Retired Cornell Cooperative Extension Berry and Small Fruit Specialist, Steven McKay, owner of Micosta Enterprises, is making a difference for berry and small fruit producers in the Hudson Valley and surrounding area.
“We’re value-added in a big way!” attests McKay.
McKay purchases berries and small fruits that are discarded as seconds and not usable for markets due to hail damage or because of a flooded market, and processes them producing delectable syrups, juices, dried fruits and chocolate concoctions at Micosta Enterprises, just outside of Hudson, NY.
Blueberries, strawberries, aronia berries, black currants, red currants, red raspberries, black raspberries and elderberries are some of the fruits used.
Micosta utilizes production techniques for preserving flavor and nutrition, while also conserving energy, and leaving behind minimal waste.
“With this process, you don’t throw anything away,” explained McKay. “You don’t squeeze the juice out and throw away the pomace (the dry/ pulpy fruit residue).”
McKay said fruit is processed at the lowest temperatures that are safe in order to preserve the natural flavor of the juice and retaining higher levels of dietary polyphenols, which have been shown through research to aid in prevention of degenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases and cancers.
“It’s a primary process product that’s ready to go into whatever you want to make from it,” said McKay. “We have a slow infusion process, where we mix grape juice concentrate into the steam kettle with the fruit. We slowly let the juice come out of the berries and the sweetness of the grape juice goes into the berries.”
Then the berry pomace is separated and “gently dried” to be used as another product. “Those can be used for filling chocolates, baking, trail mix, or whatever you want to put it into.”
Due to weather conditions, each year may bring a different fruit, including peaches, apricots and plums.
“Last year we had plums, so we made a plum-apple juice, with a really crisp, nice flavor.”
McKay says all processing is done “in artisan style” and local products are used whenever available.
“We work with plums and peaches and we blend apple juice if we can.”
Apple juice used to mix with the berry juices comes from local farmers at Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook, NY, where an apple press is used to produce the apple juice.
“They make the best apple juice. They sort through and clean; it’s the best tasting apple juice around — in my opinion — so that, of course, is what I want to put in my juice!”
Apple juice is mixed with Micosta syrups, water and a bit of citric acid, which is added only when needed to maintain a safe pH level for maintaining shelf stability.
“The other really positive thing about this product is that it’s got a short ingredient list. The syrup is only berries and grape juice concentrate. No sugar added. No preservatives because it’s hot packed.”
Micosta is looking for a local source of white grape juice to use in their products.
Syrups can be used for cooking and “mixology” — mixing with alcoholic beverages or seltzer water.
McKay produces three basic, different types of chocolate. “We make molded chocolate, chocolate bars and we also do chocolate covered fruit with an enrober.”
A hot bath device is used to chocolate cover dried berries.
A “milk room” is set up for pasteurizing milk products, making yogurt and making ice cream mixes. “We make wonderful ice cream using the wet berries.”
McKay hosts workshops for Cornell University Cooperative Extension’s Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program, teaching attendees about home processing, basic standards for small scale food processing, standard hot pack methodology, food safety and basic standards for commercial kitchens, market evaluation and how to become a small scale food processor.
“I talk about basic processes in processing and different options. One of the points I always make is that a small farmer could buy one of these steam kettles online for a fairly inexpensive price, maybe $1,000. I like to be innovative and look at ways that people can make money.”
McKay remarked that for $10,000 you could set up an entire kitchen and process all of your own fruits. He has been acquiring his own processing equipment for many years with this end goal in mind.
He says a friend once told him, “Making a profit is the difference between what you have to throw away and what’s good fruit.”
“So, this is something that could help add profit on the end, so you don’t have to throw it away,” he explained.
McKay began his work with Cornell Cooperative Extension in 1996 as a fruit educator, winning many grants for development of less popular berries, such as ribes, sea buckthorn, elderberry, and aronia.
“You’ve got to look for a way to get to where you need to go,” he remarked.
For more information, contact McKay at firstname.lastname@example.org.