Incredapple – the juice of Ringi Farm
At Upper Ringi Farm in the municipality of Bærum west of Oslo, the sprawling branches of the trees are still bare. In a few weeks’ time, though, this picture of bleakness will be replaced by one of flowering blooms when apples start to appear.
“We’ll be harvesting soon enough,” says Charlotta Ringi, who runs the farm, together with her husband Jon Østen Ringi.
“When the first apples come in August, we start to press and drain. We continue to do this until the end of November.”
The juice is then bottled and served in Norwegian homes and the finest restaurants in Oslo. And this year, it will also be served onboard SAS flights.
“It’s almost unbelievable,” says Jon Østen Ringi. “If anyone had said to us when we bought our first apple press back in 1995 that the juice we make here at the farm would be so sought-after, we wouldn’t have believed them.”
The juice the Ringi family makes has become a true success story. They’re now producing 300,000 bottles a year, plus those that are going to be served to SAS’ travelers. It is, however, no fluke. This special product is the result of careful development by the staff over a long period of time.
Many Norwegians regard the municipality of Bærum as the home of Norway’s financial elite. But that’s slightly misguided. Yes, it is the richest municipality in Norway, but it was originally an agricultural region and still, most of the land here is fields and meadows. Upper Ringi Farm is in a beautiful location, surrounded by fields and forest. It has been agricultural land since the 14th century and it was in 1661 when the Ringi family bought the farm. Jon Østen is the 10th generation descendant and heir of the estate. As the eldest of his siblings, he got the right to buy and take over the farm from his parents. He met Charlotta, who originally comes from Stockholm, at a horticultural conference in Austria in 1984. They fell in love and, just one year later, she moved to Bærum. “It’s been a good life,” she says.
“It’s wonderful to work together as husband and wife.” Her partner agrees. “Running the farm is a privilege and living as free and well as we do here, and being able to till the soil is priceless,” says Jon Østen.
The desire to run the farm together, without being forced to take on other jobs, was what made Jon Østen and Charlotta decide to buy an apple press in 1995. They’d been visiting friends in Stockholm who had a similar business and reasoned that people in their village would like the idea of turning their own apples into juice. They bought a green mechanical press and invited people to the farm. Those who didn’t have their own apples, meanwhile, were invited to pick some from the trees on the farm.
“Everyone got their own juice and they were all really proud. I tasted all of them and noticed the great variety in flavor. It then occurred to me that we could sell apples by the bottle,” says Charlotta.
“We started with 1,000 bottles. It was difficult and we weren’t sure that we were going to be able to sell them,” says Jon Østen. “We were the first to sell cloudy apple juice by variety.”
It didn’t take long before the news of the Ringi juice spread in restaurants and shops. The first call came from the trendy, newly-opened Bølgen og Moi in Høvikodden. The next was from Bagatelle, a two Michelin-starred establishment in Frogner.
“I was so surprised when they called and asked about buying apple juice from us that I just asked them why,” laughs Charlotta.
As a result, juice from Upper Ringi Farm would now be sold at exclusive restaurants in the most upmarket parts of Oslo. Today, Statholdergaarden, a one-star Michelin restaurant, also serves it.
“Norwegian apples have a high level of acidity and a delicious sweetness. The juice from Ringi is fresh and elegant, and it is a nice alternative to wine,” says chef and proprietor Bent Stiansen, who also uses the juice in his cooking.
“I use it in food in the same way as I would use white wine, such as in a bouillabaisse. It’s mainly the Gravenstein variety I use,” he adds.
But what is it that makes chefs whisper “sweet” and “sour” while the pots bubble away?
“What’s special about our juice is that it’s pressed from pure varieties, each with its own unique character. We press the best apples and pasteurize the juice at the lowest possible temperature. No water or sugar is added, just a little vitamin C to prevent the juice oxidizing and turning brown,” says Charlotta.
However, with a product that’s apparently so simple, there’s still plenty to consider when they make juice.
“The devil’s in the details. If we harvest too early, they lose flavor and aroma, just like other vegetables do before they are ripe. On the other hand, a flowery apple won’t taste good in the bottle. A really sour apple will give you sour juice, so we keep a close eye on the fruit we use.”
The bottles contain only juice from varieties such as Gravenstein, Sumerred and James Grieve, all from farms in Svelvik, Lier and Hønefoss.
“Norwegian apples have more acidity and freshness than those from European farms,” says Stiansen. This is partly due to the climate, with long, bright days and cold nights.
“In many ways, apple juice can be compared to wine,” says Charlotta. “It’s an excellent accompaniment to fish and seafood, while juice from Gravenstein and Aroma apples goes well with meat dishes.”
The farm’s juice has also excited wine critics. In a taste test conducted by Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv, experts described Ringi’s as “a very harmonious and balanced taste. Fresh and nuanced apple, combined with an integrated acidic structure. Full body and length, with a balanced, dry finish.”
Now that the wine critics have joined the party and the best restaurants are crying out for more, is the farm ready to increase production and export?
“No, why would we do that?” says Østen. “We want to retain full control over quality, which would be difficult if we switched to mass production.”
“Nor do we want the supermarkets to take it all. That would devalue the product somewhat. We enjoy having personal contact with restaurants and other customers,” adds Charlotta.
Text: Inga Ragnhild Holst
Published: November 14, 2017