NEROLI ESSENTIAL OIL
A TREASURE IN ITALIAN RIVIERA
At the insistence of the 24 year old grandson, the Guglielmi family has re-started harvesting their prized orange blossoms two generations after the family patriarch was forced to shut down the operation in order. Now Pietro and family are producing what Slow Food has dubbed a Ligurian delicacy: Bitter Orange Blossom Water and Essential oil.
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An ancient distillery
One of these secret treasures in the Riviera dei Fiori is an ancient distillery where the producers grow flowers and herbs to extract precious essential oils, continuing the family tradition from the eighteen century. Vallebona, in the province of Imperia, is one of the small, narrow Ligurian valleys that climbs from the sea up into the mountains. Here it looks like time has stopped; it’s a pleasant, green valley, spotted with orange trees, olives groves, aromatic plants and small palms.
Until a few decades ago, these were planted with citrus trees, particularly bitter oranges, as well as roses and aromatic herbs like lavender, thyme and rosemary. This corner of Italy is not that far from the French perfume capital of Grasse, after all, and, like other towns close to the border, Vallebona has a long tradition of distilling perfumed waters and essential oils for cosmetics. This is the tradition Pietro Guglielmi comes from dating back to the end of 1700.
Pietro’s Dream of Orange Blossoms
In 2004, a young member of Guglielmi family, Pietro, decided to reopen the historic distillery and restart production of bitter orange flower water and other oils and essences. He also decided to revive the cultivation of the trees, and immediately started replanting bitter oranges. In just a few years, he had over 150 trees, which are just entering full production. The distillation no longer takes place in copper alembics, but instead uses a current of steam.
The flowers do not come into direct contact with boiling water, meaning the procedure is more delicate. Steam enters the base of the extraction vessel and rises to the top, passing through the mass of flowers. When it reaches the top, the steam is conveyed into a Florentine flask, where the actual distillation occurs. Pietro takes an ancient “Florentin alembic” , precious because nobody produces it any more. In the Florentine flask the flower water rises to the top and separates from the essential oil, which settles in the bottom of the flask. The oil, known as neroli, highly prized in the cosmetics industry. It takes a ton of flowers to extract just one kilo of oil. Usually around two liters of flower water are obtained from each kilo of distilled flowers.
Articles first published in La Repubblica Milano, 16 September 2015 and Slowfood Fondation
Special products- Limited edition
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Neroli Essential Oil is steam distilled from the flowering blossoms of the orange trees, Citrus aurantium, which have a beautiful slightly citrusyaroma. This essential Oil is intensely floral, sweet and exotic.
The aroma of Neroli Essential oil has a greatly relaxing effect on the body and mind. Itis very helpful restoring feelings of well being and has a wonderful rejuvenating and regenerative effect on the skin and more.
Neroli Essential Oil is also known as ‘orange blossom’ and it takes about 1000 lbs. of orange blossoms to make 1 lb. of Neroli oil. The name is said to have originated from the Italian princess, Anne-Marie de la Tremoille (Countess of Nerola), in Italy, who used the oil as a perfume and to scent her bathwater and gloves. It is still an ingredient for making traditional smelling eau-de-cologne.
Orange petals are often associated with marriage, purity and brides, as brides traditionally wore orange buds in their hair.