The Siracusa lemon (in Italian, Limone di Siracusa IGP) is the fruit of the cultivar "femminello" and its clones, corresponding to the botanical species Citrus x limon L. Burm. The femminello cultivar from Siracusa is the most common variety of lemon in Italy, and produces three main flowerings: the primofiore (from October 1st), the bianchetto (Also less commonly known as the maiolino.) (from April 15th) and the verdello (or summer lemon, from July 1st). The Disciplinary regulations of the Siracusa Lemon (PGI) forbids the use of waxes and/or fungicides in post-harvesting, and therefore the fruit is edible in all its parts.
The lemon plant originates in Burma, where it is found growing wild: from there it crossed the Middle East, Mesopotamia, and Palestine, to the Mediterranean, where it found favorable conditions to thrive. The natural habitat of the lemon lies in a strip from the 40° parallel in the North to the 40° parallel in the South: this strip includes California, Uruguay, Argentina, South Africa and the Mediterranean basin, in particular Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey. In the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries, when there was an aristocratic monopoly on citrus growing, the use of lemons was confined to luxury foods.
It began to be cultivated more intensively in Siracusa from the early seventeenth century, through the work of the Jesuits who were competent growers. The lemon went on to become one of the principal sources of wealth in the region, reaching an output of around 11.500 tonnes in 1891. This success catalysed the birth in Sicily of various citrus related industries, which extracted juice concentrates, calcium citrate and the citric acid from the fruit. During this period the Siracusa lemon made a considerable fortune in foreign markets, especially in the United States and in England, as confirmed by records from the second half of the eighteenth century, held in Siracusa's Camera di Commercio e Arti (Chamber of Commerce and Arts). Records regarding shipments at the Port of Siracusa in the early nineteenth century indicate that the principal destinations for lemons, oranges, both sweet and bitter, concentrated lemon juice and calcium citrate were the ports of Trieste, London, Fiume, Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester, Malta and Odessa.
Despite the urbanisation and industrialisation (see e.g. Augusta-Priolo) that occurred at the beginning of the post-war period, lemon growing was anything but abandoned in the Siracusa area, and still today continues to be a very important economic mainstay: Siracusa is considered, in qualitative and quantitative terms, a hub for fresh lemons in both the Italian and European markets. On 3 February 2011 the name Limone di Siracusa (Siracusa Lemon) was registered as having Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) – Regulation (EC) n. 96/2011.
The Siracusa lemon is characterised by a high juice content and abundance of oil glands in the skin, as well as the high quality of its essential oils. The Siracusan variety of lemon is called a femminello because of the fertility of the plant, which flowers all year round: the primofiore (literally, "first flower") matures from October 1st, has an elliptical shape, skin and flesh which varies from light green to lemon-yellow, and lemon-yellow juice; the bianchetto ripens from April 15th, is ovoid-elliptical, with light yellow skin, yellow flesh and lemon-yellow juice; the verdello matures from July 1st, is an spheroid elliptical shape, light green skin, and lemon-yellow flesh and juice.
The planting scheme must have a maximum density of 400-500 plants per hectare or 850 in the case of high-density dynamic planting. Growers can use conventional, integrated and organic methods. All cultivation operations must be undertaken in a way which maintain perfect plant equilibrium and development in addition to providing normal aeration and sunlight exposure. Harvesting is done by hand-picking each fruit direct from the plant, using special secateurs to cut the fruit's stalk.
The Siracusa lemon accounts for more than 30% of the Italian lemon supply. The consumer base for the Siracusa lemon is mainly represented in the Italian market by large scale retail chains, in particular those from northern Italy; intra-EU exports are directed at the markets of Germany, Austria, France, United Kingdom, and Denmark; while the principal market outside the EU is Norway. The product is branded in the marketplace as "Limone di Siracusa IGP": it can be sold either in bulk, or packaged in appropriate containers made from cardboard, wood or plastic, or in nets and bags with a plastic band attached to the net. Retail categories are "Extra" and "Prima" only, for the fresh produce, while processing admits lower categories too.
The Siracusa lemon is used in a wide range of fields, in addition to the commercial fresh fruit market; in particular, the food and drink sectors, medical and scientific applications, cosmetics and perfumery, which are supplied with juice and essential oil through processing companies.
Curiosity and folklore
Every year, on December 13, the city of Siracusa celebrates the festival of its patron saint, Santa Lucia, with a long procession from the Piazza del Duomo in Ortigia to the Chiesa di Santa Lucia al Sepolcro. Eight days later, on the December 20, the procession retraces its route. On December 13, tradition dictates that the large candles which stand at the four corners of the statue of Santa Lucia are covered with bouquets of flowers, while on December 20, the silver statue is flanked by candles adorned with lemons and oranges.
PGI-certified lemons in the European Union
Italy has 16,693 hectares (41,250 acres) of lemon groves. The Siracusa lemon comprises more than 30% of the entire national production, with a cultivated area of almost 6,000 hectares. The production zone stretches in a coastal strip across 10 municipalities in the Province of Siracusa, in Sicily: Augusta, Avola, Melilli, Noto and Siracusa, and also includes some inland areas, in the municipalities of Floridia, Solarino, Priolo Gargallo, Rosolini and Sortino. The land area devoted to growing Protected Geographical Indication lemons in the European Union:
|PGI Variety||Provenance||Land area in hectares (Ha)|
|Limone di Siracusa||Italy||6.000|
|Limone Interdonato di Messina||Italy||950|
|Limone di Sorrento||Italy||400|
|Limone di Amalfi||Italy||400|
|Limone Femminello del Gargano||Italy||400|
|Citrinos do Algarve||Portugal||320|
|Limone di Rocca Imperiale||Italy||200|
|Citron de Menton||France||N/A|
The European Union has nine (PGI) denominations for lemons: six of these are from Italy, one from France, one from Spain, and one from Portugal. Other than the Siracusa lemon", the Italian denominations are the "Limone di Sorrento", the "Limone Costa d'Amalfi", the "Interdonato di Messina", the "Femminello del Gargano", and the "Limone di Rocca Imperiale". The French denomination is the "Citron de Menton". The Spanish denomination is the "Citricos Valencianos", while in Portugal the "Citrinos do Algarve" is protected.
The Consorzio di Tutela del Limone di Siracusa IGP (Consortium for the Protection of the Siracusa Lemon PGI) was founded on 13 July 2000. It does not undertake commercial activities or sell lemons itself, though its members do. The Consortium's responsibilities include:
- defining the zones of production and varieties covered by PGI status;
- monitoring the zone of origin and markets to ensure correct usage of the "Siracusa Lemon PGI" denomination;
- promoting and spreading awareness and images of the PGI product at home and abroad.
The current (2018) President of the Consortium is Michele Salvatore Lonzi.
- Together with wheat, wine and carob, citrus fruit was one of the most important exports from Siracusa, until the outbreak of the First World War. Though less extensive, the export of olive oil and unshelled sweet almonds was also considerable.
- Official records of the Port of Siracusa, citrus harvests 1902-1903 and 1903-1904.
- Conventional methods mean the farming method which is in general use in the production area, observing the Sicilian Region's "Good Farming Practice Norms"; integrated production complies with the technical standards laid down by the Sicilian Region's Specification for adopting EU regulations in agri-environment matters; the organic method refers to Reg. (EC) 834/2007.
- "Limone di Siracusa - Mission". www.limonedisiracusa.org.