CROTON-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – It’s the height of cider season and one of the last remaining commercial cider mills in Westchester is celebrating the bounty. Geoff Thompson, the zealous owner of Thompson’s Cider Mill near Teatown Lake Reservation in Croton, produces up to 300 gallons of cider a day and has been doing so the past 35 years.
Thompson first tried apple cider from a hand press in his twenties, during a Teatown Lake Reservation demonstration. “I’d never had apple cider, only apple juice,” explains Thompson, “so when I had this stuff straight from the apple is was a revelation.” He bought his first hand press when he was 26.
Thompson’s grandchildren are now toddlers, running back and forth through the cider mill he built off of Quaker Bridge Road. He has been enamored with the apple for most of his adult life, and readily spouts off the quirks and nuances of each variety.
The distinct flavor of cider comes from several factors. When apple juice is bottled, much of the fiber is extracted and it is pasteurized and vacuum sealed to be stored at room temperature. The cider process, says Thompson, is what lends his juice its distinct flavor. It is not pasteurized and requires refrigeration.
The brown color comes from the oxidation of the apples. When an apple is exposed to air, it turns brown. The shredding and juicing of the apple cells immediately turns the juice its brown color.
Idareds, Macouns and Winesaps populate the wooden boxes inside the mill. Unique and new varieties, like El Stars and Lady Jeans spike the cider, with no less than seven varieties in the cider at any one time. The 500 tree orchard has over 30 varieties, ranging from red, to green, to Bosc pear look-alikes. Toward the end of the season many varieties can be found in a single jug of cider.
Ian Thompson, Geoff Thompson’s son now lives in Seattle, but was home for a visit with his son Cole. “We started with a hand press, and he gave it to a friend, and they said ‘I would buy this,’” said Ian Thompson. He was only about 3-years-old when his father became interested in apples, and the Croton-Harmon graduate said he grew up with the cider mill.
“We were cheap labor,” said Ian Thompson, “but it didn’t seem like work to us. It was fun to make something you could drink at the end.” Ian Thompson’s son Cole, 2, seems equally zealous about the juice, sticking his cup under a small juice waterfall which collects the cider before it is exposed to a UV light to kill germs.
The actual cider making process is simple and mechanical. The apples are cleaned and sent through a shredder. Three foot square lattice palates are set on a small riser at the beginning of a stainless steel slide. A blanket is laid on the lattice, apple puree is pumped into the blanket, and the blanket is folded up and another lattice is set on top. The process continues until there are a dozen palates stacked, and then a giant mechanized press, which applies 2,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, pushes the juice out of the puree and into the collection bin.
“I can’t explain how my television works, or most other things,” said Thompson, watching the cider press out of the palates, “but this is very understandable.”
“We want the children to grow up knowing there’s lots of local farms they can visit, and buy things from the farmers,” said Katonah resident, and English native Mark Stafford. “America has a very interesting relationship to the apple,” he added. The only place in England which celebrates the apple with as much zeal as the American northeast is Somerset, England, famous for its hard apple cider.