Category Archives: Meet the Maker

Bantam Cider: An Apple a Day…

Tucked on a tiny side street about a five-minute walk from the heart of Somerville’s Union Square is Bantam Cider. Thankfully, signs mark the way in, as it is an industrial-style space that might otherwise shy away the less adventurous. It is here that Bantam conducts their production facility Monday through Friday, churning out unique and delicious ciders that they distribute throughout Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York City, Chicago, and Massachusetts. Lining the outer wall, big steel drums hold huge batches of their flagship ciders, awaiting canning. Oak barrels are pushed against the back wall, aging experimental batches within. A worker precisely handles an interesting filtering device that looks like a bunch of folders in need of filing. But this space isn’t purely production – Bantam is an urban facility, but they also function as a taproom on weekends. Which is why much of that equipment sprawled out in the space by day is on wheels — it gets rolled away to make room for an urban cider oasis.

Manager Christina Bencivenni is my guide, and serves me up a cider in a tulip shaped glass. I choose “Hopped Scrumpy,” due to the description that includes Mosaic, Amarillo, and Centennial hops. Coming from someone who has been more on the cider & sour train as opposed to the hop hype, I find it delicate, refreshing, and palate pleasing. For the last three years, Bencivenni’s been Bantam’s sales manager and has been in the interesting position of seeing not only Bantam grow, but also witnessing the shift in the increasing involvement of women in the micro-brewing workplace. Dana Masterpolo and Michelle da Silva are the founders of Bantam, and according to Bencivenni, “to say they are involved is the biggest understatement of the century.” She goes on to say, “They’re the hardest working women I’ve ever met and they’re pretty inspiring with how dedicated they are to the quality of our product.”

After five days of full-time production and getting product out to distributors who will then get them to the consumers, you’d think they’d want to take a break, right? Nope; at 5 p.m. on Friday when most Bostonites are heading home for some R&R, Bantam is setting up their taproom. They move out the equipment and move in the tables, complete with jars of complimentary pretzels. Guests can grab a draught for $6 or a flight of 5 for $10, and enjoy a free tour while there. I assumed Bencivenni was exaggerating when she said Masterpolo and da Silva “literally live here” but maybe she isn’t so far off.

If you live in Boston and are interested in cider, or know someone who is, you may be able to recognize Bantam’s cans on sight. The sharp design and bright, primary colors draw your eye. It’s simple, but chic. The transition to cans, like many other local producers, was a no-brainer. They’re easily transportable, suffer from less light pollution, and are better for the environment. If you can’t get to the taproom, these are a great option for you to enjoy the cider. But if you can – go growler! Or should I say, growlette -not only are the glass 32 oz bottles adorable, they also have several other uses – water bottles, flower vase, spice storage – the list goes on. Not to mention, these mini growlers open the possibilities to sampling every kind of cider that Bantam offers without fear of waste.Perhaps the best thing about the wide variety of Bantam’s ciders is that you can find a unique cider to pair with almost any of your favorite cheeses. Check out some of our favorites below.

Pairing Possibilities

Wunderkind
Crisp, clean, & bubbly due to sparkling wine yeast and a touch of flower blossom honey.
Pair with: local VT brie Jasper Hill’s Moses Sleeper or french triple cream Delice de Bourgogne

Rojo
Tart and semi-dry fermented with an ale yeast, sour cherries, and black peppercorns.
Pair with: ash ripened goat cheese Ruggles Hill Brother’s Walk

The Americain
Liquid apple pie. Still dry but slightly sweeter than the rest with rose petals, green cardamom, coriander, clove, and cinnamon.
Pair with: Parish Hill’s cider washed Hermit or Daphne’s Snowy Cheddar

Find the three aforementioned ciders on our shelves at AP, or head to the taproom at 55 Merriam St in Somerville for Hopped Scrumpy and more.

All pictures and words by the author.

Jam Out: A Conversation with Bonnie Shershow

Fruit preserves – the key is in the second word. For us New Englanders – slaves to the seasons – it’s an irresistible treat to get a taste of summer-ripened fruit on your plate in the middle of March. Even as the latest Nor’easter bears down upon us, let each bite remind you that though winter is here (and still coming, apparently) there is a drop of sunshine on the east coast that we can still enjoy – and it comes in different flavors.

Bonnie Shershow, the founder and owner of Bonnie’s Jams, was kind enough to speak to me about her product and how she got her start in the jam business. First of all, it was kind of an accident. How she tells it, Shershow got her start in jam making as her mothers helper, in their California home surrounded by berry bushes and fruit trees. Later in life, Shershow achieved a graduate degree from the Kennedy School at Harvard. She worked managing non-profits, political campaigns, and did marketing. Through it all, she made jam as a hobby, but she never thought it would become a career. Things clicked when Formaggio kitchen started carrying her jams 17 years ago – Shershow says, “At one point, I thought I should be paying them, it was such a thrill to see it on the shelf.”

A Question of pectin…

Many of Bonnie’s Jams have the telltale description “no pectin” on the label. I had no idea what pectin was, but I presumed it was some sort of negative additive. I referred myself to Google, and learned that it was a plant-derived substance with a variety of applications, both in food and medicine. Shershow informs me, “Pectin’s not bad for you – in fact, pectin can be good for you.”

So what’s all the fuss about pectin in jam? It boils down to this (pun intended) – sugar and water.

Let’s say you’re making jam in a pot with a bunch of fruit and sugar, and you add pectin. It is a thickening component – so the jam is ready in maybe a half hour. When Shershow makes her pots of jams, she cooks the fruit down for several hours, adds only a touch of sugar, and no pectin. This does a couple of things. In the first scenario, with the pectin, we had to add a lot of sugar (according to Shershow, some recipes call for a 1:1 ratio of sugar to fruit). The sugar is compensating for the water that is still in the jam – it’s helping it taste yummy. But if you let the jam thicken by cooking it down more, you’re removing the need for both a thickener and extra sugar to compensate for loss of flavor. You’re also subtracting the possibility that the pectin will change the actual flavor of the fruit preserve.

How can pectin change the flavor? Well, because pectin itself is made from fruit. It is found crabapples, citrus peels, and many other fruits. Hence why Shershow avoids using the derivative in most of her products – “I don’t like using it in berries or stone fruit jams. I want the flavor of that particular fruit to be pure; I don’t want it to have a citrus taste.”

On the flip side, Shershow tells me she uses pectin in her Red Pepper Jelly, a delightful product that we can barely keep in stock at AP. Pectin has a place in the Red Pepper Jelly – it’s a more liquid base, and it has vinegar as an ingredient. So, Shershow uses an orange peel based pectin that gels with the red pepper flavor. (Last pun, I promise.)

Finally, we get to the fun part. Shershow and I got to talk pairings, and she gave me some of her favorites. Cheese and meat may be the star of the show for snacking spreads – but accoutrements are the sidekicks that all superheroes need to shine. Jams have a way of elevating a cheese board – they bring taste, differentiating texture, and color to your appetizers. Keep scrolling for some visual inspiration for your next cheese board.

Nuts and honey & Chiriboga blue
The sweet, salty crunch of nuts & honey marries perfectly with a creamy blue. We love the rindless Chiriboga, a Bavarian blue so decadent it’s been made into ice cream. Fair warning – it’s addictive; this pairing should come with a waiver.

Strawberry Rhubarb & Lake’s Edge
If you’re after less of a punch and more of a delicate handshake, try this pairing on for size. Somewhere between creamy and fudgy, Lake’s Edge is an ash ripened goat cheese. Paired with Strawberry Rhubarb jam, it’s spring in a bite.

Peach Ginger & Twig Farm Goat Tomme
This pairing is a double whammy of tang, and I’m not talking chimpanzees. A snap of ginger and stone fruit with a crack of goat will have your palette on its toes.

Black and Blue & Marcel Petit Comte
Juicy berries with one of our favorite French alpine cheeses? Yes please! Kick up this pairing and make a warm tart with the black and blue and shave some Comte on top. Melty.

Fig preserves & literally any cheese
The best part about pairings is that it’s all up to you and your taste. We love Fig preserve with everything from our best selling Cabot Clothbound cheddar to taleggio. You can mix it in with some yogurt, or have it on a slice of toast with Ploughgate butter. Experiment. Find what you love. That’s what it’s all about.

All pictures and words by the author.

Claire Cheney’s Cabinet of Curiosities

Note by the author:
This interview with Claire Cheney from Curio Spice Co. will be the first
in a series of a spotlight on woman owned & operated businesses.

Curio Spice Co. is a tiny spice shop owned by Claire Cheney on Mass Ave in Cambridge. Just down the road from Davis & Porter Squares, it has a sanctuary-esque feeling. An avid traveler and collector of curiosities, Cheney has a way of blending both spices and ambiance. Old fashioned looking instruments, animal skulls, and a copy of the Drunken Botanist frame her spice blend and salt offerings. Curated to be an aromatic experience, each shelf has a row of clear jars so you can see and smell the spices. It’s one thing to talk the talk of being a small sustainable business but she really does walk the walk – 99% of the spices on her shelves are fair trade, organic, and/or from small sustainable farms.

Cheney grew up in Massachusetts and spent an impressionable part of her childhood in a shipbuilding town on the coast of Maine. She credits her first solo-abroad trip to Ghana as one event that spurred her interest in botany. She says, “People don’t have access to western style doctors, so there’s a lot of tribal medicine and using the plants in their environment, and I was curious about that.”

Curiouser and curiouser….

She went on to study at Oberlin, a small liberal arts college in Ohio, where she majored in creative writing and environmental studies. As far as her studies contribution to her business acumen, Cheney attributes more the critical thinking and creative skills she acquired at school with bringing her success than her actual degree. She jokes, “I sometimes will mix it up and say I was a creative studies major, cause it sometimes felt like that. Very, very interdisciplinary.”

At Oberlin, she worked as the Local Foods Coordinator at an 800-person food and living co-op. That meant she traveled to Amish farms in Ohio to source vegetables and eggs direct from the farms. Being a woman, the farmers would not make eye contact when she spoke to them, and would only speak to the male she was working with. Also impactful was her senior thesis on wild foods, which started as a project on the wild blueberry industry in Maine, but expanded wildly. She talks about interviewing Alice Waters as part of her project, who is a proponent of the slow food movement, food activist, and all around badass; as I would talk about meeting Beyonce (but with less hyperventilating). She credits her project as being very beneficial to defining her passion for local, organic, and sustainable food practices. You can tell she’s brought her interests full circle: she informs me of her newest spice blend offering named Herbes de Romance contains wild oregano from her folk’s farm up in Maine.

Cheney’s current business model is fashioned around becoming a certified B Corp, short for benefit corporation. A benefit corporation has a mission statement that goes beyond just profit. Other businesses that have achieved B Corp status include Kickstarter, and Cheney’s friends at the company Susty Party, who sell compostable party supplies. To be certified, you need to create a set of achievable goals to fulfill your mission, which vary depending on the business. Curio Spice Co.’s mission is rooted in environmental responsibility and gender equality.

Cheney points out, “it’s a little bit tricky for consumers, because there’s so much language on packaging. Whether it’s organic, now it’s non-GMO, there’s fair trade, then there’s words like sustainable and natural.” As more and more people are becoming aware, “natural” is often used to make a packaged food seem less processed – that doesn’t mean it’s true. While for-profit corporations only have a responsibility to how they can achieve financial success, B Corps also consider environmental and social factors.

If you look closely at the label, you can see the silhouette of a bear. That, according to Cheney, is because bears are super sniffers. After a little bit of my own research, I discovered bears have a sense of smell seven times greater than that of a bloodhound. That, together with Cheney’s affinity for perfumes gives an inkling as to how much sourcing spices direct has to with picking up scents. “It’s a similar process to spice blending, using your nose and finding cool combinations. I’ve studied some natural perfume and it’s helped develop my sensory abilities.”

Cheney has put those sensory abilities she’s gained to work; she seems to always be going on spice hunting trips, her latest of which being a vanilla quest in Madagascar which you can read about in her new blog post. Her social media accounts certainly capture her passion for spices and are a wonderful way to feel like you’re on an adventure right alongside her. As she says, “I think it makes people enjoy the food more when you have the story behind it.”

As for her spice blends, they are very exact, “down to the gram,” Cheney assures me. Her scales also have to be certified by the city because of weights and measures regulations. When I was considering Curio, and wondering about, of all the things I could ask Cheney, about her cool products and amazing travels, the phrase “The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts” by Aristotle came briefly to mind. When I asked Cheney if she agreed with that assessment, she said, “That’s what’s cool about blending – and you could say the same about cooking. When you combine certain things and it creates a balance, it transcends all the individual ingredients.”

Some of Claire Cheney’s favorite flavor combinations:
Southeast Asian: lemongrass, makrut lime, and long pepper
Greek & Mediterranean: Oregano, saffron, lemon, and thyme

Find Curio Spices at American Provisions in the spice section.

All photos and article by Hillary Anderson.

Drink Craft Beer & Cheese Fest 2015

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Random people who wanted their picture taken.

Say “Cheese!”

…was the completely appropriate, albeit admittedly corny phrase I shouted to the attendees of Drink Craft Beer & Cheese Fest, on Saturday, February 28th. Although I was not press coverage for the event, the large camera and flash I was toting around were enough to prompt fellow fest-goers to request pictures of themselves (which I happily obliged).

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Clockwise from top left: Toby from Peak Organic, the booth at Pretty Things Brewery, & Cricket Creek Creamery.

I have a love/hate relationship with beer festivals. On the one hand, they’re wonderful because you get to try so many beers from talented brewers all in one setting, while mingling with fellow beer lovers. Yet the same applies to why they’re loathsome: you try so many beers in a short period of time that it becomes difficult to remember said beers, therefore diminishing their uniqueness (not to mention the inevitability of a giant hangover the next day). Drink Craft Beer & Cheese Fest, however, was a different story. As the beer buyer at American Provisions, I got to attend this event as a representative of my store, an individual with a purpose (other than getting smashed at a beer fest). I was there to try new beers from several of the breweries we support, connect on a personal level with these companies, and witness any interesting pairings happening between the beers and cheeses that we love.

And despite what my boss may believe, I did not show up at work with a hangover the next day!

This was the first beer AND cheese event for Drink Craft Beer, so it was very exciting to see so many of AP’s beloved breweries and creameries all under the same roof. Uncertain of where to begin the epic event, I hung back by Toby of Peak Organic, who graciously started me off with a soothing cup of their cask-conditioned Nut Brown Ale. Peak Organic is a killer brewery from Maine, focused on local ingredients and awesome brews. Their line up that night included Hop Noir (a black IPA), Espresso Amber Ale, which was continuously pronounced “X-presso” (much to Toby’s chagrin), and Citrus Saison, a Belgian style saison that invigorated me with the promise of warmer days to come.

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Clockwise from top left: Al Snape from Far From the Tree Cider, many happy festival-goers, Joe & Erin for Vermont Creamery, and Mayflower Brewing. 

Armed with Nut Brown Ale, I set off into the crowd, ready to taste. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wander far to find a familiar face: Al Snape from Far From The Tree Cider was at a nearby booth, sampling up four new cider concoctions that we have been eagerly waiting to try since our visit with them back in January (read about it here!) The new cider offerings were Lust, a cherry cranberry cider; Cord, an oaked maple cider; Juno, a maple ice cider; and Milanowski’s Nightmare, a sour dry-hopped cider. While they were all delicious & seriously unique, Juno stood out with its velvety consistency and intense depth of flavor (check back with us in a few months to see these new products on our shelves).

We were stoked to see more familiar faces in the form of former AP-staffers, Joe Quintero & Erin McIver, at the Vermont Creamery table. Joe left AP to become the New England sales rep for VC, while Erin now works as the marketing coordinator for hip food site BostonChefs.com. This dynamic duo was shelling out samples of Coupole, Cremont, & Bonne Bouche, three of our favorite goat and cow cheeses. According to Erin & Joe, the creameries attending the event each brought 100lbs of cheese for the three sessions of the Drink Craft event (a bit of an over-estimate, in Joe’s opinion). A few other creameries I spoke to had an excess cheese leftover at the end of the night—it seems that Drink Craft Beer was following the Boy Scout motto to always be prepared!

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The booths of Bantam Cider, Smuttynose Brewing, & Allagash Brewing.

The event was filled to the brim with a wide range of local cheeses. Narragansett Creamery, for example, challenged the norm by serving up a hot sample of their Mediterranean-style grilling cheese. Old classics held strong in the form of aged cheddars from the ladies at Cabot Creamery—they encouraged you to pair these sharp and sweet hunks of cheese with hoppy libations like Wormtown’s Be Hoppy & Notch’s Left of the Dial. The crew at Jasper Hill Cellars pulled out all the stops with an array of cheeses—Alpha Tolman, a nutty Alpine style; Bayley Hazen Blue, one of the best blue cheeses around; and Moses Sleeper, a Vermont take on the classic Brie style. Their table display also provided attendees with an anatomy lesson on the source of all things good: the cow.

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Clockwise from top left: Narragansett Creamery, Cabot Creamery, the anatomy poster from Cellars at Jasper Hill, and Robinson Farm. 

My next cheese stop was a very special creamery, Robinson Farm from Hardwick, MA. Raymond & Pamela Robinson were not at the event, but Pamela’s son Ben was there promoting the farm’s cheeses. It was because of Ben (who lives in Southie) that the Robinson’s cheese, Tekenink Tomme, became one of the first cheeses ever to be sold at American Provisions. I was able to chat with Ben and his crew while enjoying samples of Tekenink, Barndance, & Arpeggio—their strong bloomy rind cows milk cheese, which paired especially well with the always wonderful Wunderkind cider from Bantam.

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Clockwise from top left: Chris from Notch Brewing, Otter Creek Brewing Co., Idle Hands Craft Ales, & the folks at Rising Tide.

Many more stellar pairings between cheese and beer were formed that night, several of which I don’t remember or was not witness to, but the spirit of the fest makes me believe they existed. Some of the pairings that I do remember were suggested in Drink Craft Beer’s fest guide, while others were born out of mere fate. Otter Creek’s Kind Rye IPA was quite the match against several cheddars in the house, specifically the suggested Grafton Village’s Extra Mature Cheddar. I discovered my own pairing between Notch Brewing’s luscious Černe Pivo (Notch’s founder Chris Lohrig explained to me the name is Czech for “black beer”) and a creamy piece of Berkshire Bloom from Cricket Creek Farm. Over at Idle Hands, I indulged with Triplication—their Abbey style tripel—which provided the perfect amount of spice and fruity flavor to complement the buttery, nutty notes of Jasper Hill’s Alpha Tolman (and the guys at Idle Hands were kind enough to inform me that a Wild Turkey barrel-aged version of Triplication will be out in a few weeks!)

Now, it was probably around this time in the night that my conversations were becoming less focused, my notes were barely legible, and my camera felt like it gained 20lbs. This is also when my distrust of beer festivals began to surface. Though abundant and delicious, cheese samples can only sustain a fest-goer for so long. Which is why I (and I bet many others at the fest) was psyched to remember that, strategically stationed in the corner of the event, were the stands of KO Pies & Roxy’s Grilled Cheese. The employees of these two companies didn’t need to try very hard to entice buzzed attendees, as each beer sample we consumed made the idea of a savory pie or grilled sandwich seem more and more desirable. The intoxicating smells wafting from Roxy’s grills and the mesmerizing glow from KO Pies’ cases didn’t hurt either.

KO Pies, Ben sampling Robinson Farm cheese, Roxy's Grilled Cheese, & cheese sample from Jasper Hill Cellars

Clockwise from top left: The always tempting KO Pies, Ben sampling Robinson Farm cheese, beautifully plated samples from Jasper Hill Cellars, and Roxy’s ladies slinging their grilled cheese.

As claimed before, I did not leave this event completely hammered, despite what usually happens at beer festivals. We can’t say the same for other attendees that night—the crowd increasingly became livelier as the night stretched on, and inhibitions were thrown to the wind with ease. I began to wonder how the inevitable intoxication of fest-goers was being perceived by the very people responsible, the brewers, so I decided to ask them.

The best response I received was from Billy Morrissey, the sales rep for Allagash Brewing. Now, I’d like to believe that Billy and I were equally excited to meet each other—I was extremely excited to learn that he was the reason AP receives specialty Allagash beers, while his excitement might have been directed at the awesomeness that is American Provisions generally, and reminiscing about visits there. I don’t mind taking the credit, though—but I digress.

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Clockwise from top left: Random fest-goers, volunteers, Drink Craft Beer tattoos, and Billy from Allagash Brewing.

As streams of drunken attendees pushed past us to sample more beers, Billy explained to me his feelings about their debauchery. He suggested that there was a difference between drunken fools at a festival and beer lovers who are enjoying themselves with their favorite brews. Honest interest and enjoyment of the beers is what was important to Billy. He reminded me that our shared love for craft beers (and artisan cheeses) was what brought us all together. And it is that experience that is so integral to the craft beer world. Cheers to that!

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Guy who needs a beer, and my best friend Lindsay (in the glasses) posing with Wormtown Brewery.

Old World Methods, New World Ciders

Al & Denise Snape have big ideas. And whether they’re starting an alternative cider company in an already niche market or brewing out-there pumpkin sours, they don’t hesitate to act on these ideas.

The founders of Salem, MA’s Far From The Tree Cider set out on a lark about four years ago—the two quit their day jobs to move to Europe so that Al could study viticulture and oenology—and they’ve been following their guts ever since.

DiptychbarrelsillouhetteBefore the move, Denise was a project manager for a pharmaceutical company (and living in Southie)  while Al was in charge of radioactive waste management and disposal for MIT and then GE. “There were barrels, half lives, some similarities between that and all this,” Al said, gesturing towards his chilly cellar full of dozens of cider barrels at Far From The Tree’s headquarters. They operate out of the Ketchum Building on Jackson Street, just a few minutes from Salem’s spooky town center. Their space in the old brick building was previously unoccupied for several years, but before that housed a food packaging & distribution warehouse, a slaughterhouse, and a gym.vscocam1104 (1)

“It was a mess when we moved in,” Denise said, showing us around the unheated transitional space that is equal parts storage, cellar, tap room, and living room, “These lights were all falling off the ceiling.” The Snapes hand-scrubbed every concrete surface and wooden beam to reveal a beautiful industrial-antique space, and they’ve had the cooperation of the building owner (who runs a marine construction company) every step of the way.

“Everything we’ve wanted to do, he’s said sure,” Al remarked, sliding open a door between their space and the landlord’s to reveal a fairly huge boat undergoing repairs. “Can we knock that wall down, sure, can we build the first tasting room in Salem, sure.”

tastingroomBut before any of this was a reality, Al & Denise just knew that they both loved wine & beer. And one day, they decided a change of pace could be nice. “We thought, why not get a different perspective for a couple years,” Denise said about their move. So Al sought out the only European wine program taught in English and enrolled, while Denise worked for Novartis and eventually started her own clinical project management company. During the three year program, Al spent school breaks helping out at several wineries across the continent. After stints in Germany’s Mosel Valley and in Bordeaux (where he made a type of sparkling rosé wine with Bordeaux grapes), Al stayed with a family in Champagne who helped plant the seed for Far From The Tree.

“I did a vintage in Champagne where I stayed with a family, where the kids would help and taste the juice,” Al said, “it left a real impression on me. I wanted to go back to where I came from and create something.”

ciderslineupAl & Denise returned from Europe eager to create their own taste of place, though at first they weren’t sure where that place would be. The booming cider culture of Oregon & Washington tempted them toward the west coast, but after spending their first winter back at a beach rental on Plum Island, they became certain that theirs would be an east coast cider company.

The couple chose cider because Al knew he could make a better cider in Massachusetts than he could a wine—in fact, he wrote his dissertation on the uncertainty of growing Reisling grapes in New England. But they didn’t want to make just any cider. In an homage to the ciders they drank in England, the couple decided on a dry cider, fermented entirely in barrels, using 100% juice (apparently, “hard cider” on an ingredient label can mean as little as 49% juice, and it often does).

IMG_1554“We wanted to be different by doing what everyone thinks cider is,” Al said. “We wanted to do it really traditional, the way they would’ve done it 250 years ago.” This mentality is right in keeping with the terroir of Far From The Tree—sitting at the wooden bar in their dusky taproom-in-progress, you can just imagine residents of a much older Salem, sipping a cider a lot like the one Denise & Al are making today.

They also wanted to add something new and interesting to the increasingly crowded cider canon, which they felt was missing a really dry product. Their most basic cider, Roots, is made up of 100% local ingredients, from the Meadowbrook Orchard Cortland & McIntosh apples to the hint of maple syrup, which they source from a couple who do all of their own maple extracting.

“We met them at a Boston Expo,” Al said of this family, who tap every tree on their property in Shelburne Falls, MA themselves. “We buy about a quarter of the syrup they produce.”

DiptychciderAl (1) copyAl & Denise had support from the local cider community while putting these pieces of their business in place—Downeast Cider was a huge help, setting Far From The Tree up with Tom, their apple presser. Tom has been pressing apples in Stow, MA for years, and his father pressed apples on the same land before him. To hear Al tell it, their property is impeccably picturesque, like stepping onto a charming rural New England film set.

And on top of their support from the cider community, Al & Denise had very fruitful Craigslist searches—it’s where they found their logo designer, and their super-important barrel sourcer, Bob the Barrel Man. Bob sells used bourbon barrels in Maine, and keeps Far From The Tree’s cellar stocked full of beautiful, flavorful bourbon barrels from Kentucky.

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Al envisions using wine barrels for a later batch, but for now he has his hands full with experiments that use the barrels already in the cellar. At the top of the list is a sour cider, though what kind of sour really remains to be seen—he has mapped out the possibilities involving beer-friendly inoculators such as lactobacillus and brettanomyces, has considered using Flemish ale yeast, and even spoke of creating a solera system to facilitate the blending of different ages.

And that’s just the one project. Al also had an ice-cider experiment in the works when we dropped by, inconspicuously disguised as a pile of old pallets outside. Apparently, freezing the juice just until ice crystals start to form will remove some of the water content, giving the finished product a slightly darker color and higher sugar, alcohol, and acidity. They’re also working on something a little more off-dry, with more maple syrup and champagne-like characteristics.

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A few of the things we got to taste in the cellar—the beginnings of a pumpkin cider on the left (with real threads of pumpkin in it) and a pectin substance on the right that’s leftover when Al lets the juice settle out of unfermented cider.

“We want to keep doing crazy new stuff with cider,” Al said. “People have done a lot of cool stuff with beer and I want to take that approach to cider, do some things that haven’t been done before.”

A common beer trend they’re cider-fying soon? Pumpkin, only they’re leaving out all the pumpkin pie spice flavors we typically associate with such brews. This summer, Al & Denise bought 150 organic pumpkins at a nearby farm and roasted them for a cider recipe that is pure squash. It’s fermenting in barrels now, and Al was kind enough to pour us a taste during our visit. Refreshingly original and unlike any fall pumpkin beer on the market, this stuff has more flavors of melon, peach, & apricot than nutmeg, clove, & cinnamon. It tasted, in a word, revolutionary.

glassesWith all this innovation within just the world of dry cider, it’s easy to see why Al & Denise are pushing for a more diversified cider portfolio at local craft bars. They’re not looking to be competitive and kick other draft lines out of bars, but rather to add to the selection.

“These places have four or more IPAs on tap, why can’t we have two ciders,” Denise posited, “one sweet, and one dry.”

Growing the Boston cider scene is but one dream of Al & Denise, who seem to be coming up with new ideas every minute. Owning their own orchard some day is a definite goal, or at least using part of an existing orchard to experiment with growing different heirloom apples. While we were standing there talking, Al hatched a plan to create a lower-alcohol cider using coconut water, a cider stout using the pectin drained out of their apple juice before fermentation, and a mock “Chinese” cider full of sake, cherry blossoms, and Szechuan peppercorns (a joke on Big Cider companies, who import most of their apple juice from China).

But all experimental ideas aside, at the core of Al & Denise’s dream is a true terroir of the lush New England landscape—from its forests full of maple sap and orchards flush with apples trees, to the community of small family businesses leaning on each other to succeed. With Far From The Tree, these two have let the land speak for itself. Standing in their chilly taproom, clutching Dunkin Donuts coffees to keep their hands warm and getting starry-eyed about changing the craft cider world, they embody that taste of place completely.

You can pick up any of their four ciders at AP, and stay tuned for new releases coming soon! 

AP Does Connecticut Again: The Mystic Cheese Co.

Last week we told you about the second half of our day in the Constitution State, drinking sour beers at Two Roads Brewery. Today, we have the daunting task of sharing with you the incredible wealth of knowledge that is Brian Civitello.brianlinnicow

We started our day with Brian, on the beautiful rolling hills of Lebanon, Connecticut. Tucked deep in some dense woods, the landscape opens up suddenly to reveal the vast expanse of fall foliage and pastureland of Graywall Farm. Herds of cows were lapping up a drink at a small brook and it was peaceful and quiet—the only sounds we heard were cows grunting lazily, a flock of birds singing on the roof of the barn, and breezes rustling the orange treetops.

This utopia is where Brian keeps the two shipping containers that house the Mystic Cheese Co. Continue reading

AP’s Connecticut Road Trip: Part 1

In all our local ramblin’, we’ve come across plenty of Western Mass. booths at farmers markets, tons of Rhody produce or Brooklyn condiments, and good lord, the sheer volume of Vermont cheeses.

We’ve noticed a void, though, just beneath our great state. A void that, thankfully, has started to fill up over the past year. So we decided to celebrate the growing food scene in Connecticut by paying a visit to two of our favorite Nutmeg State artisans: Two Roads Brewing and the Mystic Cheese Company.

BarPeopleDrinks2We had to get some food in our stomachs so we hit up Mystic first (which you can read all about next week). Then we made our way to Two Roads in Stratford, CT, where they were hosting Sourcopia, an event to celebrate the release of three new sour beers (a kriek, gueuze, and balsamic ale). Continue reading

To the Makers!

We like to think every day at AP is a celebration of our makers, but this past weekend we made things real official with a rager thrown in their honor. Chalksign

On Saturday night, the store closed early for an all-out after-hours bash, where we introduced some of our favorite local craftspeople to their devoted fanbase in Southie and welcomed some newcomers and out-of-towners to celebrate the artisanal New England scene, too. Continue reading

Boston’s Cider Bantamweights

photo 1-8When we first heard why Bantam Cider is called ‘bantam,’ we were a little jealous we hadn’t thought of it first. Originally the name of a seaport town in Indonesia, ‘bantam’ became the word to describe the small but durable chickens sold there for long stints at sea. These chickens were half the size of normal chickens, but exhibited all the characteristics of standard poultry. From there the word evolved to describe the bantamweight boxing class, a diminutive weight class that was nevertheless feisty.

“It means small and mighty, and that was the perfect metaphor for our hometown of Boston as well as us, two women jumping into this business,” said Bantam co-founder Dana Masterpolo. She started the company with Michelle DeSilva, and the two have taken on craft brewing fearlessly, in an industry often dominated by men. Given the history behind the word, it’s a wonder we don’t see it pop up more often in our industry of micro-batch, small-scale food producers who are nevertheless contenders in the growing scene of American edibles. Continue reading

Hop Harvest 2014

photo-46What you have here, is essentially a love song to Peak Organic Brewing & Blue Heron Organic Farm. But it’s disguised as a recap of their annual Hop Harvest event, so just play along, ok?

Each year for the past 3-4 years (no one can seem to remember exactly, maybe due to the boozy nature of the event), Peak & Blue Heron have co-hosted a hoe-down that is pretty much the best. Their annual Hop Harvest began when Peak was looking for more local organic hop farmers to use for their 100% organic beers, and Ellery of Blue Heron had just started experimenting with growing hops for use in her own homebrews. Continue reading

Grillo’s Comes to AP / AP Goes to Grillo’s

photo-41A long time ago, before restaurant menus started boasting brine in every appetizer, before the food world fell mouth-over-heels for pickles (and before Portlandia made fun of us for it), Travis Grillo had a crazy idea.

In 2008, the founder of the now-ubiquitous Boston-based pickle company had just endured a rather involved interview process for a job at Nike when the pickle idea came to him. Nike narrowed it down to just two candidates, and when they chose an inside guy, Travis gave the corporate world the proverbial middle finger and decided to start selling pickles out of the back of a wooden cart built by his cousin Eric. Continue reading

AP’s Annual Feats of Strength

Once a summer, our store endures a whirlwind weekend of high-stakes cheese battling, 70-mile bike riding, and gourmet-sample-gorging so intense that we don’t want to look at food for days. For a crew that engages in light cheese battling every week, samples products every other hour, and bikes to work every day, we ought to be pros at this by now. But, as in years before, it proves simultaneously thrilling and exhausting.

All this went down about a week ago, when shop owner Andy and cheese buyer Mike rode their bikes from Boston to the Cape for an MS fundraiser while our other owner Matt partied hard at the 3rd Annual Cheesemonger Invitational, then met up with me at the Mast Brothers Chocolate factory for a tour, before walking the floor at the Fancy Food Show, home to many of our makers for the weekend (main snaps go to the rest of our staff, though, who stayed home to make sure the store didn’t fall apart). Continue reading