Once a year, friends gather on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula to make cider from local apples. After the press, a Swiss-inspired feast awaits, including cider stew, duck ragout and flaky apple pastries with custard.
By
Carrie Hutchinson

31 Aug 2012 - 3:16 PM  UPDATED 30 Mar 2021 - 5:31 PM

It’s funny how things turn out.  When Kenneth Neff’s daughter announced she was going to get married, the furniture-maker-turned-farm manager decided that instead of spending a whole lot of money on alcohol for the event, he’d buy a fruit press and make his own. “She didn’t get married in the end,” he says, “but now we have this weekend every year.”

It’s chilly in the back shed at Woolumbi, a pig farm at Tyabb on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, but a sweet aroma lingers from yesterday’s activities when a mighty 1300 litres of apple juice was pressed by hand. “We’ll do the same again today,” says Kenneth, as people start filtering in, putting the apples – a mix of sundowners, pink ladies and granny smiths sourced from local farmers – through the mulcher, and lining the presses with fabric filters.

Throughout the day, people will come and go. Some are here for three days (tomorrow is clean-up day), some for three hours. They’re a combination of Kenneth’s mates and people he works with at Woolumbi’s sister farm, Pine Cliff. They bring their kids, who – between riding the farm’s ponies and throwing apples to Pebbles the dog – help by sorting through the fruit, cutting out bruises and flicking off snails, before it’s put through the crusher.

While everyone is enjoying themselves – it’s not easy work but there are enough people on hand to rotate out and have a break – there’s business to be done: the results of last year’s press is called Long Legs Cider, the first drop that Kenneth hopes to be retailed online, if he can secure a license.

Its development is a story of coincidences. When he was just a boy, Kenneth’s parents emigrated from Switzerland to Melbourne’s Bayswater – at that time, the suburb had just one general store and was surrounded by market gardens and orchards. The second store to open there was a German butchers, which is where he started to learn about sausage-making and producing charcuterie. These days, he holds weekend classes at the farm (see Charcuterie Classes, page 53). “Adam [Marks] from Bress in Harcourt came to do the charcuterie course and tasted some of our cider,” says Kenneth. “He came back with a winemaker and they decided that the cider was too good to stuff up.” Adam will come back to the farm this month, about four months after the pressing, to do the blend for 2013’s Long Legs release.

The action isn’t only taking place in the shed. Over at the kitchen, where the charcuterie courses normally take place, Peter and Brigitte Vögeli have spent six days preparing a celebratory feast for the evening. They moved to Australia from Switzerland 26 years ago, and Peter, who trained as a chef, has been working with Kenneth for five years. Before that, the couple ran a film catering business. “All of the dishes we’re making are Swiss-style,” says Peter. “A lot of the produce I’m using comes from the farm, but we also brought some bits in.”

Throughout the day, he sends what he calls snacks into the shed for the workers to nibble on as they need: pumpkin soup, Easter ham (a traditional ham and parsley terrine from the Burgundy region of France), vegetarian vol-au-vents, and a chicken and duck liver pâté encased in pork fillet and suet pastry.

The tradition for the post-pressing feast has its roots in camping trips the men took together. “We’d cook everything in the campfire. During the gas outage [in 1998, most of Melbourne was without gas
for two weeks after an explosion at Longford], we lived in the bush for 10 days and we lived like kings.” Certainly the meal he’s preparing tonight – a buffet of pork cooked in cider, a hunter-style duck ragout, barbecued pork ribs, braised red cabbage with chestnuts and roasted vegetable salad – is fit for royalty.

As the sun sets, the shed is tidied, and workers start wandering to the verandah of the main house. Two long tables are set, drinks are poured and everyone digs in. Some of them have only met today, so conversation turns around connections; others are catching up on what’s been happening since the last apple press.

The day’s final act – a dessert of Swiss apfel im schlafrock (literally ‘apple in a dressing gown’ – like a chunky version of apple strudel) – is brought out and people tuck in. It’s not long before the music is turned up and a table-tennis tournament of sorts starts. It might have been a long day, but there’s always enough energy to celebrate.

 

Photography by Sean Fennessy.