The beguiling citrus fruit bergamot
Fresh fish on the plate, grilled, fried or steamed. Above it the juice of a fresh bergamot.
The beguiling aroma of bergamot over fresh fish says it all, and with that we could actually end this article from the series Pleasure with History.
Anyone who has tasted this combination can understand why bergamot is called the gold of Calabria.
Bergamot, while not quite as rare as gold, is difficult to find at a fruit merchant outside of Italy, even during the harvest season from November to April.
GloriousMe wants to inspire you to look for it.
The citrus plant of bergamot is a hybrid of bitter orange, lemon and sweet lime. The fruit shape of bergamot is slightly rounder than that of lemon. When ripe and then yellow in color, bergamot is easily mistaken for a lemon at first glance.
The aroma of bergamot is usually a little sweeter and more complex than the taste of natural lemon.
From 4711 from Cologne to Eau Sauvage by Dior
The complexity of the fragrance of bergamot has made it famous. We all know the scent, which is part of many perfume compositions. 4711, the famous cologne, and Dior’s classic cult perfume Eau Sauvage both contain the fragrance component of bergamot, as do over 2000 other perfumes.
Bergamots are also grown in countries such as Argentina, Greece and the Ivory Coast. However, 95 percent of the high-quality bergamot oil comes from Calabria, Italy.
The local climate, soils and centuries of tradition and experience in growing bergamots at the tip of Italy’s boot contribute to the excellent quality of the local bergamots.
Plantation of bergamot fruit in Calabria © Alan Burles / Alamy Stock Photo
Louis XIV appreciated Aqua Admirabilis
Even the French royal court under King Louis XIV appreciated the scent of bergamot. The essential oil of the bergamot peel was the main fragrance component in an eau de toilette with the beautiful name Aqua Admirabilis, which was popularly used at court.
The sparkling fragrance has a fresh and mood-lifting effect and is therefore often used as a top note in perfume compositions.
Only rarely is the essential oil of bergamot actually used in perfume for this purpose. About 200 kilograms of fruit, harvested by hand, are necessary to produce one liter of bergamot essential oil.
Most perfumes contain the synthetic fragrance component bergamot, which is far cheaper to produce.
An earthquake and the synthetic fragrance made it difficult for the bergamot
The devastating Messina earthquake destroyed many parts of Calabria in 1908. This event, as well as the development of the fragrance component in the laboratory, are described by the current consortium of the mountain moth industry, the Consorzio di Tutelage del Bergamotto di Regio di Calabria, as drastic events that led to a sharp decline in the cultivation of bergamots in Calabria.
The persistence of some bergamot growers, negotiating skills and good lobbying led to a renaissance of the bergamot.
Since 2001, the production of essential oil of bergamot in Calabria has the protected designation of origin D.O.P. with which regional products and the processes of their processing are distinguished and protected. Parmigiano Reggiano, for example, enjoys the same protection.
Dior even names the place in Calabria, San Carlo, where the bergamot plantations are located that provide the oil for the classic cult perfume Eau Sauvage.
Only a relatively small part of Calabria’s bergamot harvest is not used for the perfume industry and can be used in cooking and baking for culinary pleasure. Even natural lemons are not easy to find at most fruit stands – bergamot is a rare commodity outside of Italy.
Like a food scout, we are always on the lookout for bergamots when we shop. Often there are only a few copies that are offered. Hardly anyone asks about it.
Once you’ve tasted bergamot, you immediately recognize the difference from other citrus fruits and, like a gold prospector on the Klondike River once was, you’re happy to have found it.
If the search was unsuccessful, you might console yourself with a well-kept cup of Earl Grey tea. A high quality Earl Grey tea is flavored with natural bergamot oil.
While in the case of perfume it is not so easy to distinguish the natural substance from the synthetic fragrance, the sometimes almost intrusive bergamot flavor in one or the other Earl Grey tea variety is due to inferior synthetic aroma substances.
Off to Calabria
Perhaps a vacation will take you to Calabria, then you can enjoy many dishes or baked goods with the fresh juice or zest of bergamots during the harvest season locally.
A foretaste of it provides until the trip ARTE with a film about the bergamot from the series European culinary art – At the table.
Legend has it that King Louis XIV was enthralled by the Sicilian pastry chef Procopio, who worked with bergamots at the royal court, and he eventually treated guests to culinary delights at the famous Parisian restaurant Le Procope, including a bergamot sorbet.
You can still find Café Le Procope in Paris today. However, the sorbet is now made with green limes. We therefore recommend the trip to Calabria for the real taste.
The wonderful Steirereck restaurant in Vienna, which shares our passion for citrus, enjoys the great privilege of being able to source citrus fruits, including bergamots, from the Schönbrunn Palace Orangery.
Stills / Photography © GloriousMe