Chinotto di Savona, a slow food presidium
Did you know that the chinotto di Savona is a slow food presidium? Not everyone knows it, and among the Ligurian gourmet souvenirs it is perhaps the least considered. Yet, the chinotto plant has an ancient history, it comes from afar and for centuries it has settled in Liguria, embellishing the territory with its special perfume.
In this article we will see in detail what chinotto is and how one of the most popular carbonated drinks in Italy was produced from a small fruit.
What is chinotto
Let’s start immediately by saying that chinotto is a citrus fruit that is part of the Rutaceae family. The tree can reach three meters in height, with straight branches and short branches, white and very beautiful flowers. Its Latin name is “Citrus myrtifolia”, because the leaves, small and leathery, recall those of the myrtle. According to the most widespread opinion, its origin derives from a mutation of the bitter orange, which over time has led to the plant we know today. Its name recalls China, from which it seems it was imported around the sixteenth-seventeenth century by merchants from Livorno or Savona. In addition to Liguria, its cultivation is practiced in Sicily, Calabria, Tuscany and the French Riviera.
In the past, chinotto was especially appreciated in pastry, where the fruits were used to produce candied fruit, jams and syrups. At the end of the nineteenth century, in particular, they were used to eat them together with alcoholic beverages in cafes, as aperitifs. Dipped in maraschino, for example, they were considered useful for digestion.
The cultivation of chinotto in Liguria
Once it arrived in Italy, the chinotto plant was intensively cultivated in Western Liguria. Currently the privileged territory is the coastal one, from Varazze to Finale, even if, over the years, a series of frosts has significantly reduced production. Currently, in the Savona area the cultivation of chinotto is entrusted to a few nurseries and botanical gardens that safeguard its conservation. Its small bitter fruits are arranged in clusters and have a very intense orange colour when ripe. The harvest takes place between September and November and the perfume that spreads from these fruits is very intense, a characteristic that makes them ideal for a long conservation.
The processing of chinotto
The processing of chinotto differs little from that of the past, complicated and with several steps. The fruits were put in brine, even in sea water, for three weeks. They then proceeded to eliminate the bitter peel, before immersing them again in brine. Once this phase was over, the fruits were boiled and treated in order to be placed on wooden barrels. At this point they were ready to be transported and traded elsewhere, in different regions of Italy and abroad.
The chinotto in Liguria
Chinotto has found, in Liguria, the ideal territory to perfect its organoleptic qualities. The first Ligurian candying laboratory was Silvestre-Allemand, which moved from France in 1877. The reasons for this move are to be found in the best territorial conditions, which make Liguria perfect for the production of this fruit. Furthermore, the variety of chinotto established in Western Liguria proved to be particularly suitable for processing, due to its small size and thick, fragrant, resistant and early ripening skin.
The use in pastry and the origin of the drink
Laboratories and factories specialized in candying were soon born in Liguria, in which French techniques were refined. To this end, the “Cooperative Society of Chinotti” was founded in Savona in 1880 to control the cultivation and processing of fruit.
Currently the chinotto is almost no longer adopted in pastry, except in the traditional Ligurian ones, precisely because of the difficulty in finding the fruits. On the other hand, the production of the carbonated drink of the same name is well known, the Italian answer to cola since the 1950s. From the American soft drink, however, it differs for the bitter taste and the unmistakable scent.
The Slow Food Presidium
Since 2004 the Chinotto di Savona has been a Slow Food presidium. The purpose of the association is to safeguard and enhance the cultivation of the plant, also relaunching the traditional production of candied fruit. The typicality of the chinotto is closely linked to the Ligurian territory. For this reason, and to avoid its extinction, the municipality of Quiliano has recently promoted the extensive cultivation of the Chinotto di Savona in the San Pietro Park (Carpignano).