October 17, 2001 | By: Laura Skillman

The leaves are changing colors. There's a nip in the air and apple cider, a fall favorite, is being made at area orchards.

Apple cider production in the state has undergone a transformation in the past few years after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required warning labels on all unpasteurized cider.

The process used today -flash pasteurization - is designed to kill e-coli while retaining the fresh taste of unpasteurized cider many people prefer, said Bill Jackson, owner of Jackson's Orchard in Bowling Green.

The flash pasteurization process heats the cider to a temperature of 162 degrees F for 15 to 20 seconds then rapidly cools it, said John Strang, University of Kentucky Extension fruit specialist. A longer pasteurization process can caramelize some of the sugars and changes the flavor and is found in fully pasteurized apple juice sold throughout the year in many supermarkets, he said.

"Cider is a way to move some of the smaller apples," Strang said. "And it's a real good attraction at roadside markets."

Jackson and Kevan Evans, owner of Evans Orchard near Georgetown, have installed pasteurization equipment in their operations capable of making and storing a large volume of cider. Each orchard is working with other smaller orchards to make cider for them as well.

The two facilities received matching grants from the Kentucky Agriculture Development Board to install the needed equipment. Both worked with engineers from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture during the process. They also worked with state and local health department officials to meet all health requirements.

There are nine pasteurizers in the state, Strang said. But the Jackson and Evans facilities are designed to handle a large volume of cider complete with tanks and refrigeration.

For smaller orchards the cost of the equipment is prohibitive, Jackson said. But by working with his orchard or Evans, small orchards can have their apples made into cider to add to their product line.

Cider is a value-added product and the pasteurization process is one that enables Kentucky cider to reach broad markets such as supermarkets, Strang said.

This is the first year Evans has made cider and he's making cider for five other orchards as well as himself. In the past, he purchased pasteurized cider but knew the next step would be to make it from his own apples.

"We were looking for another avenue to market our apples," he said. "It's definitely been a learning process."

Prior to this year, apples that didn't meet the standards to be sold in their market were fed to the cattle, Evans said.

"We didn't have a market for them," he said. "This allows us to use most of our apples and to grade tighter on fresh apples."

The orchard business is relatively new to Evans having been in it for less than a decade. Jackson, however, has been in business for many years. He's switched all his cider making to pasteurized and is working with seven other orchards. Jackson is either buying their apples, selling them cider or both.

Having the cider generates traffic through his business and more sales opportunities, he said.

"You can take a low quality apple and make a high quality product," he said.

Jackson said he worked with UK Extension engineer Sam McNeill on the project. McNeill did the layout of the facility that Jackson needed to present with his grant proposal.

"He was a big help," he said.

Evans said Extension engineer George Duncan assisted him with getting the proper facilities and Strang has assisted in the overall design of his orchard.

"I use them as much as possible," he said.


John Strang, (859) 257-5685