Local food

Orange blossom: the blooming of a local economy

The recovery of the bitter orange tree takes place when a young local producer decides to unearth an ancient tradition from his homeland.

Local food

Orange blossom: the blooming of a local economy

The recovery of the bitter orange tree takes place when a young local producer decides to unearth an ancient tradition from his homeland.

Orange blossom water and essential oil: A willful local producer

 

Watching a spirited old woman take care of these orange blossoms flowers with such a tender love is something that warms your heart. It was this love one grandmother emitted to her grandson, Pietro, who just so happens to be an enthusiastic entrepreneur. This wonderful combination of passion and ambition has led to the cultivation of the bitter orange tree once again.

La Vecchia Distilleria, is a modest distillery established at the beginning of the 19th century. This workshop was once dedicated solely to alchemical preparation of natural essences. Increasingly, this locale is dedicating resources into transforming these essences into artisanal and commercial goods, right at the souce. The distillery is located in Italy, right on the France border.

We venture to a place called Vallebona, a town in the Province of Imperia in the Italian region of Liguria. Here, bitter orange trees are cultivated right on the Mediterranean Sea. Favorable climatic conditions offer an opportunity to grow healthy citrus plants, the variety under investigation here, is native to China.

The valleys of the area were once so replete with bitter orange trees that the aroma of the flowers could reach sailors who crossed nearby waters.

In the middle of the last century when the activity of distillation and extraction of essential oils began to lose profitability, many Ligurian distilleries had to shut their doors. During this time period abnormally strong frosts almost caused the complete disappearance of bitter orange trees in the region. It was Pietro Guglielmi who decided to take over the family business and start the cultivation of orange blossom trees again counting on the precious help of Slow Food.

In spring the bitter orange blossoms allow the expert distiller to obtain a precious essential oil with an unmistakable aroma the scent is sweet and feminine. This aroma, better known as Neroli, is named after a Duchess of French origin, Anna Maria Orsini, Princess of Nerola and a lover of this perfume.

In the summer, the distiller obtains the Petit Grain essential oil, which in French translates to “small fruits,” by distilling small branches and leaves with small fruits. In autumn the fruits ripen. The peel is used to aromatize drinks, either dried or fresh.

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Orange blossom water producer Italy
Orange blossom flower
Orange blossom harvest Liguria Italy

Where does the bitter orange tree find its origins?

Bitter orange is a fruit tree belonging to the citrus family. In all probability this tree is a cross between the pomelo (Citrus maxima) and the mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata). It is native to south-east Asia.
Arabic peoples cultivated the bitter orange tree as early as the ninth century. At the beginning of the second millennium, they introduced it to Sicily

Elaboration of orange blossom water and essential oil

Once the harvest is concluded the orange blossom flowers are brought into the laboratory where the process will begin. Here, flowers pass through a spray of steam that is pushed through a duct of a Florentine vessel (a particular glass still), this is where distillation takes place . Inside this vessel, water rises upwards and separates from the oil. After distillation, essential oil is manually removed from the oil water concoction with a pipette and placed in a bottle.

Historically, orange blossom water was recognized for a range of therapeutic properties and it was common for locals to use it as medicine for the sick. More common today, water obtained from bitter orange trees is widely used in the pastry preparation.

The essential oil has a plethora of uses. Oil is found in cosmetic products and diffused and inhaled. The essence released can help against anxiety disorder and depression as well as other emotional disorders noted to exert a calming effect.

When applied externally, just a few drops diluted in vegetable oil is ideal for a relaxing massage on the belly, in case of spasms, bad digestion, and menstrual pain.

A perfect match: orange blossom water and pastries

As mentioned before, orange blossom water is used quite frequently to add fragrance to pastries. In Liguria, it is used to wet the Bugie (Lies), also called chiacchere, crostoli among other names. This is a typical pastry consumed during Carnival in Italy, while in Liguria this pastry is often enjoyed during any celebration.

Bugie best orange blossom water pairing

Video credit: Foodie by Glam

A hidden gem to visit in orange blossom country

Liguria is known for images of stunning seaside villages and sunny beaches. Consumed by nature, however, there are hidden places of Liguria that are real jewels to visit and create an unforgettable experience in this extraordinary region.

This very thin and long Italian region is divided into two principal parts along a north south imaginary line. We have the Levante Ligure to the east and the Ponente Ligure to the west.
The coasts of the Levante Ligure region are usually high, rocky, and jagged. Meanwhile, coasts to the west of the Ponente Ligure region offer an almost perfect alternation of rocks overlooking the sea and long wide, sandy beaches.
Liguria is famous for Le Cinque Terre (Five Lands), which is a National Park painted with splendid seaside villages and insane terraces where small wine producers grow their grapes.
Liguria is also rich in inconspicuous off-the-beaten-track villages with deep-rooted history, culture, and traditional gastronomy.

Vallebona is one of the villages still making orange blossom water today. The medieval origins of this village make it a whimsical getaway and a perfect destination to enjoy the sea in the vicinity of other nearby villages. It is regarded as the most beautiful village in the area.
Apart from being famous for its bitter orange trees, Vallebona is well known for its splendid flowers such as mimosas and brooms.

Visit Liguria, the orange blossom region

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