When the pandemic ended in-person learning in 2020, Cornell AgriTech took those lemons and turned them into hard apple cider.
AgriTech began offering a cider-making course at its Geneva, New York campus in 2009, one of the few such courses offered in North America. The one-week crash course, officially titled Cider and Perry Production: A Foundation, teaches producers microbiological and chemical strategies to ensure food safety, provides advice on production processes and technologies, and enables hands-on learning and taste testing.
The loss of these hands-on activities was Chris Gerling’s main concern when planning to go live. Gerling ’99, MS, ’06, leads the Cider Production course and is a Senior Extension Associate at Cornell AgriTech.
“In person, we go into the lab and measure the sugar and the acid,” Gerling said. “We mix and do cider tastings. So we were worried that an online course would be a pale imitation of the course we are offering.
But with a little creative brainstorming, Gerling and his colleagues overcame these challenges. They began partnering with New York City Angry Orchard Cider Mill to ship ciders nationwide and globally, so online attendees could still taste and discuss the ciders together. They also ship yeast, airlocks (devices that allow fermentation while keeping insects out), and little pill capsules filled with substances that help cider growers learn to identify “blemishes” – things that can. go wrong in the making of cider.
“We have participants pouring prepared capsules into their cider and it smells bad. One smells of rotten eggs, the other smells of old bandages, ”said Gerling. Then the class discusses what would make cider smell like this, and how to avoid it.
Students have flocked to the more accessible online format: 236 cider producers in 37 states, nine provinces and six countries have now taken the course online. Rather than a one-week crash course, the online version lasts eight to 15 weeks, with weekly video downloads and synchronous class discussions. Because the online course does not require travel or time off from work, it allowed for more participants and more diversity, Gerling said.
“The real paradigm shift that we didn’t appreciate until we got online was that in any given week we could bring in someone virtually from Seattle, someone from Michigan, someone from the Hudson Valley, and they could show us how they do it. in their cider house or orchard, ”said Gerling. “We were able to do a really rich and deep course with a lot of perspectives. “
Over the past five years, the course has evolved into a partnership with the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute; the Cider Institute of North America (CINA), a non-profit trade association formed to support the cider industry; and two other universities: Washington State University and Brock University in Ontario, Canada. CINA has created a scholarship for current and aspiring cider-makers of color, which covers the full tuition of the course.
Brighid O’Keane, executive director of CINA, said the training is the most comprehensive hard cider specific education in North America.
“We are the go-to resource for people who want to professionalize their cider making and learn what it takes to produce cider commercially,” said O’Keane. “One of our strengths is the partnership we have established between universities and industry partners. Cornell’s science background and experience and knowledge of the commercial cider industry make this a really solid course.
Cortni Stahl ’12 is co-owner of Star Cider in Canandaigua, NY. She and her husband, Adam Stahl, founded the cider house in 2014 and in that first year they made 110 gallons. This fall they produced 15,000 gallons, most of which is sold in their new tasting room and new retail location. Stahl is also a program / extension assistant at Cornell AgriTech; She prepares and ships lab chemicals and other course materials, and lectures on the business side of cider making.
“I hope that we inspire inspiration and joy in the education around cider making and I hope this in turn will continue to improve the quality of cider and the cider industry as a whole,” Stahl said. “We have so many apple growers in New York; it is a wonderful place to make and taste cider. And the Cider Course is a great backbone and a trusted source of information for cider growers.
The next Basic Cider Course starts on January 12, 2022.
Krisy Gashler is a writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.