Holmberg Orchards has been growing apples and selling cider for decades but this year, discriminating Holmberg cider drinkers will taste a different product.
"If you put one next to the other you'll taste a difference," said Russell Holmberg of comparing this year's cider with last year's.
Over the winter, Holmberg Orchards installed an ultraviolet lighting system, so the cider will be picked, crushed and bottled on the farm.
"We wanted to take our cider back to the farm and start pressing it," he said. "Now we can take it from tree to bottle."
Holmberg said E. coli outbreaks in apple cider and fruit juices around the country and Canada prompted the industry to start pasteurizing cider in the mid-1990s. And, although the farm has never been contaminated with the bacteria, they changed their operations and shipped off their apples to the pasteurizing plant.
"We had to make a change on a dime," he said. "The whole industry went to pasteurization."
They had little control or opportunity to refine the final product and after drinking fresh apple cider for decades, the family could taste the difference.
"We wanted to make our cider food-safe," Holmberg said, "but we felt constrained to make changes."
The farm’s investment in an UV lighting system cost about the same as if they had bought their own pasteurizing machine and is just as effective at eliminating food-borne pathogens like E. coli, according to Holmberg.
And, with the UV method, which was approved by the FDA in 2001 as an effective substitution for pasteurization, the cider doesn’t need to be heated so the "fresh apple quality" is not lost.
"The UV lamp kills the bad bacteria in cider," Holmberg said. "It goes in cold and comes out cold, it's a very benign process."
Holmberg said the process is friendlier to the environment because it requires less energy to run the cider under the UV lamp than it does to heat it up and cool it down, which is what happens during pasteurization.