It’s drizzling as I walk among Joe Saliba’s orderly rows of apple trees. Grown on dwarf root stock - little trees planted close together - they’re smaller than I imagined.
In fact, they look more like vines that might fall over from the weight of their glistening, rosy apples if they weren’t fastened securely to trusses.
Less tree makes for easier access for Joe’s apron-clad pickers, though they still have to use a motorised cherry picker to snaffle the apples that grow too high above their heads.
Joe is a second-generation apple grower. Saliba Fruits was started by his father Colin and his brothers, and eventually passed down to him. The Saliba family have been growing apples on this property for 47 years. They haven’t always grown Kanzi apples though. It’s a European cultivar, a cross between the Royal Gala apple and the Braeburn apple, though we got our first peek at them in 2007 when they were planted in Manjimup in Western Australia.
The Kanzi apple is one of the most beautiful apples I’ve ever seen. It’s fat, round and heavy (one of the ones we picked weighed in just under 500 grams). When you bite into it, the creamy white flesh is crisp and juicy, balancing sweet and sour perfectly.
The Kanzi's reddish-yellow skin sits somewhere between the Granny Smith’s green apple skin (which I like) and that of the Red Delicious (which I don’t).
After we move back into Joe’s apple shed, I try the Kanzi apples side by side with rosy-hued Fuji apples (grown on the neighbouring trees) and redder Jonathan apples. It scrubs up better than both.
While these days Joe Saliba puts his apples straight into crates and whisks them off to Batlow in a refrigerated truck for sorting and shipping, his shed still contains all the machinery from the orchard's D.I.Y. days.
The first machine we see washes the apples, then they’re dried as they're zoomed along a conveyor belt.
The next apparatus sorts the apples by size, with bigger being better in the apple world.
Joe turns it on so I can watch the apples bouncing by, while his wife, Lilly, explains the rest of their farmgate store.
The key item is of course their apples, freshly picked for four bucks a kilo, bar for the Kanzi apples, which at five bucks a kilo, are still a bargain at the price. They’re a very seasonal business – you can only buy apples when they’re in season, and for Kanzis, that season is now.
You’ll also find a range of products made from apples, from Hillbilly Cider (the non-alcoholic version), Wirraninna Ridge Apple Cider Vinegar and Bilpin Bush Honey. More than just a collection of apple-related products, many of the products are produced through collaborative farming with Saliba Fruits.
The honey comes from The Hive, just up the road in Berambing. They bring down their hives so their bees can pollinate the apple trees, and in exchange, the Saliba family sell their honey to their farmgate visitors. Juice fruit goes to the vinegar lady at Wirraninna Ridge, and to the cider people, though you can also buy marked, bruised or finger-printed fruit by the box if you like to cook them at home. Nothing is wasted.
We nip back down the Bells Line Of Road to Kurrajong Heights and have the folk at Lochiel House do the cooking for us.
The cottage itself was rebuilt here nearly two hundred years ago back in 1825 after being imported all the way from Scotland.
In its current incarnation, it’s co-owned by Tayla Clout and Nathan Parker, who are 23 and 26-years-old respectively.
Everyone who works there is local, including our personable 37-year-old waitress, who explains - as she's pouring our cider - that it’s actually her second stint on the Lochiel House floor, the first being when she was just 15-year-old.
She lives within walking distance of the restaurant, and walks them over honey from her own hives.
Kicking off with Toasted Sourdough with Smoked Paprika Butter ($3) our menu is one-part homage to the Kanzi apple, the other part a peek at what this restaurant has made their name serving.
Obviously, with my fingers so recently caressing their shiny skin, I’m most interested in dishes featuring Kanzi apples, like the opening blue-eye trevalla tartare that uses XO sauce to bind the delicate raw fish to pickled Kanzi apple. Topped with bright orange roe and edible blooms, and eaten from squid ink crackers they make in-house, it's actually my favourite dish.
Over our Vietnamese Steak Tartare ($23) from the Lochiel House regular menu with slight Kanzi update, I get chatting with chef RJ Lines who believes the Kanzi apple has a special affinity with raw seafood. That’s how he serves it at his restaurant One Penny Red in Summer Hill. He's got a bag of apples in his hand to take back so all his staff can try them picked straight from the tree. I find the kanzi works for me in a similar way to nashi pear, hence I quite like eating it with raw beef though I personally would have taken a Korean path and thrown some gochujang into the tartare mix.
Lots of the produce we’re eating comes directly from the restaurant’s kitchen garden or the surrounding 'hood. Pork and Shallot Pot Sticker Dumplings ($23) arrive in a bouquet of vibrant green herbs and juicy wet cucumber. Their plump, pork-filled interiors gain admiration at our table, especially as they’re contained within reasonably delicate skins. The black vinegar dressing and chilli levels are at an accessible, please-all levels, and, like the rest of the menu, pitched not to be challenging to the plain eater.
Crisp Skin Duck Breast ($37) with carrot puree, dashi broth and crisp kipfler potatoes is perfect for the misty, drizzly day.
Miso Glazed Lamb Rump ($36) served pink with an even better crisp skin, is given a Kanzi twist with what the kitchen calls a Kanzi kimchi.
While it didn’t win me on funky fermentation, this salad showed the Kanzi apple’s potential for autumnal ‘slaw.
While our Kanzi sorbet had a floury texture from the pulp not being adequately strained from the juice, I enjoyed the caramelised Kanzi cake. Despite the dehydrated Kanzi plume and elegant quenelle of ice cream flecked with vanilla bean, it's the kind of cake your Nanna would enjoy, and shows off the apple's potential for a variety of cooked uses.
Energised from our day following the Kanzi apple all the way from orchard to plate we hit up Harris Farm Leichhardt at just the right moment to watch them unpacking new season Kanzi apples on the weekend. You can pick them up at $6.99 per kilo, as opposed to the $5 per kilo we got them for at Saliba Fruits. Needless to say, they’re so delicious, we bought some more anyway.
1259 Bells Line of Road, Kurrajong Heights
Ph: (02) 4567 7754