Meet the grower: Ardmona apples

What does it take to get your produce into the MasterChef kitchen? We spoke to a farmer who grows the apples you see at Coles and on MasterChef Australia. Plus, check out the delicious recipe from one of our favourite former contestants.

Rocky Varapodio stands among his apple trees

When in need of a little inspiration, Rocky Varapodio stands among his apple trees when their branches are heavy with fruit. “That’s what drives me. To see these beautiful apples hanging on the tree ready for harvest is very satisfying and rewarding,” he says.

Even if this year’s MasterChef Australia contestants can’t wander through his orchard, choosing apples from Coles this month is the next best thing. “May is the peak time to enjoy apples as it’s new-season fruit that comes straight off the tree,” Rocky explains. “If you’re not going to eat them within a couple of days, put them in the crisper in your fridge to keep them for longer.”

Rocky owns Oakmoor Orchards at Ardmona, 10 kilometres west of Shepparton in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley. His family planted roots in this renowned fruit-growing region when his Italian-born grandfather, Rocco, established a market garden in the district in 1937. “My father, Santo, came into the business in the 1950s and I joined in 1978,” he says. “Back then we only had 25 hectares – today we have 200 hectares with a packing operation and cold-storage facilities for up to 5000 tonnes of fruit.”

Oakmoor Orchards harvests stone fruit in early summer, pears in late summer and apples in autumn. Even though Rocky has fond memories of the delicious Italian apple slice his mother made for dessert, he likes his apples au naturel. “I really enjoy them fresh and not just as a snack,” he says. “Pink Lady apples are so versatile – you can cut them into wedges or thin strips to toss through a salad for lunch or dinner.”

Dani Venn’s caramel hasselback apples with hazelnut crumble

Topped with a hazelnut crumble, these caramel hasselback apples are the perfect sweet finish to any meal.