Ciao bella! Mountain apple juice & lemon verbena

On the stove is a heavy pot filled with the freshest mussels. Quietly simmering away. Aromas of fennel and carrots, a touch of garlic and pepper fill the room. Scents of the South, summer and the lightness of being. The bread has been cut, the table set. I am curious to hear what my guests say when I serve the mussels with my choice of drink: apple juice with lemon verbena!

100% nature, 100% juice

Six weeks earlier: “Apple juice with a meal is the new trend,” says Thomas Kohl. If you love the South like I do and have a soft spot for fresh lemony flavours and aromas, you simply have to try Thomas Kohl’s cuvée of apple juice and lemon verbena in his tasting room. Surprise, surprise!

Thomas Kohl:

A lot of people are surprised how well the delicate notes of lemon verbena and the flavours of my mountain apple juice go together. The lemon verbena kisses our mountain apples – frank, fresh and lemony. It is a child of the South with a story to tell of the summer, sun and dolce vita, and yet it grows in South Tyrol.”

The lemon verbena

The lemon verbena comes from “Fasui - South Tyrolean Organic Mountain Herbs”, a family business in Latsch in the Vinschgau area. Like Thomas Kohl’s apples, the organic herbs grow on the mountain. Perhaps that’s one reason why the two go together so well.

When the lemon verbena is fully ripe and aromatic at the end of September/beginning of October, it is time for the harvest. Hansjörg Oberdörfer and his team of helpers carefully tie the stalks into bunches and place them in baskets. The delicate leaves must remain intact so that none of their aroma is lost. There is only this one chance: lemon verbena is ready for harvesting just once a year.

Thomas Kohl has been informed and is already on his way to the Vinschgau, a corner of South Tyrol with its own rugged charm – which he has no time for on harvest day. From the Ritten he drives down into the valley and then back up the hill to the Oberdörfer farm. He loads up with the lemon verbena in Latsch and takes it to its destination at Unterinn on the Ritten.

Mountain herb meets mountain apple

Thomas Kohl knows: it’s going to be a long day. Everything is ready. With great care and concentration, he and his team get on with the work. On arrival at the apple farm, the lemon verbena is separated and gently dipped in the cold mountain apple juice and left to take a long bath.

The apple juice chosen for the purpose is a finely balanced cuvée of several varieties. The cuvée of naturally pure direct juice is composed for structure and character while remaining in the background to ensure that the lemon verbena has space to unfold its flavours. The mountain apple juice is a stage for a star.

Now nature takes over: the apple juice releases the exquisite flavours from the lemon verbena. They enter into an intimate union with those of the mountain apple juice. This takes time and happens under the experienced eye of Thomas Kohl: too long an infusion and the juice becomes bitter, too short and it remains an apple juice without any further flavours. When the moment has come, the juice is strained and bottled.

Mussels & mountain apple juice

Now I have the details in my head but I will talk about them later. In the meantime my guests have taken their seats and someone brings in the big pot of mussels. The toasted ciabatta and dark olive oil are on the table. The wine glasses have a light yellow sparkle and a touch of condensation. It is the chilled mountain apple juice with lemon verbena – as recommended to me by Thomas Kohl. But I’m not giving that away yet either. First, I the let aromas and flavours perform on the nose and palates of my guests.

The art of food pairing

Non-alcoholic food pairing is Thomas Kohl’s favourite subject. When he talks about it, you feel his dedication to an “adult apple juice”. Kohl mountain apple juices make their appearance on the grand stage of gourmet restaurants and are to be found in recipes for risottos, desserts and cocktails.

And also on our table. My friends, you’re in for a big surprise – from mountain apple juice with lemon verbena served with fresh mussels!