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September 26, 2011

 

Cider mill gears up for fall

Hollenbeck’s in Virgil began 79th season Saturday

HomerBob Ellis/staff photographer
Dylan Loope, left, and Austin Fox pour freshly made cider into half-gallon jugs during opening day Saturday at Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill in Virgil.

By STEVE HUGHES
Staff Reporter
shughes@cortlandstandard.net
VIRGIL — Saturday kicked off the 79th season for Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill on Route 392.
The mill is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. An early crowd forced the business to open a little early on its first day, said Mahlon Irish Sr., the mill’s parking attendant.
“We had people lined up at 8:30 in the morning so we opened our doors a bit early,” he said.
The first weekend is always a popular one and this one was no different.
“We’ll probably see 3,000 people come through here today,” Irish said.
For Kenneth Fuller of Silver Springs, Md., his family’s stop at Hollenbeck’s was on a whim.
The Cornell University alumnus was in town on a recruiting trip for his hotel investment group with his wife, Yasmine, also a Cornell graduate, and their two children.
At the advice of a former professor, the Fullers drove out for some fresh-pressed cider and doughnuts.
“This is our first time and this is probably the best doughnut I’ve ever had,” Kenneth Fuller said.
The popular business usually opens around the third weekend in September and will remain open through the end of February, said owner Bruce Hollenbeck.
The mill, which sells apples, a variety of pies, and freshly made doughnuts and cider, was founded by Hollenbeck’s father in 1933. Hollenbeck started working in the mill when he was just a child and has done so every year since.
Though the mill has as many as 20 employees on the weekends, Hollenbeck still does nearly everything.
He’s constantly moving, whether working the cider press, running the forklift, clearing the floor of excess juice or loading the leftovers from the press into a local pig farmer’s truck.
“If you’re a small business owner and you want to make it, you have to put a lot of time and work into it,” he said.
By noon on the opening day, the line for the doughnuts stretched all the way to the front door. That crowd was dwarfed by the one that gathered to watch the cider press at work.
Hollenbeck and an assistant run the press — the same one Hollenbeck’s father used — six times a day on the weekends. Each run produces up to 130 gallons of apple cider.
Hollenbeck won’t say how many apples he goes though a year.
“We go through thousands of bushels, I’ll tell you that,” he said.
Hundreds of apples at a time run down a conveyor belt through a machine that chews them into an oatmeal-like pulp. The mixture is sent through a hose and is spread over a cloth-covered pallet by Hollenbeck.
His assistant folds up the corners and then another pallet is placed on top. After a dozen oozing, soaking wet layers are put together, the press comes down on them with 50 tons of pressure.
After that, Hollenbeck begins handing out free samples to the crowd, saying hello to familiar customers, cleaning the floor, checking the front room and doing it all over again.

 

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