The Vesuvian Apricot PGI (Albicocca Vesuviana IGP) is one of the best varieties of Italian apricots. It looks like a small round orangey yellow apple with a velvety surface, and has a slightly speckled surface similar to reddish freckles.
This apricot from Campania region, in Southern Italy, is particularly precious owing to its sweetness and the short season of just a few months in which this delightful fruit is available. Moreover, no greenhouse will ever give us the full flavour of a ripe apricot that has just been picked from the tree: nothing could be more representative of summer.
Apricots were apparently introduced to Italy by the Ancient Romans who brought them over from Greece. One of the first varieties to be cultivated on Italian soil still grows on the fertile slopes of Vesuvius, the active volcano dominating Naples. The presence of apricots is documented as far back as the 1st century AD in the writings of Pliny the Elder and in 1583 the Neapolitan scientist Gian Battista Porta describes the cultivation of this fruit distinguishing the Bericocche with their round shape and white flesh from the Chrisomele, with sugary yellow flesh. The latter term means 'golden apple' and, in Neapolitan dialect, "Crisommole" has become a synonym for apricot.
This same volcanic soil with its wealth of minerals and potassium helps develop the flavour of this apricot variety, which has enabled it to obtain PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status. In actual fact, the denomination of Vesuvian Apricot PGI covers about 100 ancient varieties, which are all autochthonous and grown in the area of the Vesuvius National Park. This part of Italy grows the largest volume of apricots in the country with its 2,000 hectares of apricot orchards, making Italy the number one producer of this fruit in the entire European Community.
Some of the names given to the different varieties are often quite funny but each one has different characteristics in terms of size, fragrance and taste. Two varieties in particular represent the opposite extremes when it comes to taste: the sweetness of the Pellecchiella on one hand and the sour aroma of the Vitillo variety.
Vesuvian Apricots PGI are so precious because their harvest lasts no more than 40/60 days. It starts from the first decade of June and goes on until the end of July for some varieties. It loves the heat and is able to withstand drought but suffers humidity, as in the case of late frosts.
In cold regions, apricot trees must be planted in sunny sheltered spots. They grow in all types of soil, even chalky ones. It is necessary to wait from 2 to 4 years to obtain a good harvest. The tree should be pruned with moderation in spring, followed by a light pruning in summer. No significant pesticide treatments are necessary to keep the plant healthy.
How to enjoy Albicocca Vesuviana IGP at its best
Most of the production is destined to be consumed as fresh fruit. By no means should apricots be kept in the fridge. They must be picked and left in a cool place until they are eaten. The purists do not wash them but just wipe them gently with a damp cloth.
Owing to their fragility, much of the production is processed as nectar and pulp. A smaller quantity is used to make jam, dried and candied fruit, and a very small amount is transformed into frozen products or preserved in syrup. Throughout Italy, it is a common practice to make home-made apricot jam, since many gardens, from north to south of the peninsular, grow apricots.
Pastry chef Alfonso Pepe has created a panettone filled with the Pellechiella variety, the queen of Vesuvian apricots. '"Apricotattura" is a term used in Italian pastry-making which takes its name from the apricot and consists in brushing the surface of a cake with apricot jam, as in the famous Sachertorte. Their slightly sour taste makes apricots perfect as a basic sauce ingredient for accompanying red meat. Even the kernel is used in pastry making in the form of an essence, because of its agreeably bitter taste.