by Gina DePalma, Pastry Chef Emeritus
If you mention autumn to me, the first thought that leaps into my head is apples. There is something about biting into a crisp, juicy apple on a crisp, windy day that is undeniably satisfying. Apples are the fruit that embodies Americana: think of Mom’s apple pie, warm apple crisp, and the good-ole’ apple for the teacher. And who can forget that bit of wisdom from Benjamin Franklin – an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Research has proven that theory to surprisingly factual, and whether it be for the many healthy benefits of apples or for their crunchy-sweet satisfaction, the American consumer eats an average of 86 apples per year. Not quite an apple a day, but enough to put them at the top of the list of favorite fruits. I feel that the kind of apple one favors is a statement of individuality; I have a fondness for juicy, sweet bite of a Red Delicious or Gala, as well as the tang of Gingergolds. The Empire, a hybrid apple developed in my own Empire State of New York, is my favorite baking apple, along with the ubiquitous and brightly green Granny Smith. I guess when it comes down to it, I haven’t met an apple I didn’t like.
Apples may well be our adopted national fruit, but they are far from a solely American crop. In Italy, the northern regions are apple country, where warm, sunny days and cool nights make for particularly favorable growing conditions. In the northernmost reaches of Trentino, the apple,or mela in Italian, has thrived for a staggering nine centuries. The Val di Non is the name of the province nestled at the top of Trentino, just below Bolzano. The steeply terraced, heavily forested hills give way to a lush green valley below, producing what locals claims are the finest apples of Italy. The names of the varieties roll off the tongue like an Italian poem: Rosa Gentile, Mantovano, Napoleone, Rosso Nobile, Bianco d’Inverno, to name just a few.
Val di Non apples first gained official recognition for their quality in 1873, when they won an international contest held in Vienna. Today there are 16 consortiums, comprised of around 5200 producers. The smaller consortiums are grouped together to form the larger entity, the Consorzio Tutela Mela Val di Non, located in the Val di Non town of Cles. The apples are marketed under the single name of “Melinda.” – not quite as lyrical, but cute nonetheless (like that little blonde girl in your third-grade class).
Apples are deeply interwoven into the history of the valley; the towns of Malè and Malosco are said to derive from the Latin maletum, meaning, “the place of the apples.” For nearly 200 years, the apple crop has been a vital part of the region’s economy; the accolades and international prizes have been a source of regional pride for the farmers of Val di Non, who tend to their orchards with the care of a nervous father. The apples thrive in the mineral-rich soil of the dolomite rock formations that dominate the terrain and the temperate Alpine air. The Melinda Apples of Val di Non were the first Italian apple variety to receive the coveted D.O.P. classification, designating that they are native to the specific geographical place, and bearing a high standard of excellence.