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Friday, September 7th, 2012

Valencia orange blossom

Valencian OrangesThe region around and in particular south of Valencia, all the way to Murcia and beyond, is synonymous with the cultivation of oranges. The most important orange-growing region in Europe, it is also the iconic home of the famous Spanish orange.

Brazil and the US may actually produce more oranges than Spain these days, but within Europe the ubiquitous fruit is still firmly associated with Spain and its sunny climate. Known in many languages as the ‘Spanish apple’, Citrus sinensus is thought to have originated in the tropical climate of South East Asia and to have been in cultivation in China by the third millennium BC.

Developed from the cross-cultivation of the pomelo and the mandarin, the sweet orange is also perfectly suited to the Mediterranean climate, and is thought to have reached these parts in medieval times. The orange tree certainly took root in Iberian soil and before long had become so entrenched that it is now a part of Spanish iconography.

Where the regions of Seville and Huelva became known for their bitter oranges, as used in the making of marmalade, the region of Valencia was to become famous for its sweet oranges and mandarins. The majority of the country’s 80,000 hectares dedicated to the fruit are to be found in this region, where the dark green leaves of endless orange groves line the valleys and stretch far into the distance.

The little town of Nules has even given its name to an important variety of Clementine, while the Valencia orange has its origins in California but was named in deference to the city’s unique association with this foodstuff. Though production soon spread to other parts of the world, Spain was by the 19th century the most important exporter in Europe, eventually developing a huge industry that was centred in Valencia and sent much-needed vitamin C to other countries throughout Europe.

Oranges in ValenciaThe medicinal importance of the orange was recognised in countries such as Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, with their long, dark winters devoid of sunlight. As a result, oranges and mandarins became an important delicacy for generations of children, a treat enjoyed above all at Christmas. The majority of the fruit consumed in this way in Central and Northern Europe not only came from the eastern region of Spain, but was shipped from Valencia as well as a host of smaller ports along the coast.

As a family business, Rimontgó traces its own roots to the orange-exporting business founded in Jávea at the beginning of the 20th century. With Britain as the principal market, it was to form the basis of a thriving business well beyond the Spanish Civil War, the iconic purple paper into which individual oranges were wrapped proving to be a powerful brand that still resonates with the generations that were growing up then. The link first established by oranges between this region of Spain and Northern Europe would later be revived when foreign tourists began to visit and later settle along the Bay of Jávea – with Rimontgó as a common link throughout.

 

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