Our mates at Oz Farm are in bottle.

In the middle of 2016 my girlfriend and I took our baby to visit some dear old friends in Northern California. We were coming together after a long absence. We'd all been to university together and had since embarked on our own lives but remarkably there was a shared narrative keeping us linked over the years apart. 

While Faire Ferments was gaining strength here in Australia a beautiful farm in Mendocino county CA was about to be revived by my good friend. Oz Farm had traditionally been run as many things, an events space, a refuge, a self sustaining food farm, and of course, an apple orchard. 

Luckily for my friend the previous guardians of the farm had a keen interest in diversity and their eye for unique apple varieties was keenly trained. Walking around the orchard I quickly lost count of the many varieties grown on both trellis and free standing. So beautiful was the layout of the farm that some of the photos used on this website are now from the Oz Farm orchard. 

The varieties were endless but one stood out above the rest. The famous Pink Pearl looks innocuous enough hanging from the tree, but once you cut the flesh the pink hue and resulting pink juice is like nothing I've seen before. 

The Oz Farm team were in the middle of market season and would press the Pink Pearl every week to take to market as juice. Needless to say the juice never lasted long. 

Of course our discussions quickly turned to cider - not just pink cider - but cider generally and the capacity for Oz Farm to one day release a label of its own. I'm really happy to say that since our visit Oz has teamed up with a local wine and cider producer - Horse & Plough in Sonoma - and released a short Oz Farm bottling. 

As far as I know you probably have to hit the cellar door in Sonoma to get you hands on a bottle but I'm full of confidence that this is the first step of many on the way to regular bottlings coming out of Oz Farm. 

I've attached a photo here of the label and will get an image of the Pink Pearl up shortly. Needless to say if you find yourself in Northen California hunt down either Oz Farm or Horse & Plough and check out this friend of Co-Op Cider. 

Spirit Stills and Plums

I've just returned to the city from one of the more dream-like adventures into production I've taken. A 5 hour drive towards the intersection of the Vic, NSW and SA state borders landed me at the Murray-Valley Distillery in Robinvale. Formerly run by McWilliams and currently helmed by a couple of spirit mad brothers out of Melbourne, who's serious passion for the industry lead them to acquire the facility 8 years ago and since then produce some of the best grape derived spirit in the country. 

I was there on an R&D mission. In the same way excess pears lead us to start Faire Ferments, wasting 20 tonne of first class blood plums was more than Dario (our grower) was willing to take, so under his drive and passion we're exploring new ways to use these plums and make the most out of premium Australian produce.

We had juiced and fermented the plums into wine and I was on my way to oversee the distillation of the wine into a plum spirit, the character of which was going to be a total surprise.

I showed up at Robinvale to find cleaned, empty tanks and the majority of hoses back on racks for the year. The boys were winding up after a big season and our plum distillation was the last run of the vintage. I was really happy to be back on an old Australian winery. Every time I visit wine regions I'm always struck by how engaging wineries are. Unlike the constant modernisation of most production industries, wine has been made in practically the same way for centuries so these places hold unparalleled historical significance, particularly in our young country. Just by walking through many of  them they offer a view into the working conditions of Australians from decades ago and so often with a flavour of first arrival immigration. Buildings with a European confidence planted within the surrounds of gnarled red dessert. 

The Murray- Valley distillery was built in the 60s and the masses of concrete give as much away. While the place is a distillery it still functions as a large winery would, only in this case when the wine is fermented dry it goes to the huge, rocket-like stills to become spirit. 

These stills are the most captivating visual component of the distillery but what is equally intriguing  lies beneath your feet. While most large scale operations these days will have an extensive stainless steel tank farm marking their location among the surrounding vines the MV Distillery uses great concrete tanks recessed into the earth below. While I was there the guys were rewaxing the concrete with a mix of paraffin and beeswax to keep the tanks sealed. I was lucky enough to get down into the tanks and take a few photos posted below. 

We ran the plum wine through the pot still (also pictured below). Neither the guys or myself had distilled plums before so we were both excited to taste the resulting spirit. Given we're yet to release this product I don't want to give too much away about what we achieved, but I will say chatting with seriously passionate distillers for 10 hours watching the still operate generated a great raft of ideas. 

Our experimentation with the plums is far from over and there are more possibilities now than before we started. Over the next few months we'll trial  everything that comes up from clear spirits to amaros to aged options. When we do have a product to drop we'll be sure to let you know about it.


Progress 2015 Celebration

On Friday we were lucky enough to be invited to provide drinks for the Progress 2015 Festival held in Melbourne. It was a real honour to be among so many inspired and motivated people and hear stories from attendees about talks by a wide range of presenters from Rosie Batty to Ed Snowden. 

We really appreciate these opportunities and to be honest they are a big part of why doing what we are doing is so valuable to us. 

It was through our association with Kinfolk and Donkey Wheel House that we were offered this opportunity. I'd urge you, if you are looking for a great cafe in the city with super solid socially responsible foundations chase up Kinfolk. Similarly if you're looking for a space in the city for workshops or conferences check out Donkey Wheel House. And if you're looking simply for inspiration in the area of business research them both. 

Viv keeping drinks up to the punters.

Fermentation á la Sandor Katz

Over the weekend I was lucky enough to hear the 'fermentation revivalist' himself - Sandor Katz discuss the history, techniques, merits and applications of fermentation in the modern world. Sandor has been practising and spreading the word of ferments for the past 20 years and can claim responsibility for much of the popularity around fermentation in the home plus the emerging interest in the health benefits of foods like Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Kombucha and of course... alcohol. 

While his discussion on techniques was informative and has already lead to my house turning into a testing-ground with jars and bottles bubbling away all over the place, it was Sandor's knowledge of the deep historical and cultural connections people across the globe have established with fermentation that most caught my imagination. 

If you leave food out in the open air it will ferment. This is not necessarily the most convoluted or difficult path of historic scientific discovery but indeed one that has had multiple benifits for people depending on their food availability, location, climate and taste. All one has to do is understand and control the sequence of fermentation and it can work to your advantage. For example if you live in the remote Korean highlands and have one opportunity a year to harvest cabbage to feed the family you'd better figure out how to make that cabbage keep on giving all year and not go to rot. Similarly back when supermarkets were just a twinkle in Walmart's eye left-over resources such as bread or vegetables would never have been tossed aside, rather a more stable state created with some salt and the onset of an acidic environment, kicked into gear by bacteria (its hard to wrap your head around I know, but bacteria is not a dirty word). 

Put simply, fermentation covers the process of bacteria turning a sugar or starch source into lactic acid, it also includes the action of yeast converting sugar into alcohol. As mentioned these processes will occur naturally and left to their own devices - with a bit of help from concurrent biological activity - will further degrade the food source until it's inedible. If however this process is controlled and monitored, the results are quite breathtaking.

Compare for example two afternoon picnic spreads in the park. The first includes a glass of grape juice, an apple, a bowl of milk, a cucumber and a dense slab of bread. The second is a glass of sharp bubbly French champagne, a bottle of lively Britannic cider, a wheel of Brie, some pickles and a loaf of beautiful sour dough. The difference between these two meals is fermentation and very little else. 

At Faire Ferments we're so proud to be perpetuating this role of fermentation in the lives of people, particularly those in the Goulburn Valley. Taking pears, paying a decent price to the farmer, and allowing them to ferment to show their true potential so they can be enjoyed in a different way drives us to do things well and treat our produce with the utmost respect.

Keep an ear to the ground for further lines coming out of Faire Ferments, they may not be predictable but they will be delicious and a true celebration of what locally grown and processed fruit is capable of. 

 

California Love

I'm recently back from what was an incredibly fulfilling trip to Nicaragua for the wedding of one of my oldest friends. For the first half of the trip our party of college mates surfed perfect waves, crouching into little barrels that obscured the afternoon sun setting straight out to sea - a different experience for someone so used to southerly swells. We caught up on our too many days spent apart and drank a great deal of the Nicaraguan rum Flor de Cana. It's been five years since I've seen those guys but fundamentally very little has changed including our shared passion for talking absolute garbage and drinking quality alcohol. They're all doing what they love which is pretty inspiring given how hard it's been to stay in work in their native USA and all gave me little gifts to bring back to Australia to implement through Faire Ferments. Primarily those gifts were based on basic concepts like treating individuals with love and respect and carrying that idea with you throughout every aspect of life. One such mate is growing veggies in his backyard and selling them to restaurants in town. He's a vegan and runs his car on bio-diesel and he likes to say he delivers veggies in a car which runs on veggies which is driven by a man that also runs on veggies. An honourable pursuit for sure but I think I like that marbled up steak from Lizzie's Belted Galloways to go there just yet.

The wedding was a blast and I've come home full of love but didn't leave the Americas without a quick stopover in the place where it all began and continues to begin, San Francisco. Without a doubt the highlight of my brewery and distillery visits was the Saint George Spirits distillery. Coincidentally Jorg Rupf - the distillery's founder - arrived from Germany in the Bay Area and was so taken by the wonderful local pears that he was compelled to preserve that character in an eau de vie. Its difficult to overlook the parallels between St George at the beginnings of its life and Faire Ferments as it currently stands.

If we can shoot for the towering success those guys have earned then we will indeed go a long way to offering a legitimate destination for a decent portion of Goulburn Valley fruit. I see it'll be a matter of sticking to our guns and striving for premium quality in an environment of mutual respect. Forming lifelong relationships with farmers and our customers will go a long way to achieving that.

I love California.

Vintage #2

 

Next time you're on the hunt for a tipple keep an eye out for vintage #2. It's hitting the shelves mid November. Needless to say we've used GV pears again and we're pushing even harder this time around to keep production in Regional Vic. We've also changed the label up a bit but the 'Co-Op Cider' name remains. Thanks for the support every one of you, these first couple of months have been all time!

Launch at the Mallard

So as mentioned on the home page we're launching this baby again! By no means was the party at the Blue Brick in Kyabram insufficient but there are heaps of mates in the city who were unable to come up for the show so we decided to simply throw another one. All are invited and if you've got no plans from 2pm till 5pm on Saturday the 9th of Nov get down to the Spotted Mallard

Sammy Grose - the boss of Mallard cookery - will be putting together tacos which should team up beautifully with the cider, and our mate Jimmy Turner will be playing some perfect Saturday arvo beats as he does so well. 

Come down - should be a blast.