Meet Jamie Hall, the apple juice producer and cheesemonger, who with his father-in-law, Malcolm, celebrates the diversity of apples that are grown in their orchard in Herefordshire by making single variety apple juice. Together at Townsend Farm, they make apple juice from Jonagold, Discovery, Falstaff, and Greensleeves.
Malcolm has been growing apples for contracts since the 1990s, and made the switch from hops before that. Each harvest when the fruit was bearing, Malcolm, my father-in-law, would take a few crates of apples to be pressed and bottled. For him, it was a nice reward for his year of labour, a great way to enjoy the harvest properly. Malcolm’s enjoyment came from being able to taste the apples year on year, and being able to compare the harvest to the previous year’s harvest, something that wasn’t possible when growing hops. My main job is a cheesemonger at Neal’s Yard Dairy, and when I came into the family, by marrying Malcolm’s eldest daughter, Jessica, I was able to see so many similarities in what he was doing with so many British farmhouse cheesemakers I work with at the Dairy. There are a lot of dairy farms in the UK that are deciding to make cheese, adding value to their liquid milk, which is currently being treated as a commodity by the market. As they start to make cheese, they are able to take control of their product. I would say this has been the catalyst for our British farmhouse cheese revolution. Take Fen Farm Dairy as the perfect example of this model.
Taking this knowledge and experience from my time at Neal’s Yard Dairy, I then applied it to what Malcolm was doing on the farm. I wanted to strengthen the farm's position in using the apples ourselves. The aim is to buy the apples from Malcolm at the real price – and not the market value –, and then turn them into juice to sell. What we are trying to do is to make a viable business, whilst showcasing the incredible single varieties of the apples we have here in the orchard. Just like it was for Malcolm when he moved from hops to apple, an epiphany moment! I wanted to push that message, and connect people back to the individual harvest, as I knew the juice was so delicious. Even within a county that produces a lot of apples and juice, people would remark on our juices. There is something special in this red soil we have here! So, where are we now? Only 3 years in, but we are working to the same principle. We take each apple variety we have, press, pasteurise, and bottle, when the fruit dictates. It’s all a bit difficult when trying to book time off at NYD, as we start in August on the Discovery apples and finish up to mid-November on the Jonagold. We do not hold apples in nitrogen stores to last the year, which means we can juice on demand. It’s a great thing to have that luxury, I suppose. For us, it’s all about pressing at the right time, exactly when the fruit is ready. For example, we are pressing apples picked only the day before. This all makes autumn a little fraught, but that for me adds to the joy of the year's harvest. In terms of the future, we want to keep this model even if we increase supply. We aim to sell out of the juice in time for the next season. It feels a nice clean cut that way. We have started to experiment with cider too, as the farm grows a mix of dessert and cider apples. I want to apply the same transparency of the juice we produce now to the cider, so low intervention, no additives and straight hitting cider. I want to make the kind of cider I enjoy personally, so even after 2 years we can’t sell it; I’ll be very content and very red nosed drinking it all myself!