This past Thursday we loaded up the car and headed out to Webster, MN to visit Sweetland Orchard. We are going to be selling Sweetland's cider at our coffee bar (starting next week) and wanted to spend some time with Mike and Gretchen at their orchard.
Growing up here in Minnesota, nothing is more indicative of the turn-of-the-season, as the annual apple orchard visit. With air as crisp as the apples, we Minnesotans put on our newly found sweatshirts and head out to the rows marked Haralson or Honeycrisp. It's also our one shared experience, as brief as it may be, of claiming our moment of living off the land. Mike and Gretchen Perbix clearly understand this symbolism and foster the, as Gretchen put it, "romance of the orchard". Sweetland is definitely an orchard for lovers. Lovers of MN rolling farm land, lovers of picturesque barns and welcoming sheep dogs, of slowing time and spending time. It's for lovers of craft and quality, variety and tradition, and of course it's for lovers of delicious apples - and not just Honeycrisps.
Mike and Gretchen grow over 70 varieties of apples. Now, historically I am definitely a Honeycrisp guy, but what I experienced at Sweetland was a break through of sorts for me. Honeycrisps, in the company of the typical orchard selection, and it's no match. However, I just tried a Dolgo Crab for the first time. Amazing. It tasted like a green sweet tart - and I mean that in a great way. Who knew? Suddenly, now I find myself craving Dolgo Crabs. I guess that's the point at Sweetland. They definitely will have super tasty Honeycrisps, but they also are bound to have something you've never had before, and that apple may just become your new best friend. (Don't worry Honeycrisps, I will still eat plenty of you.)
Mike and Gretchen (& baby Audrey) graciously showed us all around the orchard. We saw and tasted many of the different varieties of apples and enjoyed listening to them talk about each one. They talk about apples like we talk about coffee. We also had the chance to see the first cider pressing of the year. They use a rack and cloth system which presses small batches of cider. Essentially, the apples are chopped up into a mash which is then placed in cloth sacks. The sacks are laid out over a tray (maybe 3' x 3') and the trays are stacked 10-15 high. All the trays are then compressed together, up to 500 psi, and the juice flows over and into a holding tank. We even got to sample some single-source Zestar cider, which was so sweet. We can't wait to start serving their cider at our coffee bar and we're grateful for the chance to be working with Mike & Gretchen.
26205 Fairlawn Ave.
Webster, MN 55088
PS. This weekend I came back to Sweetland with my family to pick apples (& eat their legendary donuts). We had a blast and I had to post some of the pics...