BALLSTON, N.Y. — Knight Orchards couldn’t have picked a better time to upgrade its cider business.
The family-run farm purchased a new $50,000 press and grinding equipment this year that have cut production time in half.
The Knights can now make up to 1,500 gallons of cider per week, which allows them to serve a growing customer base.
“It was getting to the point where we were limited in the number of accounts we could serve,” said Jeremy Knight, who co-owns the business with his brother, Josh.
The timing is just right because the New York Apple Association expects the state’s 700 growers to pick about 32 million bushels this fall, a modern record, and almost twice the 17.1 million bushels harvested last year when devastating frosts killed much of the crop.
“There’s almost an oversupply,” Jeremy Knight said. “The processing market is flooded with apples. Companies like Mott’s can only make and sell so much applesauce.”
But the market for fresh fruit and cider, which farms such as Knight’s rely on, is still quite strong, he said.
Recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a farm cideries bill, in conjunction with CiderWeek N.Y., which establishes a new license for farms wanting to produce hard cider, similar to farm wineries, breweries and distilleries. The initiative is an outgrowth of the Wine, Beer and Spirits Summit Cuomo hosted last year in Albany.
To obtain a farm cidery license, the hard cider must be made exclusively from apples grown in New York state and no more than 150,000 gallons may be produced annually. Cideries would be allowed to offer samplings and sell beer, wine and spirits.
Cuomo’s bill is also aimed at generating agritourism because farm cideries may also sell products such as mustards, sauces, jellies, jams, souvenirs, artwork and crafts. Many of these things are found at Knight’s popular retail stand in Ballston, about 15 miles from Saratoga Springs.
While applauding the state’s initiative for its potential to help New York agriculture, the Knights aren’t quite ready to go the hard cider route.
“Anything to help farmers is a good thing,” said Jeremy Knight, who is active in Saratoga County Farm Bureau. “We’ve thought about hard cider, but that’s more than we want to take on right now. That’s a whole other investment.”
At present, the farm is focused on making its fresh fruit and cider available to people throughout the area. The Knights are the family-run farm’s fourth generation.
Their great-grandfather started it in 1907.
In 1994, Jeremy and Josh Knight diversified by adding cider production to the business. Aside from creating a new revenue stream, cider gives the Knights more control over their product and is quite simply a popular drawing card that gives local people another reason to visit their popular Goode Street retail stand in this rural part of central Saratoga County.
“We like to put a lot of Galas in our cider because they’re sweet,” Jeremy Knight said. “Then we fill in with other varieties.”
In addition to its fresh, sweet taste, the Apple Association touts cider’s health benefits. Like fresh apples, cider is a good source of fiber because it contains tiny bits of skin. Fiber helps prevent cardiovascular disease by removing harmful cholesterol from the body, and can also promote property weight levels and weight loss, the organization says.
“Drinking apple cider is like sticking a straw in an apple. You get all the nutrition of a whole apple,” Linda Quinn, the association’s consulting dietician, said in a statement.
Several years ago, a new mandate went into effect requiring fresh cider makers to either pasteurize or treat their product with an ultraviolet system, to prevent illness.
“We use UV because it doesn’t alter the flavor as much as pasteurization,” Knight said. “The main thing is to use good fruit, don’t cut corners and you’ll get a good product at the end.”