The Almond in Sicily
The almond cultivation has characterised the Sicilian agricultural landscape for centuries, creating wonderful views. Its enchanting white and fragrant flowers announce the arrival of spring.
Originally from Central Asia, the almond arrived in Sicily with the Greeks; it is not by chance that among the Romans it was known as "Greek walnut".
This cultivation in the island covers 48 thousand hectares of land, with a production of about 600,000 quintals, focused in particular on the territory of Agrigento and the Val di Noto, between the provinces of Syracuse and Ragusa (the sunniest ones in Italy).
According to the Homeric myth, this tree was born from a moving and unlucky love story: that between Fillis, princess of Thrace, and Acamante, a Greek hero engaged in the war against Troy. Not seeing him return from the war and believing him dead, Fillide let herself die. The goddess Athena had compassion on her, and turned her into a beautiful almond tree; Acamante, however, was not dead and knowing that Fillis had been transformed into a tree, embraced the plant that replied to the caresses with flowers instead of leaves. Even today, the embrace between the two lovers is visible in springtime, when the branches of the almond trees bloom to witness their eternal love.
Sicily boasts 80% of the national production and the best quality almonds in the world. Until the 1960s the province of Agrigento was the major national producer of almonds: in the Park of the Temples Valley there are still today about 300 local varieties of almond trees. In the famous City of the Temples, every year, the characteristic Festival of Almond Blossom takes place, one of the most important, long-lived and followed events in the Sicilian panorama.
For over a century, it has become the queen of the gastronomic tradition and appreciated outside Sicily; the almond of Avola is considered one of the best almond in Italy too.
With the aim at protecting these precious Sicilian productions, in 2010 the Coordinamento Regionale delle aziende siciliane della filiera mandorlicola (lit. Regional Coordination of Sicilian companies of almond chain) was founded, on the initiative of the Avola Almond Consortium and the Almond Association of Agrigento.
The almond of Avola is one of the best and most famous Italian almonds, which has found its ideal habitat in the Val di Noto, where the finest varieties of this tree are grown.
The almond of Avola includes three main cultivars (varieties): Pizzuta, Fascionello and Romana or Corrente d'Avola.
La Pizzuta, defined by Sciascia "a perfect oval", is the undisputed queen of the highest quality confectionery and pastry. Its shell is hard, smooth, with small pores and a pointed end. The Fascionello, slightly sweeter and fatter, has a more rounded and pointed shape than Pizzuta, and softer consistency. The Romana (which takes its name from the Romano Avola family) or Corrente d'Avola is triangular and irregular in shape and, often, there are two twins inside its shell. Like the Fascionello it is great for pastry uses.
The three varieties, protected by a Consortium under the "Avola almond" brand registered in 2006, are an excellent product thanks to their organoleptic qualities and nutritional properties, which distinguish them from other almonds on the market. The Almond of Avola is a "wealth of health": it contains a high content of unsaturated fatty acids, polyphenols, vitamin E, magnesium, calcium and vegetable proteins; it is also a natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, precious diet supplement, rich in nutrients. It’s generally recommended consuming from three to six Avola Almonds a day.
Very sought after in the confectionery industry, its inimitable flavor makes the granitas superb, its almond milk refined and its candies exquisite.
Thanks to the climatic conditions of the production area, the Avola Almond blooms between the end of December and the beginning of January, about 2 months before the other almonds of Sicily or Puglia. The longer period of maturation makes these fruits richer in nutritional and organoleptic properties, while the very hard shells prevent them from being attacked by fungi and pests.
Almonds are harvested between the end of July and the beginning of September. It is a predominantly manual activity, facilitated by a beating, traditionally practiced using reeds and poles. After harvesting, the almonds are deprived of the husk and left to dry in the sun for 3-5 days. Then, the product comes to the processing plants, where it is subjected to the operations of: shelling, separation of the shells from the seeds, manual selection and peeling.