Fragrance of lemons, true treasures of the Sorrento Peninsula
We discover the history, cultivation secrets and ideas to celebrate Campania’s iconic citrus fruit, which makes every dish tastier.
There is a reason why poets of all times have included the perfume of orange blossoms and lemons between their rhymes: because there is nothing that better represents Italy in summer. In the south, and especially on the Amalfi Coast, it is in the air, in the sweets, in the ever-present Limoncello.
In a journey through the iconic places of lemons, we explore this fruit which makes the hottest season even more Italian.
When one thinks of lemons, one immediately thinks of two areas: Limone sul Garda – which we have mentioned here – and, of course, the Sorrento Peninsula (and its famous coast), where the tradition and love for this plant is born.
Here in this specific area, there is historical memory of the presence of lemon groves after the time of the Arabs, who introduced this plant from Spain to Sicily and later to Campania during their expansion.
A history that tastes of the sea
But why is it that the lemon has become so important in the Campania region? The people of Campania (and especially the inhabitants of Amalfi) have always been great navigators. Going to sea, however, involved dangers and diseases. One of the most widespread and deadly was scurvy, a degenerative disease caused by Vitamin C deficiency and typical of people who lived for long periods away from the mainland. When the sailors of the area discovered that lemons were a very rich source of vitamin C, they took to storing a lot of them on board and cultivated them intensively: both by law (there always had to be a supply for the sailors) and because of the huge demand from countries further north.
Lemons, nonetheless, are definitely not all the same.
The yellow gold of the Sorrento peninsula
In Italy alone, 11 varieties are widespread, and they vary in size, shape, zest and, of course, use: Limone Quattro Stagioni, Zagara Bianca, Lunario, Verna… In the small area of the Sorrento peninsula alone, there are two recognised varieties with the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) label, and they are the Limone Costa d’Amalfi I.G.P. – commonly known as Sfusato Amalfitano – and the Sorrento Lemon I.G.P., the one called ‘Limone di Massa’ and ‘Ovale di Sorrento’.
The Costa d’Amalfi lemon, with its tapered shape and a particularly light yellow colour, has an intense aroma and fragrance thanks to its richness in essential oils and terpenes (those that make limoncello so enveloping) and is the richest in vitamin C. Cultivated in the famous terracing plots that have made this area particularly scenic and, thanks to the mild climate, are harvested several times a year. When served it is delicious: thanks to its semi-sweet pulp and almost no seeds, it is often enjoyed in salads in the production area. On the island of Procida, in the Gulf of Naples, this salad is everywhere, so much so that you can simply order a Procida salad in a restaurant and it appears on the table without delay.
The Sorrento lemon, rather large and deep yellow in colour, offers a highly acidic juice and is used both fresh and infused, to produce the famous Limoncello (and also for all lemon desserts, like lemon babà and the famous delizie al limone).
The Campania people’s attachment to lemons is such that even their cultivation is special because it is thanks to age-old techniques, still used today, that certain characteristics are developed. In fact, the plants are protected by the famous pagliarelle, straw mats that protect them from the wind, cold and sun, so as to delay and slow down ripening, making the fruit juicy and unique.
Strolling among the lemons
And how can one fully immerse into the air and scent of the lemon groves? Certainly, by stepping into comfortable shoes and setting out on the Sentiero dei Limoni della Costiera amalfitana (Amalfi Coast Lemon Trail), considered by many to be one of the most charming in Italy.
When this trail was first created, it was only a connection between the two villages of Minori and Maiori (the other alternative was to go by the sea!). Then, partly due to the needs of commerce, this short and rather easy walk was opened (3 km, about two hours on foot, with some steps but extremely easy and suited to everyone), crossing the cultivation of the Sfusato amalfitano, as well as overlooking some breathtaking views.
For an experience that is not only visual but also decidedly multisensorial, it is recommended to take this walk when the lemons are in bloom and envelop all those walking in the area in their scent.
Lemons on the Sorrento peninsula are not just fruits: they are history, they are love, they are tradition.
And there is no better way to discover them than by travelling through flavours and history in a uniquely charming area of Italy.