The revenge of the Bergamot of Reggio Calabria – Italian Cuisine

The revenge of the Bergamot of Reggio Calabria

A production that is in crisis in the seventies also because of the construction industry that eats all the soils of the Bergamot. But then, from below, comes the rebirth and today for its healthy and organoleptic characteristics it is much loved in the kitchen

We really risked losing it. Then, a revolution started from below, animated above all by Ezio Pizzi, current president of the Consortium for the Protection of the Bergamot of Reggio Calabria, which has set fire to the minds of the Bergamotticultori and has made possible the rebirth of this citrus fruit. But not only: returning to the cultivation of bergamot has taken land away from construction and inaugurated a new season also in the kitchen.

The bergamot in Calabria

Its origins are still uncertain. According to some sources it seems to come from China, according to others it is instead the result of the encounter with citrus fruits from Turkey. What is certain is that it is a cross between grapefruit, lemon and lime, or lime and that there are mainly three cultivars: fantastic, which is the most widespread and profitable; femminello, which is similar; is castagnaro, which due to its fluctuating yield has almost disappeared. Despite not knowing with certainty its origin, over the years it has spread to the province of Reggio Calabria, where it has found its ideal climate especially in those marvelous 120 kilometers of Ionian coast, including the one that has been defined the most beautiful kilometer in Italy, in Aspromonte.

The bergamot crisis

It was in the 1970s, with the building boom and the obsession with brick, that the production of bergamot entered a seemingly incurable crisis: it was the period in which the crops were only pieces of land taken from the buildings and in which the production of bergamot it is not a profitable activity like building, even more so on the sea. Furthermore, at the time, bergamot did not even have a food destination: it was used, in fact, only as an essential oil in the cosmetics and, once the juice has been extracted, as animal feed. But these are the years in which even the farms are severely arrested, as they are part of the general abandonment of work in the countryside, and of the growing emigration to the north. To further aggravate the situation is a sentence that declares it even carcinogenic, probably as a targeted action to feed and incentivize the building market. As a matter of fact, of the 3 thousand hectares cultivated in the fifties, of bergamot there are only a few thousand.

The rebirth of bergamot

With the new century, the destiny of the Calabrian citrus is revived, in particular thanks to the work of Ezio Pizzi who promotes the union of the various remaining bergamotticoltori. «I could not accept that such a unique product suffered harassment from multinationals and other categories. We absolutely had to go back to believing, to join and re-evaluate our bergamot . Thus was born, from the bottom of the note, the Consortium for the Protection of the Bergamot of Reggio Calabria, which also became the second in Europe to obtain PDO recognition (after lavender). Today there are about 600 producers and 486 companies, from the smallest of about 10 hectares, to the largest of 40, like that of the president. From this moment on, it is also decided that to enhance the product the price can only increase, without ever decreasing; but above all it starts to be used also in the kitchen. And this is where the real turning point comes.

The turning point in the kitchen

The change of direction takes place following the result of some analyzes, which reveal how much the principles present in the pulp inhibit the formation of cholesterol in the blood. It is with this news that the interest in the kitchen is turned on, so above all for health reasons, with continuous cooking shows on possible uses. Here the bergamot proves to be excellent for marinate fish and meat without altering the flavor, as it is perfect to contain the strong taste of game or, again, thanks to its bitterness that well balances the sugars, it depopulated in confectionery in desserts, cakes, ice creams, juices, jams, honey, candies, soft drinks, liqueurs (bergamino). But the best of it is given as an element of novelty in haute cuisine: it is appropriate to mention the Sibari risotto with asparagus cream and bergamot prawn tartare prepared by chef Giuseppe Romano of the ME Restaurant in Vibo Marina, a profound connoisseur and active promoter of the products of his own land (acquired); as well as his wife Eleonora Marcello enhances it perfectly in desserts.

Waiting for the recognition as Unesco Heritage, for the very high nutritional, social and cultural value of this product, the president Ezio Pizzi concludes as follows: «If every Italian consumed at least one bergamot a year, we would double the production, thus giving more work in a difficult area such as Aspromonte and the province of Reggio Calabria .

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