Lovely Calabrian bergamot: the scent of a spring morning in Italy

After enjoying the beautiful sight of potted lemon trees all over Villa Gambreia yesterday, as here:

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I started musing about one of my favorite subjects: citrus in Italy in general.  These ramblings always bring me quickly to thoughts of bergamot, the scent of which I adore.  In fact, I wear it everyday in this form:

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I adore the fragrance of bergamot! It has been described as “the scent of a spring morning in Italy, of mountain narcissus and citrus blossom after rain.”

I’ve still to see the actual fruit, but I’m going to eventually.  Even if it kills me.  Which I don’t think it will.  I think it just means a (much wanted) 2nd trip (for me, in this lifetime) to Calabria.

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Let’s consult an expert on bergamot:

“Wherever citrus trees are gathered together, whether in open ground or the shelter of a limonaia, they cross-pollinate and over time varieties develop that are peculiar to their setting.

“The first of Calabria’s unique and valuable fruits is bergamot (Citrus bergamia), the product of a natural cross-pollination between a lemon tree and a sour orange that occurred in Calabria in the mid-seventeenth century.

“Essential oil can be extracted from the bergamot’s fruit, and although its extremely high value has inspired many attempts to grow it elsewhere, bergamot is like an animal in its chosen territory: it thrives and fruits successfully only on a thin strip of coastline that runs for seventy-five kilometres from Villa San Giovanni on the Tyrrhenian coast to Brancaleone on the shores of the Ionian Sea.

“Here the tree grows tall and strong, and bears such heavy crops that its brittle branches often snap under the weight of oily fruit. Take it away from its home ground and you make it a perpetual invalid, incapable of tolerating the cold or weathering strong winds.

“Only one thing is certain: its first appearance anywhere in the world was in the mid-seventeenth century in Calabria.

“Drive south from Reggio Calabria towards Bova Marina and you can see bergamot trees on the narrow plain between the foothills of the Aspromonte mountains and the sea. They grow in glistening, dark green swathes between dramatic plugs of volcanic rock and on narrow terraces cut from a sheer cliff face.

“The trees have large glossy leaves similar to a lemon’s and bitter fruit that ripens from green to yellow and is the size and shape of an orange. Anything goes in a bergamot grove. Trees are pruned very lightly only once a year and some of them grow to over four metres high. They are carefree, liberated, untidy and entirely organic, the hippies of the citrus world. It is the essential oil stored in the pores just beneath the surface of the skin that makes bergamot so valuable.

“Ever since the beginning of the eighteenth century the principal and most lucrative use of this oil has been as a fixing agent in the perfume industry. The addition of bergamot oil makes a perfume last longer and brings all its other elements into harmony, rather like the conductor of an orchestra.

“Any essential oil extracted from fruit produced outside Calabria’s bergamot belt is of inferior quality.

“When bergamot first appeared in Calabria it was immediately appreciated for its blossom, which has a stronger scent than any other zagara. The bitter fruit was not considered edible, but bergamots were planted as ornamental trees in the gardens of villas in its homeland near the regional capital, Reggio Calabria.”

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Attlee, Helena (2015-01-05). The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and Its Citrus Fruit (Kindle Locations 2280-2286). Countryman Press. Kindle Edition.

One thought on “Lovely Calabrian bergamot: the scent of a spring morning in Italy

  1. Pingback: Earl Grey Tea: bergamot oil and black China tea | get back, lauretta!

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