We planted a small orchard here at Sweetlife 20 years ago. It’s a quiet place, with several varieties of apples and one California plum tree. We eat the fresh fruit as a garden snack, and bake some into pies and other desserts; most of the apples are squeezed for juice that either goes into the freezer to drink later or is used to create Sweetlife’s Apple Cider Vinegar. We welcome the addition of apples from friends’ trees as well, since a blend of varieties creates a more complex and robustly flavored juice.
We use a Correll cider press, purchased about 15 years ago. Correll presses are handmade by a three generation family business, and are built to last a lifetime, becoming family hand-me-downs. Sometimes we host a cider party, invite friends and neighbors to bring their apples and containers, and everyone gets into the act. Bob even makes apple cider donuts, which hardly make it out of the kitchen before being devoured.
Washed apples are mixed together and placed in buckets to be washed before pressing, then the whole apples are placed into the grinder and chopped into pieces. Once the bucket of chopped apples is full, it is slid into the next portion of the press to be pressed. This is done by spinning a lever that compacts the mash and allows the juices to flow by gravity into a bucket. Once all of the apples are pressed, the juices are mixed together.
The chickens gobble up the pressed "mash" left over from juicing, so literally nothing goes to waste. I love thinking about the life cycle: the apples grow on trees on the property, giving us apples and juice; the parts we don't use are fed to the chickens who in turn give us eggs and fertilizer that goes back into the same soil the apples are grown on.
The fermentation process from juice to vinegar takes between two to six months; during this time we monitor the Ph levels to determine when the juice has fully acidified into vinegar. We complete the bottling process without heating the vinegar, since heat kills the natural yeasts and probiotics that make it so good for you!
A bottle of Sweetlife Apple Cider Vinegar sits on our kitchen counter, and I use it almost every day when making dressings, marinades and much more. We keep a gallon of it in our pantry for our own use, and I usually refill the container in the kitchen without pouring out the previous liquid, which has a healthy “mother” of its own now growing inside of it.