Two years ago I made some cider from some apples purchased at a local market using a store bought juicer. It was messy and and inefficient.
This year I bought 5 50-60 pound boxes of apples mostly from a grower in the Okanagan Valley (BC, Canada). 6 weeks later my press and grinder are finally built. The press is a standard hydraulic car jack A-frame and the grinder is a costco sourced 3/4 horse power garbage disposal. For racks I used some 1/2" cutting board scored to 5mm (1/5") deep at 1" intervals with both sides scored one side running 90 degrees from the other.
Last night I pressed my first box of apples. Overall it went well enough for my first time though I suspect it could have gone better. We got 10-11 litres of juice from a 50lb box. I doubt that yield could have got that much better. However I suspect that everything else could have. My racks slid around, some cheeses pressed better than others, it took longer per pressing than I had hoped and the mess was huge.
I learned a few things:
1) Consistency of cheese thickness matters. Some of my racks came through the process unharmed and others are permanently bowed. If I could make cheeses of perfect consistency then I believe that I could get better, faster and cleaner results.
2) How you fold the cheese cloth matters. We had a few spill open. Also see number 1 above.
3) A sanitary staging area is required. We did the washing and grating in the kitchen. That worked well enough. However we pressed the apples in the garage due to anticipated mess and a little bit of fear of the pressure the press is under. For the remaining apples I think I am going to buy a plastic folding table. That way I can sanitize the surface and we can work from it.
4) Clean-up is a huge amount of the effort.
5) Plan ahead for topping off containers of pressed cider. I need to add a litre to prevent further oxidization of my juice. I hope 20 or so hours won't hurt
6) Better Carboy mouth size is just a little larger than a bathroom sink drain which is what I used to allow the juice to run out of the base of the press.
7) Garbage disposals are hard to clean.
8) Food safe epoxy paint is very hard to find. I ended up using butcher block sealer.
9) Working outdoors would allow much easier clean up (garden hose).
10) Make sure that there is room between the legs of the garbage disposal stand for your bucket.
Now I have questions.
1) Is it better to use thinner cheeses more often? Is there an optimal thickness of cheese? What is the best way to ensure consistency?
2) Is it better to press less cheeses at a time?
3) How can I store 11L of juice for a week? I've put 3 campden tabs in the carboy and I am storing it in my garage which will remain below 7c for the week. Should I put it outside and allow it to freeze?
4) How can I best clean out the garbage disposal? I ran so much water through it last night and there are still chunks coming out. Unless otherwise advised I am going to remove it from the mount tonight and run water through it backwards.
5) Are there large food safe bags? I think I would like to line my grater receiving bucket to help speed clean up next time.
6) Can I seal the edge of my bottom rack with silicone? Are all kitchen silicones food safe? I am afraid that there are apple bits or juice under the border.
7) Is there any problem making the base (bottom rack) out of acrylic sheet? I can't seem to find HDPE.
8) How long should each pressing take? We seem to be able to wash and grate apples far faster than press them. Is this normal?
9) Whizbangcider.com bases are now made out of stainless steel. I wonder if there is a cheaper way to achieve that type thing.
The frame design I used came from the book Cider: Making, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider by Annie Proulx and Lew Nichols. The same design is described here