Local Boy Makes Good (Cider)!

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The following is a recent article highlighting the high quality local foods we enjoy in the Valley!:

Sonoma Valley has long been known as a source for high quality food.  This fact was enshrined when Alice Waters chose Cannard farms as a supplier for her then nascent farm to table restaurant concept in Berkeley – Chez Panisse.  Long before that, the Valley put forth abundance in the form of quality cheese and dairy, orchard crops such as walnuts and stonefruit, and of course, premium wines.  Over the decades, the viticulture grew in size and notoriety, but, as may be redundant to many Sonomans, good wine is best accompanied with good food.  Many of the finest restaurants in Sonoma and beyond tout their use of local produce, meats, dairy and beverages on their menus, and some groceries have done similar in their promotion of locally sourced food and drink. 

Its beneath this backdrop that Mike Zakowski (Mike the Bejkr in Sonoma parlance) has thrived.  Known for his breads, pizzas, and huge array of baked goods, Mike branched out his culinary reach some years back in a partnership with Tony Coturri, legendary natural wine maker, in the production of a local cider.  Recently, this partnership produced an award winning cider at the Good Food awards.  I sat down with Mike over a glass of this medal-winning cider to discuss good food and drink.

“Mike, how did this partnership come about between you and Tony?”

MZ – “Back in 2014, I was training for the masters de la boulangerie, an international baking competition, in Paris, and was developing a cider bread.  I am a big fan of natural and organic wines, Coturris focus, and approached Tony about the concept and it went from there.”

“Did you have a roadmap for what you wanted to do?”

MZ – “We wanted to make a natural cider, in a similar fashion as Tony does his naturally fermented wines – no yeast, no sulfer, just juice.  To find the best juice we talked to Paul Kolling, famous West County apple farmer (and husband of the famous sandwich shop chef Kendra Kolling, the Farmers Wife).  He sourced gravenstein apples from Sebastapol and we made our first vintage.”

“I remember that, the clear glass jug”

MZ – “Yeah we started out with custom bottles, hemp paper labels and other things that we  changed to reduce costs over time.  We changed to a standard size 750ml bottle, and the recipe varied as we worked on the fermentation and natural carbonation, but have kept the same simple ingredients 100% Gravenstein apples, thus the name, Aeplz.”

“The label refers to the production as being Petillant Naturel, is this fancy talk for natural wine?”

MZ – “Not exactly, it is an old process, known as the methode ancestrale in France, of bottling the cider while it is still fermenting to trap carbon dioxide, creating natural carbonation.”

“How does it feel to win the category in this event, it looked like there was some good competition!”

MZ – “Its good to be recognized for what you do, for making something that stays true to the essence of the ingredients, and the history and culture of the process.  It’s the same with my baking, you start with the best ingredients, always organic, and local if possible, and you have a strong foundation to work from”

“Where can people find a bottle of Aeplz”

MZ – “Tony has it marketed under the Coturri label found at various wine shops.  The Aeplz label is only available from me”

“Well we know where to find you, Friday Farmer’s Market!”

MZ – “Yep, see you there.”

You can find Mike and his latest culinary creations at an epicenter of quality local  food, the Fridays Farmers Market weekly 9:00am – 12:30pm at Depot Park.

(Seth Dolinsky is manager of the Sonoma Valley Agricultural Cooperative, a program of the Sonoma Springs Community Hall aimed at supporting local farms and food producers using organic methods and ingredients, and is owner of New Land Systems, a regenerative land management company.)

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