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New apple hits all flavor notes

Fruit love is so fickle. A week ago, I wrote a story about Honeycrisp, the University of Minnesota-bred apple that reigned for five years as my favorite variety. The over-the-top juiciness, the crackling texture, the blast of tart and sweet: What...

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Fruit love is so fickle.

A week ago, I wrote a story about Honeycrisp, the University of Minnesota-bred apple that reigned for five years as my favorite variety. The over-the-top juiciness, the crackling texture, the blast of tart and sweet: What could be better? Honeycrisps for life!

I'm now forced to eat those words. Honeycrisp is great, but the SweeTango is better.

The latter is a crossbreed of a Honeycrisp and has many of that parent's best qualities. It has that same sweetness, bite snap and enough juice to make shirt stains a danger.

But the other branch of the SweeTango family tree is the Zestar!, another U of M apple variety. That's what gives SweeTango its longer-lasting taste, flavor that tilts far more toward sweet and an elusive hint of fall spice. It's like it turns your saliva into cider.

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Tasted by several fellow Forum staffers, the verdict was near unanimous. My editor compared the SweeTango to a cartoon apple. A reporter said it conjured up childhood memories of the best trees on her family orchard. A sports writer picked the flesh off the chunks of the core cut away from the sample slices. Seriously, it's that good.

The only problem is you can't buy one until next fall.

I wouldn't have even known about SweeTango had David Bedford, the U of M apple breeder who discovered the Honeycrisp, not mentioned it when he was interviewed for the initial story. Asked if anything was being developed that had the potential to be as popular as the Honeycrisp, Bedford went a little cloak-and-dagger on me. He gave me a name, a phone number and little else. "We're trying to keep the powder dry on this one until 2009," he said.

I talked to the guy whose name Bedford supplied. It was Tim Byrne, vice president of marketing for Pepin Heights, the Lake City, Minn., orchard that has organized a cooperative of 45 growers called Next Big Thing. The co-op members will be the exclusive growers of the Minneiska tree, and the SweeTango is the trademarked name for

70 percent to 80 percent of the best production from those trees. The idea is to boost quality and revenue for the university. They will start showing up at select retailers next fall.

Byrne sent me a box of six SweeTangos, probably in hopes that I'd write about how wonderful they are. Mission accomplished and may the buzz begin. It faced the highest expectations imaginable for a piece of fruit and passed with plenty of room to spare.

There is nothing to do now but forget all about it. I have a new favorite apple but can't buy it anywhere.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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