Every January we are bombarded by reports about ‘Blue January’ or the latest wonder diet or the next exercise craze. This January I did something different to shake off the so-called January-blues and took some holiday from my job in the Production department at Rolawn, to work with my husband in our family business. We produce pressed apple juice and having helped in the past, I know no gym session has ever made me ache more or sleep better. In addition to which, it’s fun!
My husband is a farmer alongside his father and we live on an arable farm near Malton in North Yorkshire. A few years ago, we were approached by some friends John and Fiona, about partnering with them in buying a successful apple juice business. The founder of the company, Ray, was a friend who had suddenly died and John and Fiona were keen to carry on the business that had started as a hobby. Ray’s hobby had seen recipes and methods developed, along with customers, culminating in the famous Bettys Tearooms and a number of Michelin starred restaurants.
We became involved in 2013 and continued to use the existing successful recipes, maintaining our supply to Bettys Tearooms and gaining further business. In 2015 we were proud to be awarded “Yorkshire Life Food & Drink Award – Drink Product of the Year” and “Farm Produce Awards – Winner”. Then last year we were awarded 3* at the Great Taste Awards 2016 for our Apple & Rhubarb juice (a personal favourite) and 2* for Traditional Apple juice.
It is very satisfying to be involved in the process of taking a raw material through pressing, pasteurising, bottling and finally labelling, then sending it onto the various ways we market the juice.
Our production methods are a mixture of old, new and Heath Robinson processes; for example, we have a modern mill which pulps the apples, a loading chute cunningly crafted from half a big blue water barrel, considerable amounts of shovelling, and a press utilising time honoured cheesecloths which are filled with the apple pulp known as ‘Pomace’. It is wrapped in a certain way to make ‘cheeses’, which are stacked with wooden duck boards between them and squeezed to release the juice. The juice is filtered and then put into a holding tank.
The apple press in action.
We tend to do a whole day of pressing which, on a good day, means 2.5 tonnes of apples. The second day of production usually consists of bottling and pasteurisation. Filled glass bottles are placed into huge water bath-style pasteurisers, holding around 100 bottles which are heated up to 72 degrees Celsius for twenty minutes to kill any bacteria. A good day’s bottling can yield around 1,800 large, wine-sized bottles of juice, the down side being each bottle has to be manually lifted around four times. It’s hard work and a bit of a shock to the muscles, as I found out last Friday!
Bottling the apple juice.
Once all the juice has been made, usually over a period of six weeks in production, enough juice is produced to supply our customers all year, if we have planned correctly! John and Fiona are our marketers in both senses of the word - they market to new customers including cafes, restaurants and shops and they also run stalls at food markets and fairs throughout the year.
In addition to producing our own juice, we press apples for people who have small orchards or even just a few trees. This ‘press your own’ part of the business has proven to be very popular and has grown hugely over the past few years. In 2015 we produced 1,700 bottles for other people and in 2016 this grew to 4,000 bottles. Apart from just the joy of drinking their produce, many people give their own Apple Juice as gifts or sell if for fundraising purposes.
Bottles about to be put in the pasteuriser.
One customer, who we have enjoyed working with for a number of years is a school in Barnsley, who teach young adults with learning difficulties. To build and expand the agricultural and horticultural skills of students, they have an annual trip across to see the apples they’ve had a hand in growing made into juice; then also getting involved with the sales.
Although time is a constant balance with a job and a young family, being involved in our apple juice business is something totally different and personally, I get a lot of fun and enjoyment out of any involvement I have.
To be honest, in the grand scheme of things I don’t do very much work, but I’m always happy to shovel the apples into the mill for the exercise! The other three partners are the true workhorses and despite being fiercely proud of what we produce; I doubt the word ‘fun’ would often be how they describe it!
Telephone 01759 304864
Alison Cole, Production Administrator, Rolawn