Limoncello conditions turn sour

17 November, 2022

Climate change and economic challenges are taking their toll on production of Italy's favourite digestif.

Limoncello is one of the most popular Italian liqueurs on the market. Its history dates back around 100 years and today it’s one of Europe’s most common after-dinner digestifs. Its origins remain under some dispute, debated by brands from the Amalfi Coast, the island of Capri and Sorrento, among others.

Regardless of who’s right or wrong, what is for sure is that traditional limoncello originates from southern Italy, using two varieties of lemon – Sorrento and Sfusato. The latter were introduced thousands of years ago by sailors from the Middle East and the fruit thrived under the Mediterranean climate to not only reach unexpected size, but also help cure the travelling Arabs’ scurvy.

While it’s correct there is no overriding GI for limoncello, meaning the liqueur can be made all around the world from California to South Africa, there are in fact two sub-sections protected by European law – Liquore di Limone della Costa d’Amalfi and Liquore di Limone di Sorrento Italy, which were both introduced in 2008. As well as production areas, the biggest differences between the denominations is the eligible fruit. The first stipulates that only Sfusato Amalfitano lemons can be used in production, while the latter allows for up to 15% of other varieties.

Today however, a changing climate and increased demand is putting pressure on traditional limoncello producers to supply the goods. This rise in demand has not only come from a thirst for limoncello, but from consumers over the past couple of years using PGI lemons to boost their immune systems – a psychological effect of the pandemic after people witnessed infection rates boom around the world. The global inflation which has hit the world like a secondary economic wave of the pandemic, is also making things tricky.

In a report by Fresh Plaza in May 2020, Salvo Magliocco, vice-president of Pasam Agrumi, producer of PGI lemons in Sicily, says: “Lemon prices have been rather high over the past five years due to the lively demand, especially for PGI lemons from Sicily.

“Covid-19 pushed demand further as consumers started looking for products rich in vitamin C. Some countries (such as Turkey) even used fresh lemon juice as a natural disinfectant. After all, while lemons cannot protect us against the coronavirus, they definitely contribute to boosting our immune system.”

In a separate report by Fresh Plaza, Salvatore Leonardi, sales manager of Sicilian company Natural Succhi, says: “The next citrus campaign can expect 30% lower volumes, depending on the areas more or less affected by the malaise and prolonged drought in May/ June, which caused fruit drop even in new citrus plantings, from which higher volume yields were expected. Even in August, unlike in other areas, not a single drop of water fell. In other areas of the Catania area, on the contrary, before mid-August (15 August), due to hailstorms and incessant rains, there was extensive damage to peach and pear plantings in Etna. This proves that climate change puts agriculture in check in an unpredictable way.”

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