The lemon of Menton, recognised at the highest level

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Finally! Ten years after creating the APCM (Association for the Promotion of Menton lemon) to gain recognition for the Lemon of Menton, the famous golden fruit that is the emblem of Menton has just received protected geographical indication (PGI) status from the European Union. This is the result of long labours, and opens good economic prospects.

A little history: At the start of the year 2000, the new French Riviera conurbation community (CARF), then chaired by Jean-claude Guibal, deputy mayor of Menton, decided to resume production of the “Citron de Menton”. In the citrus town itself, of course, but also in the municipalities of the Menton region (Roquebrune-Cap Martin, castellar, Gorbio, Sainte-Agnès). The idea is simple, at least on paper: to defend local identity agriculture, organise production, and promote citrus through a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI, based on the principle of other famous local products such as Espelette pepper). Under the auspices of the CARF and Menton Initiative Riviera (former ADERF, the economic development association), an association is created. This is a prerequisite for applying for a PGI. The “Association pour la Promotion du Citron de Menton” (APCM) was born in 2004.

Ten years later, and after numerous efforts to prepare the application, with “moments of discouragement”, by the chairman Bernard Franco’s own admission, the APCM was finally notified of the European Union’s valuable decision issuing the PGI to the Lemon of Menton. Such excellent news had been expected for six months, after a successful first step in the spring when the application was accepted by France. The final step depended on the Commission in Brussels, who ruled favourably. Upon hearing this announcement, reactions were unanimous in applauding the work of the APCM and its two successive chairmen, star chef Joël Garault and Bernard Franco, with the support of members of the association under the leadership of Cédrick Hérisson.

Mayor Jean-Claude Guibal, current chairman of the CARF responsible for economic development, also commended them, reminding us that “The Lemon of Menton has a history, it is an integral part of the town which, thanks to it, experienced its first golden age. This economy must be resumed alongside two other waves of economic development: tourism and the digital economy.” For the mayor of Menton, the PGI will not only add structure to the sector and solidify its production, but also organise the industry in line with the specifications which truly recognise the Lemon of Menton’s specific qualities.

Jean-Claude Guibal has also set the course for the future of the sector, which can only assert itself with the support of a professional, solid task force. Indeed, although “the golden fruit has a very strong appeal”, it is not a reason to take the easy option: “With the relevant municipalities whose names invoke the image, we must now make Menton lemon into a high-end product, because that is what is required in this fiercely competitive global sector (Italy, Spain and Portugal also have a PGI for their lemons). As such, we must have a well-functioning marketing approach within a specialized structure, to reflect on image, packaging and derivatives”
This shows that the new generation Lemon of Menton venture is in its early stages!

Production to be organised with the town

“Menton will be surrounded by lemon trees once again.” Jean-Claude Guibal, recalling how Menton’s etymology led it to be known for a long time as “the rock of lemons”, referred to the citrus fruit’s glorious past. Its glowing reputation was enjoyed until the 18th Century, when the “golden fruit” trade provided an income for the whole town, and production was exported worldwide to combat scurvy or light up the tables of the rich. After citrus-growing ended in 1956 and was resumed by the municipality in 1992, obtaining the PGI in 2015 was a key step in the new life of the Lemon of Menton. However, as well as being organised by players in the industry, this production revival can only be sustained through government intervention.

This must start with town halls, at the local urban planning (PLU) definition stage. Menton’s local urban plan, which is expected to be completed next year, already takes the role of lemon into account: “Agricultural land unsuitable for construction will be devoted to sustainable, identity agriculture”, the Mayor announced. Menton, which is already an advisory member on this basis, has just voted in favour of a decision to join the APCM as producers with voting rights. Indeed, the town is itself produces lemon, at the Casetta citrus nursery and in the gardens of the Palais de Carnolès.

What is the Lemon of Menton?

The PGI that the Menton Lemon enjoys is based on strict specifications developed by the APCM with the support of the INAO(National Institute of Origin and Quality). To obtain the right to display the label, which is a guarantee of quality and responsibility, producers must comply with the following specifications. Size of trees, plot maintenance and irrigation, tree planting, growing techniques, climatic conditions to soil altitude, and of course seed certification (by the INRA, Corsica)…

The numerous obligations can be explained by the APCM, which organises informative and training meetings with its producing members. All this serves to offer to the public the authentic “Lemon of Menton”, recognised by the greatest starred chefs for its unique taste quality and softness!

photographie © Ville de Menton