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An Apple a Day
Apples are the really all-American fruit. There is perhaps no better image of the diversity of the country than the apple, and probably no better analogy for the homogenization of America than the apple.
by Karen DiScala
Article is from Matters Magazine

In 1867, two years after President Lincoln's assassination, the 16th president, Andrew Johnson, was firmly established in the White House. 1867 was also the year that Charles Dickens gave his first public reading in the United States, when the first American dental school opened, and when Gottlieb Ochs opened the Ochs Cider Mill in Livingston, New Jersey.

One hundred and thirty-eight years later the 42nd President occupies the White House, more than 50 American colleges/universities offer dental degrees, and Charles Dickens' works are considered "classics." But Ochs Cider Mill - now renamed Nettie Ochs Cider Mill - still functions at the same Livingston location, operated by Gottlieb Ochs' direct descendents.

You'll find Nettie Ochs Cider Mill Set back on Old Short Hills Road, a few hundred yards from Northfield Avenue. Visiting the unassuming stone and cement structure is like taking a step back in time. Once inside the building, which houses the mill and company store, you're immediately enveloped by the aroma of picked and pressed apples - fragrant, cool, and appetizing.

Nettie Ochs Cider Mill is an Essex County institution. During the busy autumn season, there is frequently a multi-generational line of customers waiting their turn to buy a gallon (or two) of fresh cider - and fresh it is. Every day from September - February, Nettie Ochs produces gallon after gallon of cider using procedures almost identical to those used in the Mill's earliest days. In fact, very few things about Nettie Ochs have changed over the years.

In the early days, the Ochs family grew their own apples on acres and acres of property that extended all the way from the mill to the current location of St. Barnabas Medical Center. Today, having sold all but four acres of their land, the Mill uses apples from outside vendors. A more recent change came a few years ago when Nettie Ochs replaced the horse-powered cider press it had used since 1904 with an electric model. The most endearing change, however, came about in the 1920s when the Mill's name changed.

Widowed during the First World War, a youthful Nettie Ochs ran the mill and raised her young family all on her own. Through years of hard work and sacrifice she kept her family together and the cider mill running. When her son took over management of the Mill in the early 1920s he renamed the business the Nettie Ochs Cider Mill as a tribute to his mother's love and dedication.

Today, more than 80 years later, the Ochs family displays a similar dedication to their craft. They take great pride in producing cider of exceptional quality and flavor. Using a combination of apples including Wine saps, Honey Crisps and Galas, the Ochs do not compromise on any aspect of the process.

All apples go through an inspection process. Any apple that looks even a little questionable is not used. "The rule is if I wouldn't eat the apple then I won't drink it either," commented Bob Ochs last fall as he inspected a bushel of apples. Once selected, apples are washed and loaded onto the press. Nylon cider clothes - designed to keep the hard matter of seeds, stems, and peels from entering the cider - cover each apple layer. Pressing as many as ten layers of apples at a time, it takes about 45 minutes of slow continuous pressure to extract the reddish-brown liquid from the fruit. The cider is manually filled into jugs in a cool, windowless stone-walled room.

These jugs are sealed and placed on a table in front of a trap door in the wall. On the other side of the trap door is the cashier area of the store. When customers ask for a jug of cider the cashier opens the trap door, removes a jug, and then closes the door again to keep the cider room cool.

One of the most noticeable differences about Nettie Ochs cider is its delicious, rich, slightly tangy flavor. It tastes so good because, unlike most commercially produced cider, Nettie Ochs cider is not pasteurized. "Cider is a very fragile entity," explained Bob. "When you pasteurize you're basically cooking away most of the flavor and nutrients." Instead, Nettie Ochs cider passes through a more delicate but equally effective ultraviolet treatment. The UV rays kill the bacteria but retain the cider's flavor and nutrients.

Surely, there are easier ways to earn a living than putting in 12+ hour days of physically demanding labor at the Mill - but this is truly a labor of love. Behind the scenes, workers appear more like a large extended family and less like a business. Laughter, jokes, and plenty of smiles abound throughout the operation. Those of us in Essex County are truly fortunate to have such a delicious and wholesome link to the past right in our own back yards.

Writer Karen DiScala claims her family consumes gallons of Nettie Ochs cidar each fall at her South Orange home.

Robert Ochs was a jovial man who filled a room with his big personality and geniality; he made you feel welcome and at ease from the first. He left quite an impression on everyone he met. Sadly, in early 2005 Robert Ochs died following a brief illness. His wife, Barbara, and children, Julia and Tyler survive him. In September his survivors made the difficult decision to keep the mill closed during the fall/winter 2005 season. They are committed to re-opening the Mill in 2006 but will use this time of mourning to "regroup" and make modifications to the operation. Their plan is to re-open the mill in September 2006 and continue their family tradition of producing the finest cider in New Jersey.

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