Celebrating the lemons of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.
Credits: Ciao Amalfi
One of the iconic symbols of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, the lemons produced in this beautiful part of Campania have been prized for centuries for their intense flavor and healthy properties. The production of lemons on the steep and rocky cliff sides along the Sorrento Peninsula is anything but easy. Driving on the Amalfi Coast Road, you’ll spot terraces of lemon groves climbing high up the steep cliffs. It’s quite the experience to spot the bright yellow lemons caught somewhere between the majestic mountains and the blue Mediterranean Sea.
Although the rocky terrain doesn’t seem at first glance suitable for farming, lemon trees thrive in the temperate climate and the fertile soil of the Sorrento Peninsula. The introduction of the varieties of lemons grown on the Amalfi Coast and the coastline surrounding Sorrento date back to Roman times. Mosaics and paintings that have survived in ancient Roman villas in Pompeii and Herculaneum show lemons that are shaped remarkably like the lemons grown in Sorrento. But it wasn’t until much later, from the 10th-11th centuries, that the cultivation and production of lemons would start to become an important part of the economy on the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento. The powerful maritime Republic of Amalfi had extensive trading routes throughout the Mediterranean, and connections with Arab traders brought a new focus on the health values of the lemon, which had been discovered much earlier in east.
The production of lemons continued even after the peak and decline of the Republic of Amalfi. The hardworking farmers of the Sorrento Peninsula continued the challenging work of carving out new terraces in the rocky mountainsides and the backbreaking work of carrying the harvests of lemons up and down the stone steps. By the 1800s, the lemons of the Sorrento Peninsula were renowned for their intense flavor and healthy properties, and the lemons of the Amalfi Coast in particular were being exported as far as to America.
There are two main varieties of lemons grown on the Sorrento Peninsula, which are also divided geographically to those grown around Sorrento and those grown on the Amalfi Coast. The Limone Costa d’Amalfi are the lemons grown along the Amalfi Coast, with are also called Sfusato Amalfitano after their elongated and pointed shape. On the Sorrento coastline you’ll find the Limone di Sorrento, which are rounder in shape than the lemons of the Amalfi Coast. Both varieties are exceptionally fragrant and boast very high levels of vitamin C. The skins are rich in oil and brightly colored, making them ideal for creating the famous limoncello liqueur of the Sorrento Peninsula. The Limone Costa d’Amalfi and the Limone di Sorrento have both been honored with the IGP status (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) status, which indicates their role as an important and unique regional food in Campania.
Harvesting of the lemons on the Amalfi Coast and around Sorrento happens more than once a year, which means you’ll be able to sample these special lemons during your travels in the area. The best lemons, however, are harvested from March to late July, so if your travels bring you to the Sorrento Peninsula during this time of year you might even see the harvesting taking place, which is still done by carrying baskets of lemons up and down the ancient stone steps.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to sample these special lemons during your travels on the Sorrento Peninsula. Be sure to try some of the locally made limoncello along the Amalfi Coast and in Sorrento. Locals say that it tastes very different depending on what type of lemons were used – the Limone Costa d’Amalfi and the Limone di Sorrento. The lemons are also used for preparing seafood dishes and making other regional specialties, such as Risotto al Limone. For desserts, the lemons really shine in the famous Torta al Limone lemon cake and the Delizia al Limone dessert created in Sorrento.
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