Innovation at New York Farm makes cider more mainstream | Master Edition
It was by staying with the times – while respecting tradition – that the 450-acre Dressel Farms in New Paltz, New York, grew into a viable family farm and thrived in the hard cider industry. After being founded in 1957 by Fred Dressel, the farm embraced modern processing methods and explored new innovations to remain viable.
Today, Fred’s son, Roderick, his son Rod Jr., and his wife, Debbie, and their children, Tim and Sarah, operate the farm, which includes an agritourism, farm store, and cider operation. drive, Kettleborough Cider House. They use ultraviolet treatment instead of pasteurization for fresh hard cider.
“Generally, if you get juice from the store, it’s heat pasteurized,” Tim Dressel says.
Although a high-tech process, ultraviolet is slower; but, it offers processors a few distinct advantages. The ultraviolet treatment slowly pumps the juice through the system in a thin layer of liquid to ensure light penetration. Heat pasteurization is generally a large batch type process.
In an industry that values “small batch” and “handmade” quality, going slow and small is a major selling point. Heating the product can affect its flavor while ultraviolet light gives cider a longer shelf life. Besides killing bacteria, it also kills some of the micronutrients like yeast; however, most people do not drink hard cider for its health properties, so the downside is small. Besides a small operation, ultraviolet equipment is not as expensive and large as pasteurization equipment.
“Ultraviolet treatment equipment is the size of a small dresser,” Dressel said. “It’s a box on wheels and we can move it out of the way. Pasteurization equipment is more permanent.
Dressel Farms wholesales cider in the fall to other farms and produces 20,000 to 30,000 gallons of cider per year.
“For cider, we are looking at streamlining further,” Dressel said. “We currently use an arbor and canvas press, which is certainly the old way of making cider. It’s kind of a batch system, where you really do it in increments.
Workers have to grind, then squeeze, grind and squeeze again. In the belt press model that Dressel hopes to implement in 2022, the equipment grinds and presses continuously, requiring fewer workers.
“You get a more consistent flow of product,” Dressel said, “but you have less control over the extraction, so you can get less juice from your fruit.”
He appreciates the rustic appeal of the cogwheel and canvas press, and the idea that it gives wine subtle flavors like oak barrels.
But “we need to look at the growing demand and the relative price we’re getting for it versus the stagnant price of whole apples,” Dressel said. “We are seeing a greater incentive to produce more cider. The ability to press and produce cider more efficiently is beginning to move us towards a more cost effective way of producing larger quantities of cider. »
Dressel added the Kettleborough operation in 2011 and planted heirloom cider apple varieties to develop its product. These include Binet Rouge, Harry Masters, Somerset Redstreak, Chisel Jersey, Ellis Bitter, Dabinette, Medaille d’Or, Brown Snout, Tremlett’s Bitter, Michelin, Esopus Spitzenberg, Golden Russet, Smokehouse, Northern Spy, Stayman Winesap, Porter’s Perfection , Ashmead’s Kernel, Bedan, Calville Winter White, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Frequin Rouge, Kingston Black. Since the wholesale market is not as robust as it would like, the farm is also looking for other ways to orient the operation towards retail.
“We try to focus on the advantages that we have with our location,” Dressel said.
The farm’s proximity to New York City, which is just over an hour away, makes it a hotspot for agritourism and weekend getaways. The agricultural segment of the tourism industry has done well since the pandemic, as people have confidence in the relative safety of rural areas and the predominantly outdoor-oriented nature of many agritourism activities and locations.
Where the pandemic has hit the farm is in staffing. Normally, up to 20 H2A workers help Dressel Farms during the fall picking season – depending on the size of the harvest – and 30 are year-round employees. In 2020, the farm was spared any outbreak of Covid-19; however, an H2A worker brought the virus to the farm in September 2021, just in time for the Gala and Honeycrisp harvest. These varieties represent the most profitable varieties for farms. The quarantine of five pickers delayed the harvest, which affected the quality.
“In our packages, the apples aren’t as hard and crisp as we expected the workers to pick them,” Dressel said. “Now is when we see the economic impact.”
He sold 140 tubs to juice processors on Jan. 18 that wouldn’t sell at the premium prices of fresh apples. Dressel hopes the pandemic will subside before this fall. In addition to labor availability, labor cost could also affect the farm. New York lawmakers are considering lowering the overtime threshold from 60 hours to 40 hours per week for farmworkers.
“We can’t convince politicians that even our employees don’t want this,” he said. “The guys who come here to pick have come to work.”
The farm would have to choose between hiring more people or delaying necessary work to avoid paying the higher overtime rate. Dressel Farms also grows strawberries, pumpkins on 300 acres and more than 20 varieties of apples. The farm offers “picking” for these crops.
Additionally, Dressel grows raspberries, blueberries, cherries, vegetables and peaches. The farm uses an integrated pest management program and is certified as Good Agricultural Practices for fruit production.
The farm’s production exceeds 100,000 bushels of apples. The farm makes its own fresh cider and hard cider. Dressel Farms operates a farm shop and faucet room. The farm shop sells local produce and its own fresh cider, ice cream and seasonal produce