Good Things 1: Amalfi lemons & cakes

An occasional series designed to celebrate excellence in and around the Costiera Amalfitana, whether in food, wine, crafts or services.

Pasticceria Pansa, Amalfi

Pasticceria Pansa, Amalfi

Order a green salad in Italy, and chances are the waiter will ask ‘aceto o limone’? In other words, ‘Would you like a vinegar or a lemon dressing’? So when you discover that the best lemons in Amalfi are grown by a man called Salvatore Aceto, you might be excused for suspecting a leg-pull.

Salvatore is the seventh generation of the Aceto family to tend lemons in Amalfi, on steep dry-stone-walled terraces, or macerine, some of which date back as far as the eleventh century. The lemons on the Acetos’ La Valle dei Mulini farm are mostly the famous, fragrant, thick-skinned sfusato variety, packed with vitamin C and essential oils, and so sweet that they can be eaten raw in salads or desserts.

The unique landscape created by the macerine was an important factor in UNESCO’s 1997 recognition of the Amalfi Coast as a World Heritage Site. For Aceto, however, the way one cultivates and cares for the lemons is as important as the preservation of the terraces, if the area is to maintain its reputation for unadulterated, genuine produce. “We’re not only organic”, he explains, “we also try to maintain the old sustainable traditions of agriculture – keeping beehives, for example, allows us not only to make delicious honey, but to ensure natural pollination of the trees, while the willow trees you see in among the lemons provide shade but also a renewable, non-synthetic source of stakes and ties”.

One of the few concessions to modernity on the Aceto lemon farm is a mechanical zip-line to send the harvested lemons down to the main storeroom. But this only reaches parts of the property, and there’s still a lot of legwork involved. “You build up strong calf muscles in this job”, laughs Aceto.

Down in Amalfi’s main square, lemons are one of the key ingredients of the town’s most highly-regarded pasticceria or cake shop. Inaugurated in 1830 at the foot of the steps that sweep up to the Duomo, Pansa - pictured above – is another historic family-run business (here they’re currently into the sixth generation). They have their own lemon groves above the town, where 40-year-old Andrea Pansa personally selects the fruit that will go into one of the shop’s specialities, scorza di limone, or candied lemon peel. The result of a two-week softening and sugar-syrup macerating process, this comes in two versions, straight up, or half-dipped in dark chocolate; they also do candied orange, mandarin, citron and ginger.

In this breathtakingly beautiful but heavily touristed town, it’s heartening to find a place that takes quality so seriously. Ingredients such as Sicilian pistacchios from Bronte, Piedmontese ‘Tondo Gentile’ hazelnuts and Valhrona chocolate go into their famed ice-cream, while their meltingly delicious sfogliatelle use only fresh ricotta from the dairy farms of Tramonti, high above the Costiera.

La Valle dei Mulini (Aceto lemon farm), Via delle Cartiere 55-57, 84011 Amalfi, tel +39 089 873 211, www.amalfilemon.it. Lemon tours of the farm are organised on Tuesdays and Saturdays from April to October; for details see the website.

Pasticceria Pansa, Piazza Duomo 40, 84011 Amalfi, tel +39 089 871 065, www. pasticceriapansa.it.