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Berks orchards have winning blends of cider

5 March 2009 503 views No Comment

In the middle of winter at Weaver’s Orchard Farm Market, Robeson Township, cool, crisp apples, kept in 33- to 34-degree F storage from last fall’s harvest are jauntily jostled along an old wooden-roller conveyor belt.

The apples – in differing varieties, shapes, sizes and hues – almost appear eager to be ground, crushed, pressed and then pumped through ultraviolet processing equipment to become all-natural apple cider.

With no sugar and no preservatives added, it’s the No. 1 Mid-Atlantic apple cider, so judged by the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention.

Ontelaunee Orchard’s cider, pasteurized and with the preservative potassium sorbate, was judged No. 2 – the second outstanding Berks county winner.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Ed Weaver, 51, orchard owner. “We feel honored to be able to grow apples here.”

Weaver represents the third generation of dedicated apple growers, and his son, Justin, 23, is the fourth, the young man credited by his father with concocting the winning blend for this year’s cider crop.

Making 30,000 to 40,000 gallons of cider each year, Weaver’s boasts 35 varieties of apples on about 30 acres, an average-sized orchard.

Weaver’s caters to nearby local farmers’ markets and smaller outlets.

Its fresh cider has a three-to-four-week shelf life, Ed Weaver said.

Justin said he used about six different apple varieties to make this year’s winning blend, including Golden and Red Delicious, Gala, Pink Lady, Fuji and Stayman-Winesap.

“We use good, quality apples, often bruised and not always perfect-looking, but nothing rotten or fallen on the ground,” he said.

At Ontelaunee, its award-winning cider is shipped to major retail grocery outlets in Pennsylvania and Maryland and needs a preservative for up to eight weeks of shelf life. The cider blend also is made from a variety of apples.

“We use some of our own apples, and we also purchase from other Pennsylvania growers,” said Douglas E. Nemeth, Ontelaunee operations manager, who expects to process more than 300,000 gallons of apple cider this year.

“I don’t really think our volume is up,” he said. “Actually it’s been pretty stable.

“Apples are a sizable industry in Berks County, not as big as in Franklin and Adams counties, but as a state I believe we are in the fourth or fifth ranking (of apple production).”

Nemeth said to create the perfect blend for apple cider both sweet and tart apples are needed.

His recipe uses some of the same varieties that Weaver’s uses, but also has Granny Smith, Empire, Honeycrisp and Jonagold apples.

Because of its highly touted healthful properties, antioxidants in particular, natural sugar and no chemical additives, cider is being heralded as healthy thirst-quencher to enjoy in moderation.

Ontelaunee’s plain cider has won raves, but the company has expanded into making other combination flavors in half-gallon sizes such as peach, cranberry, pomegranate, grape, raspberry, cherry and spice.

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