Cider pressing has deep roots in this family business but by adding a mobile cider mill to their machinery, they helped to change the game for other farms, too.
While Geissberger Farmhouse Cider has been producing sweet apple cider since 1970, the foundation for the business was laid when Hans and Emma Geissberger immigrated to Canada from Switzerland in 1925. They began as dairy farmers on some of the same land the farm stands on today, but they eventually transitioned to cider. “Hard cider was a staple in Switzerland for many, many years,” says Garry Geissberger, Hans and Emma’s grandson, who now owns and operates the business with his brother, Gord. “Our grandfather always had barrels of hard cider in the basement.” This was the initial reason for the farm’s apple trees; Hans would grow apples and have them pressed so he could have cider to enjoy personally.
But back in 1970, a cousin, Max, came to visit from Switzerland and he built the farm’s first press, which was in use until 2012. “Max was a phenomenal woodcraftsman, and our dad, Hans Jr., was an incredible mechanic, so they worked together to build the mill,” says Garry. The idea was that the family could press the apples themselves rather than hiring someone to do it. The cider started out as something the family just did together in the fall, but eventually, it became the focus of the farm. They built a business around pressing their own apples for their own products, which include sweet and hard cider, but they also did custom work for nearby farms who would bring their apples for pressing.
Eventually, the old mill began to break down, and Garry and Gord, who are the third generation of Geissbergers to run the farm, learned about a company in Austria that sold mobile cider mills. The purchase of this mill, which fits on a 20-foot trailer, completely changed the game on a couple of fronts: First, with the ability to easily move the mill from farm to farm, the Geissbergers were able to open up the geographic area they could serve — rather than only being able to take customers who could easily bring their apples to the farm. This mobility increased their customer base exponentially, to about a 350-kilometre radius (though the mill could travel farther). Secondly, the changes in packaging increase longevity, both for their own products and for those of their customers. “With the old mill, one of the issues was the packaging. Because we don’t add preservatives, you either had to use a jug of cider immediately or freeze it,” says Garry. “With the new mill, the cider is hot-packed and vacuum-sealed in a bag and then packaged in a box, and it’s good for much longer.” Because it was really important for the Geissberger brothers to stick closely to their family’s recipe, this was the ideal solution.
For the farms Geissberger serves, having their apples pressed on-site helps their margins because they don’t have to ship the produce away for processing. The dry pulp from pressing is also recycled back into the farms, as feed for animals or as compost, so the process is very low waste. The packaging is also made in Ontario, so it’s a local, homegrown effort across the board. In terms of farm-to-table, it really doesn’t get much better.
“With the new mill, the cider is hot-packed and vacuum-sealed in a bag and then packaged in a box, and it’s good for much longer.”