A Pressing Matter in Virgil

Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill

Written by Kristen Tauer

Perched off the side of a state highway in the small town of Virgil, and with its modest exterior, Hollenbeck’s Cider Mill is easy to miss while driving by. Not that they have to worry too much about people missing them. The store is a frequent—and for many, mandatory—stop on their way to and from Greek Peak Ski Resort, which is located just over two miles down the road from the Mill. And with 81 years of business behind them, the store has garnered a strong following through word (and taste) of mouth.

The Mill was established in 1933 by current storeowner and Virgil native Bruce Hollenbeck’s father. “I grew up right here with the business,” said Hollenbeck. I was born where the parking lot is. I’ve been here forever.” The store employs around 35 people during the fall, with as many as 15 people working in the store at a time. During the weekend, Hollenbeck and his crew get to the mill before 6am to start baking and preparing the store for the crowds—several hundred people can pass through its front door on a weekend.

While the fresh apple cider donuts and comprehensive selection of pies (all of which are from original family recipes) elicit their own share of followers, perhaps the biggest draw at the Mill is the 110-year-old apple cider press located in the middle of the store.

“Everything is wide open,” Hollenbeck says. “We have lots of room for people to watch.”

The store has used the same method of making cider for the past 70 years. During their visit, customers can see the 50-ton press continuously in action. Chopped apples are ushered into the press, which consists of towering layers of canvas mats. The press can take in 36 bushels of apples at a time and produces 120 to 125 gallons of juice. During the weekend, most of that cider will be consumed or sold the same day.

Cider is expected to be plentiful this apple harvest season at the Mill following last year’s apple shortage, which hiked up prices. Working with several growers in Western New York and along the shores of Lake Ontario, the Mill is supplied weekly with shipments of apples directly from orchards. At the beginning of the season, the mill generally starts off pressing McIntosh apples, later incorporating other varieties such as Cortland and Empire.

“Whatever’s in season is what they’re picking for us,” said Hollenbeck.

Depending on where they are in the season, the Mill’s cider may be a mix of up to 4 or 5 different varieties of apples.In addition to the cider and bakery, the store also stocks maple syrup, honey, and wares from local producers in the region. But fans of the mill’s store-made products will have to trek out to Cortland—the mill doesn’t sell their products anywhere else, so as to keep a watch on their product quality.

The store, which opened on the first day of fall, will remain open through the end of February.

“I just try to keep this business nice and current,” said Hollenbeck. “We’re just running along, and we do things like we usually do—make good products.”

1265 State Route 392, Cortland, NY, hollenbeckscidermill.com

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2013 edition of the magazine.

Kristen Tauer is a freelance writer originally from Ithaca.

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