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Keeving is a traditional cider-making technique that originated in France, particularly in the Normandy and Brittany regions. It is a method used to create naturally sweet and naturally sparkling ciders by retaining a portion of the apple’s natural sugars during fermentation. Keeving involves a unique process of clarifying the apple juice and inhibiting the fermentation process to retain residual sweetness. Here’s an overview of the keeving process:

  • Juice Extraction: Freshly pressed apple juice is obtained from cider apples or a blend of apple varieties. The juice should be free from excessive pulp or solids.

  • Pectin Activation: The apple juice is typically treated with pectinase, an enzyme that breaks down pectin—a complex carbohydrate found in apple juice. Pectin is responsible for creating a gelatinous structure that can trap yeast and nutrients needed for fermentation.

  • Settling: After pectinase treatment, the juice is left to settle in a cool environment (around 10-15°C or 50-59°F) for an extended period, usually overnight. During this time, the pectin compounds, along with other solids, start to precipitate and form a “pomace cap” on the surface.

  • Racking: The clarified juice is carefully siphoned or racked from beneath the pomace cap, separating it from the solids. This step helps eliminate potential fermentation inhibitors present in the settled solids.

  • Chaptalization (Optional): If the natural sugar content of the apple juice is low, chaptalization—a process of adding sugar—is sometimes done to increase the sugar levels and enhance the final sweetness of the cider.

  • Fermentation Inhibition: To retain residual sweetness, the fermentation process is inhibited by reducing the nutrient availability for yeast. This is achieved by cooling down the juice and sometimes adding calcium carbonate or other fining agents that help scavenge nutrients

  • Slow Fermentation: The juice is fermented slowly at a cool temperature (around 5-10°C or 41-50°F) to allow the yeast to work slowly and minimize the consumption of sugars.

  • Lees Removal: Once fermentation has slowed down and residual sugars remain, the cider is racked or transferred off the lees—the sediment that settles at the bottom of the fermentation vessel. This step helps clarify the cider and separate it from any remaining yeast or solids.

  • Maturation and Carbonation: The keeved cider is then aged and matured for several months. During this time, the residual sugars contribute to the natural sweetness, and natural carbonation can develop as fermentation continues slowly in the bottle. Some keeved ciders are also force-carbonated or bottle-conditioned to achieve desired levels of carbonation.

Keeving is a labor-intensive and specialized cider-making technique that requires skill and experience. The resulting ciders tend to have a unique balance of sweetness, acidity, and subtle natural carbonation, often characterized by a distinct and rich flavor profile. Keeving is primarily associated with French cider traditions, but it has gained interest and recognition among cider enthusiasts worldwide.

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