Lemon of Sorrento

Original lemon of Sorrento

According to some, the lemon was brought to Campania in the first century BC by the Jews, for whom it had a ritual value. The portrayal of the lemon in mosaics and paintings that came to light with the excavations of Pompeii shows their common use in the Neapolitan area since ancient times. What is certain is that this citrus fruit has acclimatised incredibly well to the land in Campania and has prospered marvellously, until becoming at one with it. So much so that it would be impossible to imagine the Amalfi and Sorrento Coasts without their charming, beautiful and extremely fragrant lemon gardens.

Without the characteristic terraces full of flowers or the dramatic contrast between the blue of the sea, the yellow of the fruit and the intense green of the foliage, in a blaze of colour enhanced by the strong dazzling light, this landscape, which is one of the most beautiful in the world, would not be quite so unique. However, it is not just the colours or the other charming elements that attract many appreciative tourists, the lemon groves also offer other important advantages, such as the protection of the territory: by occupying even the steepest slopes, which are often on the verge of being impossible to cultivate, they help to preserve the soil from hydrogeological instability. The local people are very attached to the lemon, to the extent that there is hardly a family in the area that does not have a small or large plot of land of lemon trees, acquired and maintained with hard work and sacrifice. The first specialised lemon groves on the Sorrento Peninsula were the work of the Jesuit fathers, who created an ad hoc farm in 1600 in the Guarazzano basin, between Sorrento and Massalubrense. It is here that an ecotype of the Femminello Ovale variety gradually differentiated through time to form the present cultivar defined as the Ovale di Sorrento, Massese or Massalubrense lemon. It has taken on characteristics of high quality which earned the Sorrento Lemon IGP recognition (Protected Geographical Indication) in November 2000: an important result for the whole of citrus-farming in Campania both for the prestige it brought to the sector and in terms of new commercial opportunities.

The lemon is medium-large, elliptical, with an attractive lemon-yellow skin, very fragrant and with a particularly juicy and acidic flesh. Today it is grown in all the communes of the Sorrento Peninsula and all over the island of Capri, both in the province of Naples. It covers a total surface area of 400 hectares and has an annual production of about 100,000 quintals. It is a tardy fruit, so that, although it is produced on the tree all year round, the best fruit are obtained from spring to the end of autumn. Cultivation is typically made up of terraces incorporated in containment walls. Another technical aspect is the covering up of the foliage to protect it from the cold and wind (an indispensable practice during the coldest period of the year because of the geographical position of the Sorrento Peninsula, which is at the northern limit of latitude for lemon-growing) and to delay the ripening of the fruit until the best commercial periods. In the past the well-known “pagliarelle” were used: straw mats resting on wooden stakes, usually of chestnut wood. Today they have been replaced by more practical plastic nets, which are more suitable for the steeper slopes of the area.

The Sorrento Lemon already enjoyed a good reputation during the last century, when it was mainly exported to England. Today a moderate quantity of lemons is still exported to European markets, mainly German and English, but most of the produce is reserved for the domestic market; 40% is destined for fresh consumption and the remaining 60% is used to make the famous Limoncello liqueur from the Sorrento and Amalfi area. Today there are a huge number of little shops that make this liqueur by macerating lemon skins in alcohol, sticking scrupulously to old recipes from the local tradition. Demand for the Sorrento Lemon is constant, thanks to its highly valued properties and, consequently, the prices are always decidedly higher than (and sometimes double) that of ordinary lemons on the market. Equally valued qualifications have brought prestige and credit to the Amalfi Coast Lemon, also gratified with the much-deserved IGP recognition in July 2001.

The presence of lemons on the Amalfi Coast is documented in several places from the eleventh century onwards. Later on, the famous Medical School of Salerno played an important role in its success when it began to spread the medicinal use of this yellow citrus fruit, which was grown all over the Amalfi Coast. However, it was in the nineteenth century that the lemon took on great economic and social value/or the whole area, thanks to the creation of terraced lemon groves in the surrounding hills. At the beginning of the twentieth century the lemon from Maiori was even quoted on the New York stock exchange. At that time lemons were sold singly, they were handled by women who had to cut their nails every morning and had to wear cotton gloves. In that period more than 900 thousand crates containing 300-360 pieces each were sent all over the world every year. This splendid lemon is mainly known by the name of the variety, Sfusato Amalfitano, where the first term refers to the typical tapered shape. It is medium-large, with a thick, rough, light-yellow skin, an intense aroma, thanks to its considerable richness in essential oils, and a pleasant flavour.

The flesh is juicy, moderately tart, with a low number of seeds. It is also one of the richest lemons in ascorbic acid (vitamin C), as results from recent studies at the Federico II University of Naples. The production area of the Costa D’Amalfi Lemon includes all the communes on the Amalfi Coast, in the pro¬vince of Salerno, and occupies a surface area of over 500 hectares, with an annual production of about 120,000 quintals. As well as commercial success and international renown, the Sfusato Amalfitano also shares typical elements in common with its ‘brother’ from Sorrento: late production (from March to October), terrace cultivation in calcareous stone that characterises the landscape, the use of straw mats to protect the lemon trees from the elements and a regular ripening period. Also the Sfusato Amalfitano lemons are used to make Limoncello, the “traditional liqueur of Costa D’Amalfi Lemons” and the Consortium for the exploitation of Amalfi Coast Lemons (COVAL) has laid down rules/or its production.


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