Jonathan Carr and Nicole Blum, owners of Carr’s Ciderhouse in Hadley, MA, are first-generation orchardists and hard cidermakers. Their passion lies in making the highest-quality hard cider and other cider products, from the apple to the bottle.
The Ciderhouse orchard overlooks the Connecticut River, on land that is protected through a state Agricultural Preservation Restriction. Since purchasing the orchard in 2003, Jonathan and Nicole have planted 2,500 apple trees, which should be producing 3-4,000 gallons of cider each year by 2019. In the meantime, they supplement their own apples with apples purchased from other local orchards. After over a decade of ramping up apple production, Nicole says, “we intend to remain small, because we want to integrate it into our lives in a way that’s meaningful.” In addition to making improvements to their orchard, they are working on expanding their barn and cider processing mill.
Jonathan and Nicole manage the orchard with sustainability in mind – they don’t use chemical sprays on the trees and they control pests with traditional solutions. They also have taken proactive steps to increase the long-term sustainability of their trees, by developing cultivars to stay ahead of pests and disease, and by continuing to refine their growing techniques. “I make tons of mistakes, but I like to think of myself as a big issue thinker,” says Jonathan. These forward-looking values can be seen in action in his front field, where he’s cross breeding apple trees to create a more disease-resistant cider apple, funded by a grant through the USDA’s Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.
One of their favorite aspects of the cider making process involves the blending of finished fermentations. Each apple variety has distinct flavor profiles and sometimes combining two or more results in the most well balanced cider. In addition to hard cider, Carr’s offers a selection of pantry products like cider vinegar, cider syrup, and switchel syrup, a concentrated syrup blended with ginger and perfect for making cocktails or mixing with sparkling water.
Selling their products takes them to farmers’ markets in the Valley and the Boston area, which offers ample opportunity for education and connection with consumers. They also sell their products directly to grocery stores, and have put a lot of effort into building relationships and gaining recognition in the specialty food market. Just like the long-term investment in the orchard, they believe that creating a community of customers will pay off, too. Growing and sourcing locally and selling locally are more than a business plan, they reflect a set of values and a way of life.
To find a list of farmers’ markets and retailers where you can purchase Carr’s products check out their website: carrsciderhouse.com.
— Aja Lippincott