The early years
For 30-odd years, Ray was a secondary phase teacher so making cider was a hobby. Around 1995 he used his practical skills to make a cider press (a pack or rack & cloth press) and Gail used a kitchen food processor to mill the apples that had been washed in an old bath. This is when the "Hucknall Cider Co" was born which very quickly became Torkard Cider. "Production" was anywhere up to 120 litres in those days, all for home consumption.
It was also a steep learning curve with as many failures as successes; so we carried on visiting cidermakers across England & Wales to chat, discuss and learn. We travelled across France visiting and chatting to cidre, poire & calavdos makers, and like many others fell in love with good Pommeau.
We put into practice all we learned, purchased and planted true cider apple trees, and a hand-powered scratter (mill) so that within a couple of years we were making a few hundred litres of pure whole-juice cider made from our home-grown apples, along with locally grown apples from allotments, small holdings and garden orchards.
While at the Nottingham CAMRA Beer Festival at the old Victoria Baths, we got chatting to one of the cider bar staff who convinced us that we should go about selling our cider. At that time, there were no cidermakers in Nottingham nor the county of Nottinghamshire. So the decision was made to go down the route of becoming small-scale craft cidermakers. We also decided at this time to try to promote and campaign for true real cider, to promote Local Cider by making our ciders from apples grown within the county, and to further the aims of groups such as the Slow Food movement and the need to reduce "food miles". We wanted to support local fruit growers as much as we could. We realised heritage cider was our aim.
After registering with HMRC, we were ready to start selling our cider and much to our pleasure, we began winning CAMRA Cider of the Festival Awards. Success meant that we needed to improve on our cidermaking kit, so we built our first "cider shed" and purchased an electric mill to process the apples quickly and more efficiently, along with a used Vigo Rack & Cloth Screw Press from our good friends at Rockingham Forest Cider. Then we bought another Vigo screw press - "His & Hers" if you like.
We were very pleased to be awarded a 5 Star rating by the Food Standards Agency, which we have kept being awarded following each inspection. We hope this is reflected in the care, passion and pride we have in our hand-made ciders.
In 2009, Ray had to leave teaching due to ill health. So making cider became much more important as a business than a hobby. A new electro-hydraulic pack press was imported direct from Austria and a new higher-capacity apple mill was bought to suit. This meant another cider shed dedicated to milling & pressing had to be built, followed by another larger shed for storage and maturation of the ciders.
Awards continued to come our way and in 2011 Torkard Cider won the Gold Award in the CAMRA East Midlands Regional Cider & Perry Competition - in 2015 we won Bronze Award in the same competition followed by Gold Award again in 2019.
Maybe Silver too one year for the full set...?