In this edition of Slow Food features, we will take a look at the traditional method of cultivating the famous Amalfi lemon. Here we will see that sometimes the only reward for years of hard labour, sweat and grit is the joy of eating a unique fruit so very different from its cousins found world-wide.
There’s no sight of sour faces here in Amalfi. The lemons organically grown in surrounding terraces in volcanic soil are sweet enough to eat whole, skin included. Known broadly as ‘limone costa d’Amalfi IGP’ or Almalfi lemons with geographic protection meaning they only grow in this form on the Amalfi coast, these lemons provide Amalfi with a unique identity. The main streets of all Amalfi Coast towns are spilling with lemon products from candles to soaps, from limoncello to candies, from cakes to granita to overflowing crates of the fruit itself; they appear everywhere. Looking upwards from the sea towards the cliffs that line the coast, terraces abundant with olive trees, grape vines, fruits, vegetables and lemons fill every square meter. A walk along any of the ancient mule paths or steep stairways will have you walking alongside lemon groves and often ducking underneath overhanging lemon ‘vines’.
A most unique method of cultivating the Amalfi coast lemon in the early 1900s was to train the young plant to grow first vertically up a pole made from local chestnut trees and then crawl horizontally over a wooden trellis. This unique pattern of growth alters the ecosystem within and around the plant. With greater air ventilation, more sun exposure and less humidity, the fruit flourishes and is capable of growing extremely large. The lemons also have ICEA Biologico certification meaning they are certified as an ethical and environmentally friendly product that is also organic and chemical free.
The main types of Amalfi lemons grown today are the Sfusato Amalfitano which has an important culinary role in sweets such as gelato, granita and cakes. The juice is used as fruit juice (spremute di limone) but the flesh, peel, seeds and foliage are also utilised in various products. The digestivo, limoncello, is also produced from the peel only and served ice-cold at the end of meals to aid digestion. The lemons are also used therapeutically as the high Vitamin C and antioxidant qualities, as well as essential oils, is said to boost immunity and also aid in the treatment of skin issues such as acne.
Organic fertiliser is added to the soil once annually. This comes from goat or rabbit excrement rather than cow or horse fertiliser. Insect pests are kept at bay by predominately natural concoctions and there doesn’t appear to be any issues with birds in this region. The Consortium for the Promotion of the Limone Costa d’Amalfi is an institution constituted with the aim of promoting and safeguarding the ongoing production of Amalfi lemons with a main focus on Sfusato Amalfitano lemon production. There are 3 main fruit sizes including Limone Costa d’Amalfi I.G.P. (small size), Sfusato Amalfitano (medium size), and Citrus Medical (large size).
Costieragrumi processes around 1,000,000 kg per year from 350 small lemon producers surrounding Amalfi and Minori distributing them throughout Italy as well as Germany, France and the UK. The large crates of lemons, containing up to 67kg of fruit, are carted one by one on the heads of sturdy men sometimes down thousands of steps. Mules are used for heavier crates. I’ve walked these steep, stone steps many a time and it’s a strenuous effort just carrying a water bottle!
A must-do experience, if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Amalfi, is to visit the lemon farms first hand. For more information visit: www.lemontourderiso.com; or email Massimo: email@example.com