A Val di Non Apple A Day

In Val di Non, there is no hillside too steep, no square inch of land too small for planting apple trees. The joke around here goes: If a wife would allow her husband to plant apple trees on the kitchen counter—he would.

But it hasn’t always been this way.

After WWII, the valley was a wreckage of wartime desperation, still dripping in the viscera of poverty. Children went all summer without shoes, families trapped small forest animals for food, and everyone worked—even the young ones—just to get by. But somewhere in the 1960s, along with the mechanization of agriculture worldwide, so too did things begin to change in Val di Non.

The apple entered the scene.

Women walking through apple fields. (Val di Non)
Women walking through apple fields. (Val di Non)

The advent of new cultivation methods, hybrid seeds, and more specific equipment for making it all work sent Val di Non on a trajectory towards becoming what it is in modern times: “The Apple Capital of Italy”. Today, every corner of cultivable land (excepting some parts of Alta-Val di Non) is planted in apples, right up to the forest’s, or the water’s, edge.

Every corner of Val di Non is planted in apples!
Every corner of Val di Non is planted in apples!

But these are not the kind of apple orchards you are likely thinking of. Instead of the spacious, wide-limbed trees you see in New England (or in movies), the trees in Val di Non are planted in narrow, compact rows, where the branches are “trained” to grow like vines (resembling a vineyard).

It’s freakishly efficient. How else would the Nonesi do it?

Hillside planted in apple trees, springtime (Val di Non)
Hillside planted in apple trees, springtime (Val di Non)
Spring apple orchards planted in compact rows. (Val di Non)
Spring apple orchards planted in compact rows. (Val di Non)

This is why Val di Non is home to Italy’s famous designer apple, the “Golden” (aka Golden Delicious) Melinda brand apple that the whole country knows.

Go anywhere else in Italy and tell someone you’re from Trentino, and they will twist their faces, confused. They know Trentino is a region in Italy, and they know it’s up north. They assume everyone in Trentino speaks German (which isn’t true), but their understanding ends there.

Say you’re from Val di Non, though, and people nod, smile, “Le mele!” (Apples!)  Suddenly, they can place you, and you are fast friends.

Even in Napoli you can find 'Melinda' apples from Val di Non.
Even in Napoli you can find ‘Melinda’ apples from Val di Non.

Everything in the valley seems to revolve around ‘le mele’. Most sports events (and there are many) are sponsored by Val di Non’s Melinda. At La Ciaspolada (World Championship Snow Shoe Race) in Fondo, winners receive Melinda apples for prizes. They look thrilled.

Men receiving apples for prizes for World Championship Snowshoe Race (Fondo)

Even this foot race in a tiny town of Tassulo was sponsored by ‘Melinda’ (among other entities).

This foot race was sponsored by 'Melinda', the main apple distributor in Val di Non. (Tassulo)

Maggazzine (storage & distribution facilities) are everywhere in the Valley.

A distribution facility for Val di Non apples. Those crates are large; a stack of three is taller than a human. (Val di Non)
This is a distribution facility for Val di Non apples. Those crates are large; a stack of three is taller than a human.

There are wholesale apple markets in every town, and everybody’s friend has an apple tree with too many apples. People are always helping with the family apple fields on the weekend or on summer evenings after work, when the sky is still filled with mountain light.

Where we'd buy local apples. (Fondo, Val di Non)
Where we’d buy local apples. (Fondo, Val di Non)

Near the town of Molosco, there’s is a car rental place called ‘Golden Car’ (named for the Golden Delicious apple). It has, by far, one of my favorite business cards:

Golden Car business card (Molosco)
Golden Car business card. Notice the little apple cars the men are resting on. (Ronzone)

The apple strudel is the number one dessert. (However, even after two years of living in Val di Non, I never attempted to make a strudel. I assume this is because (1) strudels are everywhere (parties, bakeries, bars, everyone’s house), (2) they’re inexpensive to buy, and (3) there are 350 different ways to make the strudel. I was saturated and too overwhelmed to want more.)

Basically, in Val di Non, the economy revolves around apples, and so the people do, too. Our second fall there, I had to push back the start of my English classes until October 28th, so that they didn’t “interfere with the apple harvest.” Really. That happened.

Couple walking along a bike path that passes an apple orchard, during harvest. (Val di Non)
Couple walking along a bike path that passes through an apple orchard, during harvest. (Val di Non)

The apple-boom has undoubtedly brought prosperity. And it shows: in the nice big houses, in the jobs jobs jobs that abound to support the apple industry (architects, accountants, engineers). And in the fact that a town of six hundred inhabitants has three banks.

By now, the word ‘mele’ takes on a special, inside joke-like meaning for J and me. We smile when we say it, bantering endearingly. We even named our trusty four-door Volkswagen Golf, “Melinda”. A tribute to the apple’s — and Val di Non’s — legacy in our lives.

One I don’t see going away anytime soon.

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