The vast majority of apples used for cider in New England are commonly-grown dessert cultivars, e.g. ‘McIntosh’, ‘’Cortland’, etc. Common dessert cultivars have become repurposed as cider apples because they are the most-planted and therefore most-produced apple cultivars in the region. Additionally, packing lines that sort fruit to meet the standards of the USDA grading system efficiently separate high-value fruit from lower-value cider apples. This is a critical consideration when growing dessert cultivars that will be used for cider making because differences in prices paid for fresh vs. cider apples will determine overall orchard profitability. Cider apple prices received by growers vary by region and buyer and, although they are generally higher than they were prior to the expansion of the cider market, they are still 3-6 times lower than fresh fruit prices paid for the same cultivars when sorted and packed to market standards. To maximize the prices received for dual purpose cultivars growers should produce as high a proportion of their fruit for higher-value fresh markets as possible and sell the smaller proportion of utility-grade apples to cideries. Alternatively, growers could enter into contracts with cideries to guarantee profitable prices for cider apples if sold exclusively for processing.
Cideries may seek heirloom or other specific apple cultivars that contribute flavors, aromas, mouthfeel, and other characteristics to finished ciders. These cider specific apple cultivars may be inherently more valuable to cideries than off-grade dessert cultivars and thus growers may receive high enough prices to justify growing them specifically for that market. Decisions to plant or manage these fruit should be made in collaboration with potential buyers, as there may be great risk in producing a cultivar that is not marketable when an orchard comes to maturity.