Story and photo by Manda Perkins
RIVER HEIGHTS − Fall is the season of falling leaves and everything pumpkin-flavored. But for residents of Cache Valley, it’s also time for Zollingers apple cider.
“It tastes more authentic, like, what in my mind, apple juice should taste like,” said Troy Olsen, a Utah State University student.
Zollinger Fruit and Tree Farm grows 14 different apple varieties, including the delicate Hawaii Gold, which isn’t sold in most grocery stores due to its tender skin that bruises easily, making it impossible to ship. Ron Zollinger, the third-generation owner of the farm, said 70 percent of the apples grown there are made into juice or cider.
The Zollingers have done this for generations, tracing back to their ancestors in Switzerland. The process used today is relatively the same; no sugars or preservatives are added. But, with modern machinery, 170 bushels of apples can be juiced in one batch, yielding about 600 gallons of juice. Once the apples have been inspected for imperfections, they are dumped into a water bath, then pressure washed to remove dirt and any impurities. They are then put through a grinder until patties can be formed from the pulp. The pulp is pressed to create juice and can now be filtered to remove any possible seeds or other imperfections. But before the juice is ready for bottling, it undergoes a cold pasteurization process using a UV light.
Zollinger said companies that produce and ship mass quantities of juice pasteurize with heat to prolong shelf life. His farm sells their juice and cider locally to avoid any processes that could alter the taste.
“Everything you do with the fruit will affect the flavor,” he said. “The more you can pay attention to detail − that makes the difference.” That attention to detail begins before the apples are gathered. Zollinger said harvesters are specifically trained on how to pick and handle the fruit to keep the apples free from bruises that shorten shelf life. It’s not a job he hires just anyone do; some of his employees have been harvesting with him for 10 years.
Zollinger said there isn’t a secret family recipe that dictates which apple varieties to blend for the perfect taste, but what he does know is that fusing different varieties together produces a better tasting juice. He said he is always experimenting with different apple types.
“Every batch can be a little bit different,” he said.
Although the majority of juice and cider sales happen at the farm, it is also carried by a few local retailers. Bobby Rowser, manager at The Island Market in Logan, says it’s a popular product. “We sell at least 10 gallons a day − maybe 15,” he said. “A lot of people buy three or four gallons at a time. It’s local, and that’s always a big thing.”
The farm may be known for the apples, but pumpkins, melons, shrubs, and varieties of fruit and shade trees are also grown there. Zollinger said he is always researching the market, looking for new and interesting products to grow and sell. Possibly the most interesting of these are Zapples − apples infused with carbon dioxide to create a carbonated sensation upon biting into them. Zollinger said the product has received a great response. Zapples are currently sold on the farm, and will be available to purchase at select local retailers next year.