Sunday, September 4, 2011

Novamac vs. Paula Red smackdown


From the start of the apple season in July to the debut of McIntosh in September, many varieties vie for the title of "early Mac." Most of these are unsuccessful, but there are two that I like: Paula Red and Novamac.

This year Paula has had an unusually long season and overlaps with Nova. So, which is most Mac-like? And which is best?

Novamac, at left above, is a well-colored apple that runs small to medium. Its pretty blush is a deep red, streaky over a vivid spring green. It's small light lenticels are widely spaced.

Paul Red is simlar to Nova in many ways. She is generally larger, and not so flattened, but I saw many in the bin that might have been twin to my Novamac sample above.

Both are slightly ribbed and both suggest McIntosh. They may be cousins: Nova is part Mac, and Paula was found near a McIntosh orchard in Michigan.

On close inspection, I think that Nova's blush is more even and saturated, while Paula's is slightly more purple. Paula's lenticels are larger, more numerous, and more obvious. Nova's unblushed green is more saturated. Still, visually, this is a dead heat.

The similarities persist at first bite, though my Paula is unfortunately past her prime as one might expect this time of year. So I would be inclined to make allowances for Paula's softer (but still good) texture, which can have a nice crunch earlier in the season.

Both have snow-white flesh that is more fine-grained than dense. Paula is juicier.

Novamac has excellent texture, crisp and breaking, and flavors that suggest the true Mac: a good balance of sweet and tart, vinous notes, and berries. Nova also has a wonderful Mac-like dry finish that lingers on the palate in a refreshing way.

However, though Nova includes a good share of sweetness, it is at the same time more tart and acid than a McIntosh.

Paula's flavors are less vivid and distinctive, though there are still traces of some generic berries and a suggestion of vinousness. She is not acid, unless picked early, and should pose no challenge to modern tastes.

Here is my verdict. If you crave a Mac, you don't have long to wait this time of year. But while you are waiting, Paula Red is a good pick early in the season. At the end of August, give Novamac a try, as long as you don't object to a little tart snap.

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