By Michael Dwyer
A sip of sweet cool cider and a bite of warm fresh donut call to our senses. Every September and October, Michigan residents love to celebrate the fall harvest with a visit to one of the more than 100 cider mills around the state. Michigan is cider mill paradise.
At the core of this call is the experience — a full family day outing — with hayrides, u-picks, petting zoos and corn mazes. Weekends, and particularly Sundays, are the busy days. Lines will be part of the experience, especially if the weather is pleasant, but it’s all worth it.
A MICHIGAN EXPERIENCE
Michiganders who move away plan their annual trip home in the fall. It’s a tradition, every year, and for good reason. Local honey and an abundance of farm-fresh products — apples, pumpkins, squash, blueberries and corn — all made in Michigan help support our area growers. Visiting Michigan mills create significant and lasting memories.
While the cinnamon donuts and cold cider for dunking are inside, much of the fun is outside. Westview Orchards in Romeo will have horse-drawn wagon rides to pick your own apples. In Grand Rapids, Robinette’s Apple Haus will feature a Charlie Brown-themed corn maze this year. In addition, both Yates Cider Mill in Rochester Hills and Rochester Cider Mill in Oakland Township will have petting zoos with friendly goats, sheep and chickens.
The Michigan apple crop is “looking really great right now,” says Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee. It will be an “above average” year for a “great cider mill season.” Smith mentions how this annual family tradition keeps getting better with events such as fun runs held at cider mills, and how the “hard cider industry is taking off.”
Hard cider is pouring at many orchards these days — Robinette’s, Westview, Blake’s and Parmenter’s are just a few. From dry to sweet, the carbonated wine-like adult beverage is adding a new twist to the cider mill visit.
KNOW YOUR CIDER
What you find at a cider mill is not grocery store juice. Fresh-pressed cider is the real deal. It is tart in the early season and gets progressively sweeter as the weather gets cooler.
“On a busy day, we’ll crush 20 bushels of apples an hour — that’s about 70 gallons,” says Robert Steinheiser, owner of Goodison Cider Mill in Rochester. “We may do that nine times on a Sunday.”
Like many mills today, Goodison runs its cider through an ultraviolet light system, making it extra safe for all to drink. UV light-treated cider is cold pasteurization — not heated — so the color and flavor remain intact and the FDA considers it just as safe as heat pasteurization.
The larger cider mills still use the standard heat pasteurized systems — such as Blake’s in Romeo — because of the amount of cider they produce and sell. Both ways eliminate any potential health risk. However, some connoisseurs prefer completely untreated and unfiltered cider.
Traditionally, cider was just pressed apples and never treated. Rochester Cider Mill still produces its cider that natural way. The key to safe untreated cider is “to use clean produce in a clean facility, and to follow good cider-making practices,” says Trevor Barkham, owner of the Rochester Cider Mill. “We produce a consistent, small-batch craft cider that is safe without needing to treat.”
WHEN TO GO
Cider mill season begins in September, flourishes in October, dwindles in November and is all but over come December. Call ahead to find out what products are available — most mills are seasonal and hours vary — and to inquire what days and times activities happen.
Hard cider tasting rooms are usually open all year long. NS