Salvatore has six daughters. Together, they run their family grove just outside Palagonia, in the Sicilian province of Catania, which is widely celebrated for the quality of its oranges. Here, the groves are terraced high into the hills, following the land up impossible inclines; everywhere you look is studded with citrus. From a distance, you can’t tell one orange from the next - unless of course, you are Salvatore.
Salvatore and his family not only take care of their own citrus trees but also supplement their harvest by selecting the best oranges from the surrounding area. Before the season begins, Salvatore and his eldest daughter, Maria, meet with local growers and visit their groves. Even though the fruit is still entirely green in the trees, they carefully check the leaves, the soil, the rootstock, and the exposure to sunlight of the trees. With years of experience behind them, they know which oranges will taste best at their peak on appearance alone.
On his own grove, Salvatore studies a tarocco orange and, through its green streaks, can tell you when it’ll be ripe to the day - and he won’t pick it before then. In some, this level of attention to detail could seem dispassionate. In Salvatore, however, his unwavering dedication to the quality of his fruit is expressed in heartfelt bursts. The way he cares about his grove is neither calculated nor mathematical; instead, he speaks candidly about the day-to-day difficulties of holding himself to such high standards.
Salvatore’s daughters display a similar combination of warmth and tenacity. Devoted to the fruit they have grown up with, they talk all at once and fast, burning to tell you what makes their oranges unique. It’s not just the microclimate in this specific area that’s special. It’s the precise exposition of the grove, it’s the way they individually wrap the trees to protect them from the wind, it’s the fact that they prune the trees twice a year by hand, it’s the care that goes into nurturing the soil. Most of all, it’s their father. They explain that throughout autumn and winter, Salvatore checks his orange grove continually for drooping leaves or fungus; the trees’ rootstock is particularly sensitive to humidity so the grove must be monitored carefully and watered only as and when the trees need it.
Although the fluctuations in temperature throughout the winter months in this region are crucial to the fruits’ pigmentation, it is Salvatore’s family philosophy that makes his oranges stand out. We discovered them at the market in Milan almost 10 years ago, when Salvatore and his brother ran the grove together. Even then we knew they were second to none. Now, surrounded by his daughters, we know that Salvatore’s commitment to his land and to quality will lead to a consistent fruit with a perfect balance of acidity.