The Italians have a love affair with lemons. They are grown pretty much all over the country, from north to south. Along the northern shores of Lake Garda, the ruined greenhouses, or lemon gardens, are reminders of the 18th century heyday of citrus growing here, to which the town of Limone sul Garda owes its name. In Amalfi lemons grow in the terraced gardens all along the coast, hang for sale in tied bunches from walls, doors and windows, and flavour the drink that finishes almost every meal here. In fact lemons helped to make Amalfi rich – between about 1500 and 1800 the major market for its lemons were northern European navies and ship owners, who bought the fruit by the millions in an attempt to protect their sailors against scurvy. Today it is Sicily, not Amalfi, that is Italy’s most prolific lemon grower, and was probably its first, as it is generally believed that the Arabs imported lemon trees there from India. It wasn’t long before the cultivation of lemons had spread all over southern Italy, where the climate provides the ideal growing conditions.
All of which I quietly pondered as I sipped a glass of this limone liqueur yesterday evening, after dinner. It’s just arrived with us from the Dispensa di Amerigo, in Monteveglio, Bologna. Amerigo started over 70 years ago as a trattoria, and since 1996 has been putting some of the same recipes from its trattoria kitchens into bottles and jars, to be enjoyed by a wider world. Working with an old local factory, they have revived an impressive range of traditional liqueurs which would otherwise be forgotten by younger generations. The limone liqueur is obtained from the rind of citrus fruits; it is intensely fruity and soft thanks to adding lemon juice from the pulp of the lemon. Traditionally it’s served, chilled, as a digestive at the end of a meal. It’s beautifully intense, and at 35% alcohol, a little goes a long way! That picture does make it look as though quite a lot of limone has been drunk, but really it’s just hiding behind the label. Honest.