PARADISE — Tucked up into the south bend of the Cache Valley, a small apple orchard sits along Highway 165. If you’re not looking for it, you might just drive on past the colorful wooden sign at the orchard’s front gate.
Paradise Valley Orchard is a destination for apple aficionados for miles around — particularly those who want the fruits of their labor turned into a delicious drink.
The orchard is the home of one of the few apple cider pressing operations in Northern Utah. The orchard takes orders from all over; some people even make the drive from Boise to get their apples pressed.
“We’re the biggest press around that will take other people’s apples and do it for them,” owner and operator Ali Harrison said. “That’s why we’re so busy. (Others) are small and they can’t do the capacity we can.”
On Friday, Oct. 5, Paul Bingham drove from Weston, Idaho, to the orchard with his wife and a trailer packed with white bags full of apples. The Binghams brought about 70 bushels of apples, picked from the trees around their home, to be pressed into cider. They’ve done this each fall for years.
The back of the Binghams’ truck held a number of empty 5 gallon jugs. Soon, it’d be full of gallons upon gallons of freshly pressed cider.
“We have a large family,” Bingham said. “We got to spread it around.”
The orchard is a bustling place during the relatively brief apple cider pressing season. During the week, Harrison and her husband, Lorin, press custom apple orders of all sizes in the red barn on the property.
On Saturdays in September and October, the orchard is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. to the public and allows people to pick their own apples. They also press their own batches of cider for purchase in the store.
“There are kids all over, trucks pulling in and out ... it’s super fun. It’s wonderful,” Harrison said. “I would not want anything else than the hippie farm life.”
While both the Harrisons come from “earthy” families and had worked smaller pieces of land, the five-acre farmstead was bit out of their realm of experience when they purchased it nine years ago.
“We bought it because we thought it was a beautiful place,” she said. “And we were like, ‘I guess we’re farming now.’”
Plus, the orchard came with the apple cider press — and an already built-in client base.
“We didn’t know anything about apples or cider pressing. It literally fell into our laps,” Harrison said. “The night before we were supposed to start pressing, I was YouTubing how to run an apple press. It was kind of a disaster. But we made it. We learned a lot that first year.”
A cider pressing operation works like this: apples are poured into a large grinder that essentially turns them into apple sauce. The apple sauce is pumped into a square rack covered in cloth and the racks are stacked on top of each other. Once the stack reaches a good height, it’s moved under a hydraulic press, which presses all the juice out. The juice pours over the sides of the racks and into two big tanks. Finally, it goes into a filler tank and into jugs for customers to take home.
Ten pounds of apples make up a gallon of cider. Most people get about 3-4 gallons of cider per bushel they bring in, Harrison said.
A few years ago, the Harrisons replaced the orchard’s old, wooden press with a more efficient, modern model. It now takes about 20 minutes to press 10 bushels into cider.
When it comes to cider, the more apple varieties in the mix, the better taste. Some of the orchard’s customers are very specific about their cider blend and want the apples put into a grinder a certain way, Harrison said.
“The best cider is blend. You want a good mix of tart and sweet. If you just do all sweet apples, it’s all sugary,” she said. “The apples that make your mouth pucker, they’re amazing for cider. They balance all that sweetness.”
Paradise Valley has 44 varieties of apples, all of which ripen at different times during the season. On any given week, they’ll have 10-12 varieties that are ready to be picked, and that means their cider tastes different every weekend.
“I think ours is super unique just because we have so many varieties,” Harrison said. “We have a early blend, a mid-season blend, and a late season blend.”
The 70 bushels of apples the Binghams brought to Paradise Valley took about an hour to be pressed. In that time, two other pressing customers had pulled up to the orchard.
“They do a really good job. You can tell,” Bingham said, gesturing to the busy yard in front of the pressing barn.
Students from the Utah State University were unloading boxes upon boxes of apples from a truck, passing in-between the Binghams and the press operators as they carried cider out of the barn. A father and son picked leaves and twigs out of the apples they’d brought in plastic containers in the bed of their pickup truck. A group of parents and their children had just rolled up to explore the orchard and watch the pressing process.
All the while, the apple grinder wailed, the press shrieked, and more cider came pouring out.