Laura Gallup is the marketing and events coordinator for the Ithaca Farmers Market as well as the managing editor of Edible Finger Lakes magazine. She lives in Ithaca but grew up eating strawberries by the bucketful on her dad’s farm in Hector. In this new column, Laura will be sharing tips on how you can eat locally year-round.
The clock is ticking to snag those “perfect” holiday gifts, so we’re highlighting another homegrown idea: cider. The Finger Lakes region is a leader in the cider industry, and Ithaca is lucky enough to have some of the best producers right nearby. Throughout the year the Ithaca Farmers Market functions as a mini cider tour of local producers and this week we caught up with one of them — Steve Selin of South Hill Cider. We got to see him and his team in action and chat about what makes his cider special.
Ithaca Voice: What are you working on today?
Steve Selin: Pressing apples. The process begins when you pour apples into the hopper. The machine deposits apples into the scratter, a grinder that creates a pulp – called “pomace.” The pomace is then pumped through a tube where it can be sprayed onto racks and layered with heavy-duty cheesecloth. When the racks are stacked 14 high, a hydraulic press pushes down, and all the juices run out. The liquid goes into tanks and the leftover solids go into compost.
IV: How did you get into cider-making?
SS: I fell into a community of people around here that were making cider. It was a happy accident that the apples we were using were actually really good apples for cider – they were wild apples, or apples from old heirloom trees in abandoned orchards. Wild apples aren’t very palatable to us, but they tend to have high acidity and some tannins, and thats what you want in cider.
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IV: How did it go from hobby to business?
SS: I’m a musician so I would take the cider to music festivals and parties – I was making large quantities for about 5 years before moving to commercial production in 2014. As a musician I was playing in winery tasting rooms, like Red Newt and Sheldrake, once a week for years. I was drinking a lot of wine, getting to know the winemakers and getting to know the industry. Cider-making and the wine world came together for me and that’s what gave me the foundation to do it commercially.
IV: Where do your apples come from?
SS: I have my own orchard, and we also buy apples from other farms. Our “Packbasket” cider is 100% wild foraged apples. There is a farm a few miles south of here that’s mostly hay fields, with lots of wild apple and pear trees bordering the fields. So I will pick those and trade the farmer for cider, he doesn’t want cash.
IV: How do you find places to forage?
SS: I was on the planning board in Danby for years, and spent a lot of time in the Town Hall – and would always ask people if they knew of any apple trees – and someone mentioned this particular farmer to me. That’s how I found a few orchards around here – there’s people that know history there. A bunch of the other cideries around here also do some foraging. It’s amazing- there’s tens of thousands of wild apple trees.
IV: Why is cider blowing up in the Finger Lakes region?
SS: Our climate is just right – cool nights, even in the summer, and into the fall. The cool nights really preserve the flavor- it’s like taking an apple and putting it into the refrigerator every night, and then ripening it during the day. Our mineral-rich, glacial soils are really good for growing apples, too. The other factor is that we already have a wine region here. If I hadn’t worked in those wineries, I wouldn’t have had the interactions with winemakers and others in the industry to actually realize that what I was making was a marketable product, and that it was as good or better than most of the commercial cider that was available.
IV: How has the Ithaca Farmers Market helped your business?
SS: For years those were the only sales I would do directly to the public, most of my sales were wholesale. Its very energizing to pour cider for someone who says “Wow, I didn’t know cider tasted like that!”
IV: What’s the hardest part about your job?
SS: Keeping every aspect of it in sync. Harvesting fruit, pressing fruit, making cider, bottling cider, selling cider, and all of that is happening at the same time. And we’re also planting trees, and mowing. There are just so many diverse jobs to do – and they all have their own cycle. Cider-making and the orchard have their own cycles – and fortunately they don’t overlap totally, but when they do…like I should really be out there mowing down a bunch of weeds so the voles don’t proliferate and eat my trees! But we’re too busy pressing cider. Fortunately, I have an incredible staff here.
IV: What’s the best time to buy cider?
SS: Year round! Cider is not a seasonal product. It’s just like wine! Grape season is actually shorter than apple season.
South Hill Cider tasting room is open year-round. Current hours are Thurs-Mon 12-6 (Until 8 on Saturday.) South Hill Cider also attends the Ithaca Farmers Market.
Featured photographs courtesy of Chelsea Fausel – www.fauselimagery.com