Sunday, May 19, 2013

Savor the Sweetness of the Amalfi Lemon Groves

From Skyscrapers to Lemon Groves: Part 6 -
“Leaving behind my beloved New York skyscrapers has of course been a bit tart, but I prefer to savor the sweetness of the lemon groves”

The other day I brought a literal meaning to the title of my column, as I dove head first into the abundant lemon groves that ascend through the Amalfi Coast hills. I discovered that something called a Lemon Tour exists, created by the De Riso family here in Minori, Italy. This tour takes people up into the mountains to explore the paths and passageways of the groves high above the Mediterranean Sea.

View from the gardens in Scala, Italy

I brought along my 7 year old cousin Myriam to experience this adventure, as I thought it would be a special experience for her. The tour began very early in the morning, where we met Carlo De Riso, the mastermind behind the tour.
Climbing into a refurbished antique bus, we clambered up the mountains from Minori, through La Marmorata and into Scala and Pontone. It was a gorgeous morning and as we made our way up from the seafront into the dense gardens, the view of the sun rising over the sea created a serene glow. Scala is a small town situated above Minori and is one of the oldest communes on the coast. This is where we find fresh fruits, vegetables, and livestock.

With Myriam in the heart of the lemon groves. Notice the grapes hanging above our heads.

Once in the groves, we began our descent on foot, climbing down crumbling stairs, through soil and trees and under a canopy of lemons, figs, grapes, zucchini and tomatoes.  We trekked past pigs, horses, rabbits, and ducks. Cats scampered out from under our feet as we trudged along. It was cool and fresh and the smell of lemons filled the air and our noses.

The celebrated lemon groves: The lemons are folded under a wooden umbrella for protection from the wind and weather. They are supported by the wood which in turn allows them to grow larger.

Lemons are one of the most important crops cultivated on the Amalfi Coast. Years ago, during the depression, the cultivation of lemons was relied upon to feed and maintain large families. They are now a world renowned symbol of the coast, growing to be larger than grapefruits and being used in everything imaginable; from sweets to liquors, pastas, salads and even eaten alone, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The De Riso family has been in the lemon business since 1927. Each cousin has branched off into a specialty-desserts, liquors and distribution. The lemon tour was started last year and has been a success among tourists looking to see for themselves what all the lemon hype is about.

Carlo De Riso giving me a lesson on Amalfi Coast lemons.

One of the most beautiful parts of the tour was meeting the men that work in the gardens, picking and caring for the fruit every day. These men don’t do this work for the money but instead for the tradition and the culture-their love for the land and the importance of what it means for Italy and the coast. To me, that is raw and beautiful truth.

Two of the magicians behind the lemon cultivation…and their dog!

I learned that some of the different types of lemons cultivated on the Amalfi Coast are:
Verdello: Cultivated in September and October, they are round in shape and contain more of a green tint.
Zagora Bianca: Smaller in size and round in shape.
Sfusato: Generally longer and thinner in shape.
Primo Fiore: The most fragrant with more of an acidic juice.
We finally made it through the groves and down into the town of Pontone, where we sat in the shade and enjoyed slices of lemon cake, drank lemonade and munched on freshly picked lemons drizzled with olive oil and balsamic. From there we boarded the little bus back to Minori where we were able to get a glimpse of the De Riso lemon factory. Once in the factory,  the lemons are then converted into deliciousness (Limoncello, anyone?) and sent out to be sold and consumed.

Limoncello and lemon treats at the De Riso factory in Minori, Italy.

In all, leaving behind my beloved New York skyscrapers has of course been a bit tart, but I prefer to savor the sweetness of the lemon groves.

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