CANFIELD, Ohio – During his college days in Arizona, Matt Haus was so thirsty for apple cider that he and a friend made their own with $10 worth of apples from the neighborhood grocery store. They fashioned a makeshift press, using dishcloths and plates in their off-campus home, and pressed nearly two gallons of the drink.
Nowadays, Haus can still get his fill of the liquid gold, but can rely on more technologically refined methods of production. But he still makes the cider himself.
Haus and his wife, Cheryl, own and operate Haus Orchard and Cider Mill near Canfield, Ohio. The couple’s cider blend recently won an award of excellence from the Ohio Fruit Growers Society.
“We’ve put an entry in the past several years, and have always done pretty well,” Matt Haus said, “and we’re always pretty excited to see how ours compares.”
No secret. But don’t expect either Haus or any of their employees to share their secret recipe with you – because there is no recipe.
“When it’s time to make cider, we just use whatever fruit we’ve got,” he said. “Making it is an art of blending different varieties – there’s no written recipe or special ingredients.”
The business usually blends six varieties of apples to get the right combination of tartness and sweetness.
“I taste the cider and apples to make sure everything tastes right,” Matt Haus said, but the farm’s cider-making process relies mostly on Mother Nature.
There are several good ciders, according to both Matt and Cheryl, and each blend’s taste depends on the day and month it’s made.
The farm’s apple season spans a nearly five-month period. Windows of ripening begin in mid-July; cider production starts in early September and continues until the fruit is used up, usually in November.
Cold storage allows apples to be saved for weeks at the farm, allowing locally grown apples to be available for a longer period of time and adding to the special blends of award-winning cider.
From tree to jug. Making the drink isn’t exactly rocket science, but there are several important steps in cider production.
Orchard-run apples are picked by Haus and farm employees and collected in wooden crates that each hold several bushels. The crates are brought into the mill from the orchard and the fruit is brushed and washed in a chlorinated solution, which helps remove any residues or dirt.
The apples are also sorted and graded, and some are kept to sell in the farm market. What is left after the sorting gets ground and chopped.
“Processing them like that ruptures the cells and lets all the juices out,” Matt Haus said.
The juice and pulp mixture is then pumped into cheese forms of a rack and cloth press. Stacks of nine or 10 of the plastic trays make up one “squeeze,” according to Haus.
The “squeeze” is then pressed out with the hydraulic press system in Haus’ cider room, and the liquid is collected in a large vat. From there, the juice is pumped to a tank and cooled to approximately 33 degrees. Cooling helps lock in freshness and flavor, according to the cider makers.
But it’s not yet ready to drink.
Food safety. After it’s cooled, the cider is pumped through Haus’ custom-built pasteurizer. The “high temperature, short time” machine, which is similar to pasteurizers used for milk, heats the juice and cools it back to nearly freezing temperatures in a matter of seconds. The process kills any pathogens in the juice that might cause sickness.
“We didn’t always pasteurize the cider, but about four years ago, the FDA said we’d have to put a warning label on cider that wasn’t pasteurized,” Haus said.
The family didn’t want people to be afraid to drink cider with the label, and “didn’t think the label would fly with young consumers,” according to Haus.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture also requires containers to be properly labeled, including a list of ingredients and instructions to refrigerate cider.
“Pasteurization wasn’t something we were really worried about. In the 40-some years the farm has been producing cider, we’ve had hundreds of school kids go through here on tours. They all drank unpasteurized cider, and we’re not aware of one incident of sickness from it,” he said.
Down the line. After pasteurization, the cider is pumped into a 800-gallon stainless steel tank, where it is held and cooled until employees bottle the juice. The tank is filled and emptied daily during cider season, according to Cheryl Haus.
A homemade bottler, designed by Matt Haus, allows up to four jugs of cider to be filled at a time. Each bottle is labeled with the Haus name, filled, capped, and then stored in a walk-in cooling unit until it’s shipped or sold in the farm market.
Nearly 50,000 gallons of apple cider are produced at the farm each year.
Family tradition. Haus Orchard and Cider Mill was started in 1954 by Haus’ parents, Edith, and the late Matt J. Haus. At the time it was mainly a peach farm, but was gradually converted to apple production.
In 1960, a small apple press was added, and the younger generation took over the farm operation in 1982. The market was one of the first in the area to make apple cider donuts and sell frozen cider throughout the year, according to Cheryl Haus.
The 25-acre farm includes crops other than apples – the asparagus crop begins the farm’s season in May, and the market continues to sell home-grown strawberries, raspberries, peaches and sauerkraut, in addition to other fresh fruits and vegetables, until December.
The remainder of the year is committed to planting, pruning and keeping the crops in top condition. The market is closed from January to March.
The farm has 10 employees, including the couple’s college-age children, Jake and Arin, who help on weekends and when their school schedules allow.
The family’s 12-acre orchard is filled with an estimated 2,000 trees of 30 varieties, according to Matt Haus. The couple is constantly renewing the crop, removing and adding a few trees each year, “mostly to keep up with new varieties and public demand,” he said. He estimates some trees in the orchard are nearly 30 years old.
Consumer-driven. Consumers have helped to change several aspects of the farm market.
“The market is forcing us to become more like teachers, more educational, instead of just growers,” Cheryl Haus said.
All farm employees get a lot of questions from the modern consumer, including questions about how to choose and prepare fruits and vegetables.
“People don’t know how to cook or buy produce anymore,” she said. “Young mothers don’t can or cook at home anymore, and they’ll come in here, pick up an acorn squash and just look at it,” she said. “They have no clue what it is.”
Consumers have also forced the market to offer fruits in smaller quantities. The standard quantity for buying apples used to be a bushel; today, more consumers are requesting fruit in half-peck containers and by the pound, Cheryl said.
Nutrition and value. The farm also tries to help consumers see the nutrition and value in fresh fruits. Snack bags of potato and apple chips are often weighed and the per-pound value is calculated. Haus then compares those prices with the market’s fresh food prices.
“We know our product, and value and quality is our bottom line. A 2-ounce bag of potato chips works out to cost $8.99 per pound – apples are only about 75 cents a pound,” Matt Haus said.
The farm also helps consumers, which tend to have an “adventure-type mentality about visiting the farm,” understand agricultural practices like crop protection and production, Haus said.
“The market provides a small link for so many people in realizing where their food comes from and how it’s made,” he said.
Into the future.
The Haus family approaches their operation’s goals like other agricultural producers do.
“We’re trying to remain marginally profitable and cover our expenses. We want to finish putting our kids through college and pass the farm on through the family,” Matt Haus said.
“But, like a lot of farmers, this is a way of life,” he said. “We do it because we enjoy it.”
(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)