Citron de Menton Lemons
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Menton lemons are medium to large in size, averaging 5 to 9 centimeters in diameter, and have an elliptical shape with slightly tapered, pointed to blunt ends. The fruit's thick skin is lightly textured, taut, and firm, covered in prominent oil glands creating a pebbled, pocked texture. The skin also ripens from pale yellow with green tones to a bright, vibrant, almost fluorescent yellow, and some fruits may exhibit a few defects and marks from cultivation. Underneath the surface, there is a layer of white albedo with a fleshy, spongy, and slightly greasy feel. One of the unique characteristics of this variety is the lack of bitterness in the albedo. This layer has a sweet taste. The transparent to golden yellow flesh is divided into 8 to 9 segments by thin membranes and has an aqueous, tender, and succulent consistency. The flesh also encases a few cream-colored seeds. When choosing Menton lemons, look for fruits with leaves still attached as a sign of freshness. Menton lemons are full of essential oils in the skin, releasing an intense aroma with citronella nuances. The flesh has a sweet, mildly acidic, and tangy flavor.
Menton lemons are harvested in France as they ripen and can sometimes remain on the tree for over eight months. The fruits are generally picked in varying stages between December to June.
Menton lemons, botanically a part of the Citrus genus, are a rare French variety belonging to the Rutaceae family. The heirloom lemons have been cultivated in a small town in France since the 15th century and are traditionally grown using ancient methods to honor the history of the cultivar. Menton lemons are known as Le Citron de Menton in France, translating to the Lemons of Menton, and the variety is nicknamed the "four seasons fruit" for its ability to remain on the tree for extended periods. Ripe Menton lemons can be found on the tree simultaneously as flowers and green fruits and will change color as they ripen. In France, the trees are planted in terraced stone landscapes on the sides of cliffs, and the stone reservoirs warm the trees at night by absorbing the heat from sunlight during the day. Each tree also has the ability to produce up to fifteen fruits per branch, much higher than the average of five fruits for other lemon varieties. Menton lemons are hand-harvested when ripe, and the fruits are not coated in wax after picking to allow the lemons to remain as natural as possible. The variety was once one of the most popular lemons in France, but it eventually faded from production for several decades due to the lack of preservation. Currently, Menton lemons have experienced a revival in cultivation, reawakening the variety's reputation as a culinary delicacy.
Menton lemons are a source of fiber to regulate the digestive tract, magnesium to control optimal nerve functioning, and potassium to balance fluid levels within the body. The fruits also provide vitamin C to strengthen the immune system while reducing inflammation, iron to develop the protein hemoglobin for oxygen transport through the bloodstream, and other nutrients, including vitamin B6 and zinc. In addition to vitamins and minerals, one element in the oil, known as limonene, is believed to have antimicrobial and antioxidant-like properties to protect the cells against the damage caused by oxidative stress and free radicals.
Menton lemons are sweet, moderately acidic, and tangy, suited for fresh and cooked preparations. The variety is favored for its robust fragrance, and the juice and zest can be incorporated into baked goods and desserts. In Menton, France, the variety is famous for its use in lemon tarts, known as tarte au citron. Menton lemons are also infused into limoncello de Menton and are used to flavor cocktails, lemonades, and sparkling beverages. The lemon's moderate acidity allows it to be mixed into sauces, dressings, marinades, and olive oils, or the variety can be used as a layer with fish and meats as they are being cooked. Try Menton lemons in jams and jellies, or blend and freeze the juice into a refreshing sorbet. The lemons can also be used in any recipe calling for standard lemons and provide a pop of acidity in cooked and raw preparations. Beyond fresh dishes, Menton lemons are baked into cookies, bars, and candied treats in France, or they are utilized for their fragrance in cleaners, perfumes, soaps, and candles. Menton lemons pair well with nuts such as pine, almonds, pecans, and pistachios, meats including poultry, turkey, and fish, and herbs such as basil, rosemary, fennel, dill, and mint. Whole, unwashed Menton lemons will keep for 7 to 10 days at room temperature or for 3 to 4 weeks when stored in the refrigerator.
Residents of Menton share an unusual legend attributing the cultivation of citrus to Adam and Eve. It is said that when Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden, Eve took a lemon with her. Adam and Eve searched for a new home, but no place suited Eve. One day Adam and Eve arrived in the bay of Garavan in Menton and Eve was enamored with the picturesque landscape. Eve eventually planted her lemon in the Earth in Menton, establishing the region as a citrus paradise. In the modern day, Menton is nicknamed the "Pearl of France," as the small town is uniquely positioned near the coastal town of Nice and the Italian border. The town resides on steep mountainsides, creating a warm and protected microclimate with over 300 days of sunshine yearly. Menton has the warmest winter in the South of France, and even with their mild winter, they mark the end of the season with a festive citrus celebration. Lemons are celebrated in the Fete du Citron in Menton, translating to The Lemon Festival®. The annual festival spans over fifteen days and was established in 1934. From the end of February through the beginning of March, over 150 tons of citrus are imported from Spain and are used to decorate large statues, parade floats, and displays. The Fete du Citron is the second-largest winter event in the French Riviera, and the celebration attracts over 240,000 visitors annually. During the festival, day and night parades are held with live performances, confetti, and music, and visitors can wander through gardens to view themed floats covered in citrus. Menton lemons are not used in the displays, but unique Menton lemon commercial products from the region are sold during the festival. After the celebration, the citrus used in the floats and displays is auctioned at a Sunday market and used in jams, liqueurs, and other culinary goods.
Menton lemons are native to the town and commune of Menton in the Alpes-Maritimes department in France. Historically, Menton was known for producing fig trees, cereals, vines, and other products, but the first record of citrus cultivation did not occur until 1341. By the 15th century, Menton lemons were being grown in the commune, and the variety gradually increased in popularity, launching the Menton commune as a major citrus grower in France. In 1671, lemon production became so valuable in France that Prince Louis I established the Lemon Magistrate, a legislative text that regulated the lemon trade. This text listed commands for how growers present their fruits to the public and that all the lemons produced for commercial sale should be graded and of good quality. If any grower failed to comply with the constructed regulations, they could face the punishment of being hoisted into the air and dropped on the ground repeatedly until the sentence has been fulfilled. The peak of Menton lemon production occurred in the 18th century, and by the mid to late 19th century, the variety was being used by sailors to prevent scurvy and exported to other markets throughout Europe, including Germany, Russia, and England. At the end of the 19th century, Menton lemon production declined due to disease, the inability to expand the terraced orchards, and unfavorable weather. Production remained low for several decades until growers began to revive the variety in the 1980s. In the 1990s, around 5,000 trees were planted by the Chamber of Agriculture in Menton, and in 2004, the Association Pour La Promotion Du Citron De Menton, also known as the APCM, was created to protect and revitalize Menton lemon cultivation in Menton. The APCM eventually raised enough awareness of Menton lemons to receive a PGI or Protected Geographical Indication in 2015. Today Meton lemons labeled with PGI are only cultivated in five municipalities, including Sainte-Agnès, Castellar, Menton, Gorbio, and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, and must be grown within 7 kilometers of the coast and below 390 meters in elevation. The variety is still considered very rare as it is only grown on traditional orchard terraces, limiting the number of fruits that can be developed. It is estimated that there are around fifteen growers in the region that cultivar Menton lemons and approximately 200 tons are produced each year. Menton lemons are sold through fresh markets, directly through growers, and select retailers. The variety is also exported to markets in Europe.