back to Czech and continue with my own harvest and processing.

During my time in Normandie I’ve took some time off and visited some interesting places in the region. For me number one was the Musée Régional du Cidre in Valognes, which was really impressive and I can recommend it to anyone who is interested in the subject. If you go, make sure that it is open because it is closed for most of the year and opens just at some certain times during the harvest season. I would say that spending there three or four hours is well used time. When in the area I visited also Cherbourg which is the main regional town. It is very lovely place with sea clearly playing very important role in it’s past and current history, unfortunately it has also strong military tradition and recently it became also quite nuclear friendly. The maritime museum Cité de la Mer is highly recommended place to visit, probably the main attraction of the town. Of course if you have your own transport and the weather is reasonably good, then taking the coastal road from Réville or Barfleur is amazing thing to do, stop from time to time on the beaches or the protected marshlands, enjoy like me the view of the former Atlantic Wall bunkers being slowly taken by the sea and just relax, it is worth it.

All in all I’ve really enjoyed my stay and decided during my time here that I would like to come back to learn more during the harvest season and I started to play with the idea of coming back here and staying for longer. Be careful it may happen to you too!

~ by algoldor on February 22, 2018.

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