The presence of lemon groves along the Amalfi Coast in ancient times is mentioned in numerous historical documents. It was the Arabs, during their expansion and conquests, who introduced the lemon to Spain and Sicily, and from there to Campania.
The true development of lemon growing in the Amalfi area, however, was mainly due to the proven need of this fruit following the discovery of its great usefulness for preventing scurvy, a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, in which citrus fruits are notoriously rich.
For the inhabitants of Amalfi, a renowned seafaring people, being able to carry a large stock of this precious fruit on their ships was critical. Already in the eleventh century, the Amalfi Republic decreed that its ships should always be stocked with supplies of lemons.
Between 1400 and 1800, the demand for Amalfi lemons was very high, also from other countries, particularly those of northern Europe, due to their use in preventing scurvy.
Thus, along the coast, the “lemon gardens,” as lemon groves are called in this area, gradually increased in number and size over the centuries, through an enormous human undertaking to reclaim steep and inaccessible terrain for agriculture.
From 1700 to the present day, citrus production in Sorrento and Amalfi has never developed its own autonomous market. It currently features excellent production, with its own unique characteristics, despite aspects that may appear contradictory: its specialised production is lemons, even though it is located at relatively high latitude, and therefore more exposed to the rigours of winter.
The prices of Amalfi-Sorrento lemons are among the very highest, due to their lateness, tradition and, above all, quality. However, this advantage is completely undermined by the high production costs, with winter shelter systems that place a burden on economic performance.
The lemon cultivation of this area is the oldest in the whole of Italy. It has a remarkable scenic value, and much of the tourist appeal is due to the evergreen cascades of trees that descend, terrace by terrace, to the sea.
It is the most traditional form of cultivation, in which it is impossible to envisage mechanising the plantations. The relationship between humans and the trees is constant, direct and has almost never altered over time, with logistic cultivation conditions that make it unchangeable. The gardens are created by stealing space from the rock, carrying up soil physically and forming it into terraces, with walls built heroically, stone by stone.
It is a form of cultivation so old that it can be considered “right up to date”, at the cutting edge of viable farming systems, and its terraces are also necessary to preserve a delicate hydro-geological balance, which would be compromised without them.
The name of the Sfusato Amalfitano variety, used for Protected Geographical Indication Limone Costa d'Amalfi, captures two important aspects: the tapered shape of the fruit, expressed by “sfusato”, and the area in which it was developed over time: the Amalfi Coast.
Limone Costa d'Amalfi PGI Lemons are a product with very refined and renowned characteristics: the skin is of medium thickness, with a particularly pale yellow colour, and has an intense aroma and fragrance, thanks to its wealth of essential oils and terpenes. The flesh is juicy and slightly acidic, with few seeds.
It is a medium-large size lemon (each fruit weighs at least 100 grams) and one of the varieties richest in ascorbic acid, i.e. the famous vitamin C.
Limone Costa d'Amalfi PGI Lemons are considered an outstanding commercial product, both for sale of the fresh fruit and for the production of the famous “limoncello”, for which Amalfi, together with Sorrento and Capri, is the area of choice.
The typical cultivation in terraces along the steep slopes of the coast, with the trees covered by the famous “pagliarelle” (straw shades - now replaced by more practical shading nets), helps to give Limone Costa d'Amalfi PGI Lemons their unique quality characteristics and make their legendary “gardens” famous throughout the world.
The lemons are picked several times each year, due to the polymorphism phenomenon typical to lemons, although the most important harvest is in the spring-summer period, between March and the end of July.
Due to their intense fragrance, thick skin, juicy, semi-sweet pulp and virtual lack of seeds, Limone Costa d'Amalfi PGI Lemons are widely used in cooking. They are often served in their natural state in the production area, as a salad dressing.
Another typical use of lemons in the Amalfi Coast is as a condiment: on fish, seafood starters, the renowned local first courses or meat; lemon, whether whole, sliced, or simply as an ingredient, is always present with main dishes. The best chefs in the area have made of it a culinary attraction par excellence. Some bars in the area even serve “coffee with lemon”.
The use of Sfusato Amalfitano also extends to the confectionery sector, as the unmistakable fragrance of this precious fruit forms the basis of many local specialities, such as the legendary “delizie”, “limoncello baba”, cakes, profiteroles, chocolates and other local confectionery.
The Local Area
Limone Costa d'Amalfi PGI are grown in all the towns of the coastline, particularly: Amalfi Cetara, Conca dei Marini, Furore, Maiori, Minori, Positano, Ravello, Scala, Tramonti and Vietri sul Mare.Amalfi lemons are currently grown on approximately 400 hectares of land, with an average annual harvest of about 8,000 tons.
Mention should be made of the growing phenomenon of abandonment of plantations or failure to harvest the fruit, especially in sites located in the most rugged and mountainous areas. The reasons for this are various, but mainly concern the modest sizes of the businesses and difficulties of access.
The problem of accessibility to funds, for maintaining the famous “terraces”, has always been the main concern of the local farmers. The idea of transporting the fruit in baskets placed on women’s heads is unthinkable in this day and age. Many attempts have been made to introduce innovative transport models that are already widely used in other areas, such as cable cars and monorails, but the issue has still not been settled.
Lemon growing plays a vital role in preserving the hydro-geological balance in the local area, occupying even the steepest slopes, and is a prominent element of the landscape of the Amalfi Coast, which is often described as the “Divine Coast” and owes some of its charm to the beauty and the fragrance of the “lemon gardens”.
The Protected Geographical Indication of this quality product has allowed the enhancement and promotion of it unique qualities. It is known and appreciated both nationally and internationally for its renowned quality, due to the particular lateness of the main crop, in the summer.
Curator — Consorzio di Tutela Limone Costa d'Amalfi IGP