Tardivo di Ciaculli Mandarins
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Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins are a small to medium-sized varietal, averaging 2 to 4 centimeters in diameter and 75 to 90 grams in weight, and have a spherical shape with a flat top and bottom with curved edges. The rind is thin, only about 0.3 centimeters thick, and has a smooth, pebbled texture created from the presence of numerous oil glands. The yellow-orange rind is also adhered to the flesh but is easy to peel, and the glands are rich in aromatic essential oils. Underneath the surface, the red-orange flesh is soft, aqueous, tender, and succulent, divided into 8 to 12 segments by thin membranes. The flesh is comprised of juice vesicles embedded with 2 to 12 pale green seeds and has a solid to hollow center. Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins release a robust, citrusy fragrance and have a high sugar content mixed with acidity, creating a primarily sweet, tangy, and bright taste.
Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins are available in the winter through early spring. The fruits generally ripen in the winter in January or February and can remain on the tree until March or April.
Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins, botanically classified as Citrus reticulata, are a rare Italian variety belonging to the Rutaceae family. The late-season mandarins grow on trees reaching three meters in height and are native to Sicily, where the variety is favored for its size, easy-to-peel nature, and flavor. Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins arrive in fresh markets when other mandarin varieties have ended their season, allowing for less competition, and the fruits are mostly grown using traditional, organic, and non-invasive methods, valued traits among consumers. Tardivo di Ciaculli translates to Late-Season Ciaculli mandarins and is also known as the Late Mandarin of Ciaculli, Marzuddu, Priminitvu, and Mandarino Tardivo di Ciaculli. Despite its historical prominence in Sicily, Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins are produced on a small scale and are a seasonal specialty citrus consumed in fresh and cooked preparations. The variety is protected and preserved by a consortium in Sicily, which regulates the mandarin's cultivation methods. Tardivo di Ciaculli trees begin bearing fruit 2 to 3 years after grafting on bitter orange or grapefruit rootstock and reach peak production in 4 to 5 years. The trees are cold hardy, and most of the cultivation of the variety is completed by hand rather than using machinery.
Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins are a source of fiber to regulate the digestive tract, vitamin C to strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation, and calcium to build strong bones. The fruits also provide beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A to maintain healthy organ functioning, potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, phosphorus to form bones and teeth, copper to develop connective tissues, and other nutrients, including vitamin E, zinc, manganese, magnesium, B vitamins, folate, and iron. Beyond vitamins and minerals, Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins contain essential oils that are extracted and utilized in various foods, perfumes, oils, and soaps.
Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins have a sugary, sweet taste suited for fresh and cooked preparations. The variety is primarily consumed straight out of hand and is favored for its juicy, soft, and succulent consistency. Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins can also be segmented and tossed into salads, stirred into parfaits, used as a fresh topping over breakfast dishes, or served on fruit platters. Try blending the mandarins into smoothies or extracting the juice and stirring it into cocktails, fruit punch, and other sparkling beverages. Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarin juice can also be used to flavor ice cream, gelato, or sorbetto, or it can be infused into chocolate. In Sicily, the mandarins are popularly simmered into jams, jellies, and marmalades, or the peel is candied and incorporated into panettone or colomba. Candied peels can also be consumed as a stand-alone treat or chopped and added to granola, baked into cookies, or mixed into grain bowls. Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins pair well with herbs such as mint, basil, and parsley, spices including cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, fruits such as strawberries, bananas, grapes, and melons, chocolate, vanilla, maple syrup, and fresh cream. Whole, unwashed Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins should be immediately consumed for the best quality and flavor. The fruits will keep for several weeks when stored in the refrigerator's crisper drawer.
Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins were once grown in the Conca d'Oro, a famous agricultural plain in Palermo known for its citrus groves. From the late-18th century to the mid-20th century, Conca d'Oro overflowed with expansive mandarin orchards and vast gardens divided by dry stone walls and sloping hillsides. The picturesque mandarin orchards filled the air with an intoxicating, citrusy-sweet fragrance, leading the region to become a popular destination for painters on their Grand Tours. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, it was common for young male aristocrats to travel throughout Europe on what was called a Grand Tour. The several-month journey allowed the gentlemen to acquire knowledge and an expanded worldview before they settled into their professions and lifelong careers. Grand Tours initially only included Rome, Venice, or Naples, and Sicily was mostly ignored until the late 18th century. The first man to recommend Sicily as a stop on a Grand Tour was Patrick Brydone, a Scottish writer who wrote the book entitled "A Tour through Sicily and Malta" in 1773. Brydone's book received immediate success and was translated into French and German, leading young European aristocrats to travel to Sicily. As more travelers arrived in Sicily, the scenic island became a painter and writer's paradise, and Conca d'Oro was transformed into a magical, romantic land, whimsically portrayed in various art. At the height of its fame, Conca d'Oro contained over 15,000 hectares of agricultural land filled with Tardivo di Ciaculli, but into the early 20th century, the region was destroyed through urbanization, loss of money, and changing populations. Over 80% of the orchards and agricultural land has disappeared from the region in the modern day, and Tardivo di Ciaculli is only grown in a small area, a shadow of what it once was.
Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins are native to Sicily, an island in southern Italy, and were discovered near Ciaculli, a hamlet or village outside of Palermo. The mandarin variety was found naturally growing as a spontaneous mutation in the 1940s of the Mandarino Avana, also known as the Havana or Avana mandarin, and was selected for commercial production for its flavor and aroma. Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins were once grown on a larger scale throughout Ciaculli, specifically in a famous region known as the Conca d'Oro, but over time, the agricultural region was destroyed, leaving only a small area that still grows the mandarin variety. In 1999, the Consorzio il Tardivo di Ciaculli was established to protect the dwindling production of Tardivo di Ciaculli, and the consortium also partnered with the organization Slow Food to promote and increase the variety's recognition. Today approximately 90 small to medium-sized farms are growing the variety, accounting for around 200 hectares of cultivation each year. Each farm is a part of the consortium, and they cultivate the mandarins under strict standards to ensure a consistent level of quality is being met. When in season, Tardivo di Ciaculli mandarins are sold through fresh markets in the coastal towns along the Tyrrhenian Sea on Sicily, especially in Palermo. Outside of Italy, the variety is available for home garden plantings through the Citrus Clonal Protection Program in Riverside, California, and through select growers in Australia.