hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires




A taste for the tart

Berries, fruits inspire a food products business



Contributing writer

Steven McKay looked out over a patch of elderberry bushes, dormant for the season, on a cold and sunny November day. 

His sprawling Hudson Valley property is home to many things: dozens of berry bushes and a few grape arbors, a small flock of wandering hens, a family of outdoor cats, and the headquarters of Micosta Enterprises, McKay's brainchild. It’s a business he conceived more than a decade ago, born of his love of berry cultivation.

McKay, who earned a master’s degree in pomology at the University of California at Davis, has long had a passion for agriculture, but it extends well beyond the mere growing of fruit. He’s on a quest to bring what he says are the most antioxidant-rich berries in the world to the masses. 

And his fertile swath of land along the Claverack Creek, in the hamlet of Stottville, is where he’s putting it all in motion.

“The tropical acai isn’t the only super-berry,” McKay explained. “The aronia berry is native to the Northeast and has no pests. We’re showing, through our juices, jams, pies and chocolates, that there are all kinds of ways to enjoy it.”

The small, tart aronia berries, he added, are nearly three times higher in antioxidants than blueberries.

“Our mission is the cultivation and production of functional foods with powerful health benefits and exceptional taste,” he said. "Nothing we make is genetically modified or has sugar or preservatives.”

McKay and his partner Arturo Duran have, for the past few years, been making juices, ice creams, sorbets, jams, chocolates, trail mixes, pies, and energy bars infused with aronia berries and other fruits high in antioxidants, such as sea buckthorn, black raspberry, elderberry, black currant and cranberry.

McKay said Micosta Enterprises has gone through a major renovation and expansion in the past few years, with facilities that now include a nursery, retail store, catering services, manufacturing, and a demonstration garden.

McKay said some of the more popular products are its dark chocolate bars with exotic flavors such as black current pine nut, raspberry pecan, and mango macadamia.

“They're available in either 53 or 70 percent dark chocolate covertures,” he said. “The berries are freeze-dried, and the nuts are raw. People also really love our dark chocolate-dipped dried fruit; right now we offer pears, white nectarines, apricots and persimmons dipped in chocolate.”

Micosta’s line of natural juices includes “enhanced apple,” made with New York apples and infused with antioxidant-rich aronia, sea buckthorn, elderberry and black currant juices. The company also sells raspberry, blackberry, and elderberry juices.

And the selection of ice creams and sorbets reads like a fruit lover’s dream: peach, plum, apricot, blackberry, vanilla rhubarb swirl, blueberry, and chocolate with chocolate-covered sour cherries.

Micosta’s ice cream and yogurt products use milk from Mercer’s Dairy, a 70-year-old operation in Boonville, near the southwestern edge of the Adirondacks.

Finding a home

McKay said his passion stems from wanting to make products that are as delicious as they are healthy.

“We don’t use sugar in our berry products,” he said. “They’re infused with grape juice concentrate. Our granola bars are made with agave nectar and cashew butter. And for our chocolates, we use Yucatan chocolate to enrobe the berries.”

McKay has lived in various places around the world and said he decided to settle in the Hudson Valley because of its ideal climate for growing berries.

“I had to learn some new things about growing berries, because the climate is different here, but this is an ideal location that we want to see become a destination,” he said. “I chose this property because of the trees, topography of the land, and its cultivation ability. It looked like the ideal place to do what we do.”

The Micosta Enterprises complex is expected to expand its scope in the spring with the addition of a restaurant, McKay said. 

For now, the retail store pays homage to the berry in a variety of ways. There are teapots, dinner plates, coffee mugs, and napkins, all emblazoned with berry themes, from raspberries and blueberries to lingonberries. Then there are the jars of red currant jam, boxes of elderberry tea, and cereals with dried berries imported from Russia.

“We like to highlight products from parts of the world that are renowned for growing berries,” McKay explained.

Back in the production room, there are bottles of aronia syrup ready to be blended into drinkable juice; glass jars of “Green Supreme,” a cilantro-based salad dressing ready for shipment; and a giant steel pasteurizer for making yogurt.

McKay walked over to a blast freezer, pulled open the steel door, and lifted an in-progress aronia-infused ice cream bar from a tray.

“We’re still working on getting these right, but they’re going to be delicious once we get the formula down,” he said.

 Outside, in front of what will be the restaurant’s dining area, are beds of 250 varieties of fruit plants.

McKay, who has taught classes through Cornell Cooperative Extension, the New York Botanical Gardens and the Berkshire Botanical Gardens, said he’ll conduct demonstrations and tutorials in growing fruit plants this coming spring and summer at Micosta.

“I taught high school for many years, which is when I became interested in small fruits,” he said.

Eventually he started the International Ribes Association, a worldwide community of plant enthusiasts dedicated to the research, development and promotion of the Ribes genus, which includes gooseberries, black currants, jostaberries and other small fruits high in antioxidants.

Micosta’s products are sold at the Hudson farmers market and at regional food co-ops and stores such as Honest Weight in Albany, Guido's Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield, Mass., and the Berkshire Co-Op Market in Great Barrington.

“Little by little, the word is getting out about what we do,” McKay said. “It’s fun to watch people try our products at farmers markets and food fairs. They're surprised at how good they taste ... and even more surprised when they learn how nutritional they are.”

For more information on Micosta and its products, e-mail micosta@mhcable.com or call (518) 822-9708.





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