Apples in Spring

by Matthew Tilker on April 19, 2013

It is one of those spring afternoons in Provence, when the hills are alive with color and the air is full of fragrance. Wild thyme flaunts its delicate pink flowers, the grapevines awaken from their winter slumber, and bees dance from blossom to blossom fattening themselves on rich nectars.  In the city (code for Marseille), the cafes along the Vieux Port are packed with sun worshippers sipping Rosé and enjoying bouillabaisse. Down the road in Cassis, a few intrepid souls may even brave a dip in the sea, after a long hike in the Calanques. After all…the sky is a rich blue and le printemps est arrivé.

So why am I thinking of apples?

Last fall I arrived in Provence on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. As I made my way towards Grignan (wonderful little village in the DRÔME that has a magnificent Renaissance castle and is mentioned in the letters that Madame de Sévigné wrote to her daughter, Madame de Grignan, in the 17th century), I passed a small apple orchard that had a quite a crowd. I had to stop. I just had to stop! Aside from being hungry, my mind was alive with dizzying ideas: Cezanne’s apple paintings, my eternal quest for the perfect tarte tatin, the ever present French concept of terroir and how it would affect the flavor of these fruits, and of course, the locals who were scooping up tills of apples as if this was the last supper.

Le Village de Gringnan

As I enjoyed both golden and red varieties (Reinette, Api, Royal Gala), I was struck by their fruity, slightly acidic and deliciously fresh yet refined sweetness that comes from small batch, organically farmed fruit. As the sun dipped lower in the sky, I made my way around the orchard where ladders indicated that all the picking was essentially done by hand. There was an old tractor that looked like it needed more than an oil change, bee hives, and wood crates for the picked fruit. I suspect there were truffles and cepes too, if you knew when to come, and who to talk to.

Pommier

Days later, when I got to Grasse to visit with my perfumers, I immediately set about trying to recreate the scent of that moment there in the orchard: the crisp Fall air, the myriad flavors of the apples – tart, sweet, acidulous, sugary, juicy – the rich ripe earth. How to strike that perfect balance of land, tree, fruit, sky and the wind…always the breeze, carrying along other smells of land, infusing the apple’s aromas with a faint hint of that unique Grignan terroir. It took all winter and countless iterations to arrive at our new apple blossom soap.

It will be available soon and I hope it will inspire you.

À la prochaine,

-Matthew

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