KINGFIELD — Daniel Gassett and Marie Daigle of Orchard Girls Cidery are using a unique blend of local ingredients, thrifty ingenuity, scientific processes and even a little engineering know-how to create an artistically crafted hard cider.

Gassett has called Maine home for five years. Prior to moving here, he was involved with winemaking in Virginia.

“I first had the idea of getting into the cider business while in Virginia,” said Gassett. “With inspiration from Marie, the idea took off after I moved here.”

Daigle has a degree in botany and a minor in business. “Our skills complement each other,” she said.

Marie Daigle of Orchard Girls Cidery in Kingfield processes apples through a grinder. Franklin Journal photo by Dee Menear

“We made our first batch in Marie’s kitchen and it just kept going and growing,” said Gassett.

As the duo refined recipes, they began looking for a commercial kitchen in order to produce their product for sale.

“That was quite a quest to find in Kingfield, which is near and dear to our hearts,” said Daigle.

Last fall, they moved into 375 Main Street and began transforming the space into a commercial operation. Orchard Girls Cidery received its license on Dec. 28, 2018. “The first keg was on tap the third week in January,” said Gassett.

Daniel Gassett of Orchard Girls Cidery uses a hydrometer to check the fermentation process of a batch of La Dame Rouge. Franklin Journal photo by Dee Menear

From a home kitchen experiment to commercial production space, Orchard Girls continues to grow in production and distribution. Daigle and Gassett are involved in every step of the process, from grinding produce to kegging and distributing the finished product. In fact, at this time, they are the only ones involved.

“If sales expand as they have since we opened, we will need our attention here and could become involved with a distributor,” said Daigle.

The process begins with 600 pounds of local apples. Currently, Orchard Girls uses apples from North Star Orchards in Madison. A secondary source of apples may be necessary as the company grows.

The apples are run through a grinder and into a 100-year old press. “The grinder was made for grapes and destroyed our first batch,” Daigle said.

Gassett set out to refurbish the hand-cranked grinder to better suit their needs. In the process, he developed a mechanized system for grinding.

“The grinding system is much better than hand cranking,” he said. “Every step is about improving efficiency and, since we are self-funded, it’s about keeping costs down.”

As Daigle runs fruit through the grinder, pulp fills the basket of the press. She said it took about an hour to fill the basket. The 600-pound load would fill four or five baskets.

Once the basket was filled, Daigle began pressing juice from the pulp. “Six hundred pounds will yield 30 to 37 gallons of cider. Sometimes juicer apples mean extra juice to experiment with,” she said.

One recent experiment involved adding fiddleheads to the fermentation process.

Fermenting juice to cider is a process that takes about 3 weeks. The desired strength, fluctuations in the environment and size of fermentation vessels impact the process, said Gassett.

In some cases, local honey, fruit or other ingredients are added to the fermentation process. No concentrated ingredients or flavors are added, Gassett said.

“Amoreena, our flagship cider is just juice and local honey,” Gassett said. Cranberries from Lynch Hill Farms in Harrington is added to the fermentation process to create La Dame Rouge. Another variety, Idunn, incorporates fresh ginger and lemon. All varieties are gluten-free. Two are vegan.

Seasonal varieties will be added as ingredients come in season, Daigle said.

Marie Daigle of Orchard Girls Cidery in Kingfield uses a 100-year old press to juice a batch of apple pulp. Franklin Journal photo by Dee Menear

“We use a very minimal amount of preservatives,“ he added. “Just enough sulfite as necessary to keep the oxidation of juice down. “Yes, this is an alcoholic beverage but it is also fresh and local.”

Gassett uses a hydrometer to check the fermentation process. “We try to disturb it as little as possible but we need to know where we are at with fermentation,” he said. “Once there are no residual sugars left, the cider ready to keg.”

The finished product is distributed for tap sales at eateries and pubs locally and throughout the state.

Locally, the cider can be found at Uno Mas in Farmington, and Sugarbowl and 45 North in Carrabassett Valley.

“With the addition of Alisson’s Restaurant in Kennebunkport, we have a distribution radius of about 160 miles,” said Gassett.

“It is interesting the ingenuity it takes to put something like this together on a budget,” Gassett said. “It fills a void in the market, especially in Kingfield.”

Gassett and Daigle plan to expand to retail sales by the end of summer. Plans are also in the works to open an on-site tasting room in the coming months.

“Our approach is to move forward in ways that bring great success,” Daigle said. “Having a product that is made locally with local resources that will be offered locally is pretty exciting.”

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