Milling and Pressing


When I first started my own cidermaking, I had no mill and relatively little fruit, so I pulped it in a stout plastic tub using a six foot length of 4" x 4" timber which I'd fitted with a cross piece to act as a handle. This was fine for a temporary measure but was only practical for up to 30 lbs or so of fruit.

Feeding the Amos MillAs soon as the trees started to bear fully (about half a ton annually) I needed a proper mill, so in 1993 I bought one at auction from a local winery (Westbury vineyard near Reading) which was selling up all its stock after the death of its owner (Bernard Theobald).

Here's me (in a picture taken by Roy Bailey) feeding the mill with the first pass of fruit. You can see some other cider kit in the background too.

The mill itself is a German (Amos) grape crusher dating from 1964 and not ideally suited to apples. It has a pair of contra­rotating ridged rubber rollers which are geared together and belt­driven from a 1.5 kw electric motor via a flywheel. The spacing between the rollers is adjustable, which is just as well because for crushing apples it's necessary to make four or five passes through the mill, progressively closing the roller gap on each pass.

Close up inside the Amos MillThe first pass is the most difficult because the apples are still intact. Although there's a driven set of stainless steel 'fingers' on a shaft situated above the rollers, a great deal of manipulation with a stout wooden stick is also required to ensure that all fruit is initially crushed through the rollers.

The pulped fruit is collected in a plastic box placed under the mill, and its contents then re-introduced to the top of the mill for the next pass.

Here in close-up you can see the fruit, the wooden stick, the rollers and the steel 'fingers'.

Although this system served us well for 5 years, it did consume a lot of time and effort because of the need to make multiple passes to break the fruit down sufficiently. Amos couldn't supply replacement 'grater' rollers and I could find no way of converting the existing rubber ones.

I've now (summer 1998) invested in a centrifugal apple mill designed for European 'hobby' producers which I bought from Alex Hill of Vigo Vineyard Supplies in Devon. This should be much faster and produce a much finer pulp via its rotating knife and screen arrangement.  Later note - now (2005) that I have a fully automated mill and press system (see below), I sold the centrifugal mill on to my friend Roy Bailey.


The pack press I use is homemade and is based on a design which I think originates from the Summerland Research Station in British Columbia. Certainly it's given in their now out of print leaflet #1406 Home preparation of juices, wines and ciders (ISBN 0-662-001551-6) but was also reprinted at various times by the Geneva Research Station, New York and by Long Ashton Research Station too. Sadly I think all these leaflets are unobtainable now (but a scanned version of the Canadian leaflet is now available)

Basically it's a stout frame of timbers on which a set of 'cheeses' can be built up for expression of the juice using a hydraulic 'bottle jack' as the motive power. The original design is for 4" x 4" hardwood timbers and a 12" square cheese bed, but I expanded mine to use 6" x 6" timbers and a 16" cheese. This is because I wanted a greater throughput and I also had access to some ash timbers of that size. They'd been sawn and seasoned for me by a local tree surgeon and timber merchant when he felled some ash for me which had to come out when we built an extension on our house. So there was a sentimental reason for using that timber too! The joinery was by chainsaw and the frame is reinforced with threaded bolts and metal plates, so it's not very pretty if you start to look too closely - but it's done the job now for the last six years so I'm not complaining! The timber was finished in a non-toxic water-based wood preservative of the modern resin type (not old-fashioned creosote since we don't want tainted cider!). 

 Building up the cheese

The racks I made from hardwood laths and chrome plated screws, well covered in polyurethane sealer. The juice tray is made of marine ply and likewise well coated with yacht­grade PU sealer. The press cloths are cheap nylon net curtaining bought from a drapery store in Oxford ­ they've lasted at least 5 seasons but now need replacement. I've progressed through three bottle jacks (1, 4 and finally 8 tons), the latter being a secondhand bargain which I came upon by chance in an Oxford surplus store and couldn't bear to pass by. The frame creaks a bit when the full eight tons is applied, but it seems to take it. I wouldn't like to go any more than this, though, for fear of splitting the frame!

The picture here shows us building up a cheese. The pulp is being scooped up from the grey plastic tub which was previously under the mill, and is spread out in the press cloth using a wooden 'form' to keep it central on the rack. The cloth is then folded over, the next rack added on top, and the process repeated. A typical load is six or seven cheeses from about 3 boxes of fruit (40 kg). This gives about 25 litres of juice or a yield of about 60%, but the actual yield depends on the firmness of fruit and the fineness of the mash. A proper hydraulic pack press would probably give a 10% greater yield, simply because of the harder squeeze.

The home-made press in actionThe free-run juice comes out pretty quickly, but pressing goes on for an hour or two to get as much yield as possible, and the total turnaround time to include making up the cheese and stripping it down again is in the order of two to three hours depending on what else we're doing in the meantime. As the juice is squeezed out, and the jack piston reaches the end of its travel, we have to replace the lost volume with 'packs' of hardwood or faced high-density fibreboard (we use a PU-sealed offcut from a kitchen worktop as a top-pressure plate!). Everything's hosed down with clean water immediately afterwards because once the pulp or juice has dried on it's the very devil to remove! The compressed 'sheets' of pomace we occasionally wet and re-press if we need the yield, but generally they are broken up roughly and go straight for composting with alternating layers of lime to keep them 'sweet'.

The juice is then tested for sugar (specific gravity by hydrometer and/or percent sugar by hand-held refractometer) and for pH. It's then bulked and blended as required, treated with sulphur dioxide as necessary, and yeasted next day if that's appropriate. We ferment and store in 60 litre polythene Speidel or Graf tanks (shown below) which are made in Germany for 'hobby' winemakers and again obtained from Vigo in Devon. They're ideal for our sort of scale (maximum 400 litres per annum), light and easy to clean with large top apertures for proper internal access. The 60 litre size can also be moved by two people when full, without the handles breaking! We always ferment outside to keep things cool. If the temperature does drop below freezing for a day or two it's only by a few degrees and does no damage even if the contents set solid for a while! Generations of English and French cidermakers have been doing it this way with no problems - though it would be different in a harsher climate, of course!

Note added 2005

Voran Mill and PressAll the above is a bit out of date now. A couple of years ago I acquired a secondhand Voran combined scratter mill and and pack press (seen on the left).  It works from a single electric motor which powers the press hydraulics and/or the mill via a rather cunning ratchet device depending on the direction of rotation of the motor.  This is obviously a lot more efficient than the arrangement described above.  More details later when I have time to write it up fully.

Graf tanks and airlocks for fermentationOn the following page you can find some details of actual fermentations from the 1997/98 season, as typical examples of what happens next.

Click here to go forward to 'Fermentation and Storage'

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Last updated 22 November, 2006