The joys of the Amalfi lemon

Adam Jones | 26/07/2019
Amalfi lemon, featuring sunglasses
Amalfi lemons are so big they can wear sunglasses!

One of the first things you may notice on your visit to the Amalfi Coast is the scent of lemons in the air. This isn’t your garden variety lemon — Amalfi lemons are a unique breed native to this tiny corner of the world. These lemons are bigger, rounder, and sometimes more bulbous than the varieties you find at home, with softer skin and a sweeter flavor.

There are two types of Amalfi lemons that have been long grown on the Sorrento Peninsula — the Sfusato Amalfitano and the Limone di Sorrento. Found in different parts of the coast, these are among the most highly prized lemons in the world. In fact, these lemons are PGI-protected by the EU, a designation that ensures they are produced only on the Amalfi Coast.

One of the things that makes Amalfi lemons so special is the unique geography where the Sorrento lemon tree takes root. Fresh breezes waft off the ocean and get caught in the area’s sharp mountain valleys. This creates an ideal environment for these lemons to grow, safe from the intense northern winds while basking in the coastal sunshine. 

Amalfi Coast lemons are harvested at different times of the year and have been incorporated into the local cuisine for centuries. The intense flavor of the lemon zest is one of the things that gives a lot of local pasta its twang, and also provides flavor to some of the meatier dishes in this part of Campania. This could range from a braised octopus risotto al limone to garlic lemon chicken, both popular local recipes. Let’s not forget desserts. Delizia al limone is a popular treat on the Amalfi Coast. This is a light sponge steeped in limoncello, with a dollop of whipped lemon cream.

When it comes to limoncello, Italy’s pride in this liqueur rests primarily on the Sorrento peninsula. Limoncello is the second most popular drink in Italy. While it is produced throughout the country, the limoncello from Amalfi is especially prized for its quality. Limoncello is traditionally served as a digestivo in a small, chilled ceramic cup.

Most of the limoncello in the area is small-batch brewed, so you’ll find the consistency, flavor and taste will vary depending on where you’re taking a sip. You can also ask a local to recommend their favorite limoncellos. But keep in mind that limoncello is a strong drink — containing up to 30% alcohol.

Amalfi lemons have a long history, enjoyed as far back as Roman times. The original version of the fruit was said to have been pretty much inedible, but farmers crossbred them with bitter oranges. The hybrid became the great-great-grandparents of the Amalfi lemons we know and love today. Once they were a sweet, more-edible fruit, Amalfi lemons were stored for long sea voyages and consumed to avoid scurvy.

If you’re in the Amalfi Coast, you’re likely to just experience the wonders of the lemon in your immediate surroundings, but there are options available if you want to delve a bit deeper. Many tours and experiences are available, including tours of private groves, cooking classes that feature the Amalfi lemon, and tours that include limoncello tastings. Even if you don’t book a lemon-flavored adventure, you can always enjoy the sweet fresh scent of lemons in the air.