Short historical accounts of agriculture in the Sorrento Peninsula.

The growth of citrus fruits in Campania dates back even to the period of the Roman Empire . The development of their production is linked to the increase in market demand; the evolution of this sector can be divided in three phases.

The first phase begins at an unknown time, anyhow prior to 1000 and goes until the 15 th and 16 th centuries. It is characterised by the prevailing demand for cedars which fed a quite steady commercial flow.

The second phase, starting from the 16 th century until the 19 th century, is characterised by a considerable increase in demand coming from the Northern Countries. When the antiscorbutic properties of citrus fruits were found out, there was a considerable increase in demand of these fruits by fleets which had long crossings. In this period, under the strong pressure of the market demand, cultivations changed, as they became intensive and were rationalised.

The third phase, which started in the 18 th century, was brought about by the appearance of sweet oranges in the European area. In that period, therefore, the demand for citrus fruits continued to increase and the change was not only quantitative but also qualitative. As a result, in the 18th century the three commercial phases coexisted, taking to a varied and complex demand in relation with the different uses which influenced, of course, also production and commerce.

At the time of Torquato Tasso, oranges and lemons were already quite widespread in the Sorrento Peninsula , but the first rational and intense cultivations started at the beginning of the 17 th century thanks to the Jesuits of Massalubrense plain, in the Farm still known nowadays as "Fondo del Gesù". Among the most widespread varieties of lemons grown in the Sorrento area, the most typical are the ones which best adapted to the climate and the geomorphological characteristics of soil.

a load of lemons

On the hills in Massalubrense and Piana di Sorrento the most widespread variety is the so called “Femminiello comune" with good-quality characteristics: its size is small-medium, its colour light-yellow, its juice rich and its fragrance very fine. In the Sorrento Peninsula we do not find lemons varieties actually classified for their genetic purity, due to continuous grafting. Anyhow the results obtained by existing varieties and the key to success of the Limoncello di Sorrento, which distinguish it from similar liqueurs produced by Companies of different locations, is not the productive technique – which is actually simple and common – but the variety of lemons used.

As a matter of fact producers of the Sorrento Peninsula use as raw material the "Ovale di Sorrento", synonym of "Lemon of Sorrento" or "Lemon of Massalubrense", which belongs to the strain of the "Femminiello comune". The characteristics of this kind of lemon are of course at the base of the Limoncello of Sorrento. That's why this liqueur has an unmistakable aroma.


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