Learn the history of the golden fruit
The cultivation of the golden fruit began in the 15th century. Renowned for its unique taste, Menton lemons have been very popular for centuries. Their production is only growing, being exported all over the world. In the 1800s, there were already 80,000 lemon trees, but despite this golden age, agricultural activity declined from the end of the 19th century. Then, in 1956, this freeze episode even put an end to production, while the boom in tourism offered new economic opportunities.
In order to revitalize the cultivation of these forgotten little citrus fruits, replantation promotion operations were relentlessly carried out by local authorities in the 1980s. In the 1990s, more than 5,000 trees had been planted.
Today, thanks to these continuous efforts, there are about 15 citrus growers in the regions of Menton, Roquebrune, Sainte-Agnès and Castellar, and the goal is to reach 15,000 trees recognized by a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication). With an annual production of about 200 tons, the industry is regaining its former dynamism.
What is the big difference?
The Menton lemon is very fragrant, juicy and rich in acids. Its skin is a major source of essential oil. But how does it really differ to classic lemons? It boasts an oval rather than round shape, as well as a finely granulated peel and a bright yellow color. When mature, it is harvested from the tree by hand and not treated. With an exceptionally mild climate, Menton is the perfect region to cultivate lemons. Unlike other species of lemon trees, it is also characterized by having many (around 15) fruits growing on each branch.
A well-deserved recognition!
In 2004, a few Menton citrus growers, supported by local elected officials, created the Association for the Promotion of Menton's Lemons (l’association pour la promotion du citron de Menton—APCM for its initials in French) to increase lemon production.
Since 2015 the Menton lemon enjoys a PGI, i.e. official recognition at European level, of its properties and quality. Certiﬁcation is based on strict specifications. It is the only French lemon that has obtained this label of excellence, and thus shares the laurels with the famous lemons of Syracuse, Sorrento and Amalfi, in Italy, among others.
The a super-charged rendez-vous
Since 1934, Menton has traditionally organized the Fête du Citron Lemon Festival. Each year, for almost three weeks, the city and its gardens host giant sculptures, elaborate patterns and meticulously detailed citrus ornaments to honor the precious golden fruit. To round off the magic and joy of this colorful celebration, shows, parades, concerts and exhibitions are planned in the streets of the city.
In all, 140 tons of citrus fruits, 8 km (5 miles) of garlands, 750,000 rubber bands (to tie the fruits up) and 20,000 hours of work are necessary to make this an unforgettable moment. A colossal job rewarded by a record attendance: each year, this carnival event attracts about 200,000 visitors.
The 87th edition, which will take place from February 15 to March 3 2020, pays tribute to the most beautiful festivities in the world. The 12 decorations made up of citrus fruits and the ten or so floats evoke the poetic Lantern Festival in China, the sumptuous Venice Carnival and the fascinating Festival of the Dead in Mexico.
There's a French saying: "Tout est bon dans le citron" ("All parts of the lemon are useful"). Those in the food world agree: chefs extract everything from this pretty citrus fruit, glossed in the bright color of the Côte d'Azur, in savory dishes and pastries. Pulp, juice, peel—anything can be used in cooking to make pasta, desserts, sauces, bread or even jam. Some of the most well-known sweet recipes around the world include lemon pie, mousse or soft cookies.
More original, Piedmontese Chef Luisa Delpiano-Inversi invented Menton's lemon ravioli—her recipe has stood out in gastronomic competitions. Without revealing what makes it a hit, here is a glimpse: the stuffing is made with cheese (ricotta and grana padano), zest and lemon juice, a handful of breadcrumbs and a seasoning the chef has kept secret. Since then, Delpiano-Inversi's love story with this magic lemon has continued. She is also the author of a recipe book and tips dedicated to the golden fruit. Bon appétit!