Blessed are the juice-makers

I’ve wanted to write about Hill Farm Apple Juice for ages – visiting for an orchard walk and tasting finally provided a great excuse. Hill Farm Apple Juice is so good I prefer it to most wine. Not hilariously fine wine, you understand, but most of the wine that most people drink most of the time. The juice is better and cheaper than all that dreary rubbish that I despise passionately.

Davy witnessing applesThanks to a taxi driver who thought accelerator pedals can only be depressed by sidelong glances rather than any actual physical pressure, we crawled to Hill Farm at such a desultory speed we were late for the orchard walk. Editor Dani and I managed fine and staggered around the impressive orchard with no one to guide us or give any information at all. I have no idea what variety of apple I’m pictured with here.

We arrived back at the juicery at about the same time as those people who needed a guide and we leapt into an overview of the juice-making process.

apple-basketPicking the apples is the first stage and, for the production of apple juice to be economic, each picker has to carefully harvest one and a quarter tonnes of apples in a day’s work. I say ‘carefully’ because the apples are precious at Hill Farm; if a picker’s fruit has five little bruises around it where their fingers have grabbed it off the tree that picker will need to find new employment. Baskets of apples have to be loaded into hoppers with similar care to stop the fruit from being damaged – this would lead to inferior juice quality.

The hoppers of fruit get loaded onto this device to get processed in the juice factory:

Apple hopper emptier

The apples are then carefully inspected on a conveyor belt which deposits them into the juicing machine.

Hill Farm's juicing machine

After all that careful handling this machine has a series of rotating knives that chop those pampered apples into a pulp. They are then fed along the blue belt which is under tension so it squeezes the mashed apples against blades in the machine forcing the juice out. About 65-75% of the apples can be extracted as juice and when pressing Hill Farm can get through five tonnes of apples in a day.

When the day’s juicing is done the juice is put into tanks before the next day’s activity begins.

The first thing to happen to the juice is it is filtered. This is the filter that produces the clear apple juices. It uses diatomaceous earth to remove the smallest of particles that make the juice cloudy.

filter

Cloudy apple juices are also filtered, but obviously through a coarser filter. The juice is then pasteurised at 86 Celsius for 30 seconds before hitting the bottling line.

Hill Farm's bottling line

And finally the bottles get labelled.

Davy and labelling machine

Now we’ve been through the process of picking, pressing and packaging the apple juice we finally get to taste some!

Hill Farm Apple Juice product range

My absolute favourite apple juices are the Russet and Ashmead’s Kernel. Both of these are sweeter juices, the Russet more so, and they positively burst with throbbingly fresh fruity deliciousness.

Ashmead’s Kernel is a heritage apple variety and it is so good that it definitely deserves to be preserved and produced into juice. It has a slightly damp, furry character to its flavours which sounds horrible but is actually really complex and compelling. It is a slightly different taste of apple juice to more modern varieties, and none the worse for that. If you want your sweet apple juice more uncomplicated in its attractiveness then go for the ravishing Russet.

Bramley apple juice is a sharp, lively refresher that’s really get you started in the morning. However, I like my pleasures a little softer so I love the cloudy Cox as a breakfast drink – it’s better than any Champagne I can afford to have with my sossies and bacon.

2kg of frozen elderflowersAnother good breakfast sharpener is the apple and elderflower. Chris from Hill Farm Apple Juice is shown here modelling 2kg of frozen elderflowers picked and packed ready to flavour the juice. As I used to make elderflower cordial as a child I cannot imagine the amount of work that went into filling Hill Farm’s chest freezer with bags like that. The juice itself has a good apple flavour with a very strong, pure elderflower character. It’s extremely refreshing and invigorating – must be some cosmic consequence of all the incredible hard work that went into making it.

Those are my favourite juices, but really anything from Hill Farm Apple Juice will surpass almost all sub-tenner wines in terms of complexity, style and pleasure-delivery. You can even buy online and have the wonderful juice delivered to your door so you have something decent to drink when your dinner-guests bring bottles of cheap Claret and have the temerity to expect you to open them.

Our taxi-derived lateness may have resulted in inadequate orchard fact acquisition, but the tour of the facilities and tasting of juices demonstrated Hill Farm Apple Juice‘s commitment to making the best quality product. I think they are simply spiffing and will continue to score supplies from them in preference to spiritless, somniferous sips.