Limonio, a Sicilian story
The life of a family, the experience of a few closely connected individuals, can mirror larger phenomena, the developments of a global history. It is this correspondence that the most attentive observer perceives in the history of a company like Limonio, a century-old mosaic made of entrepreneurial skills and agronomic culture, but also passion, childhood memories, and the rich perfumes of a captivating island.
From the production of citrus fruit and the harvesting of blossoms from which, through ancient techniques, precious essential oils can be obtained to be used in cosmetic, pharmaceutical and confectionery preparations, until the turning point of Limoncello in the 1990s (the first to be produced directly in Sicily), the Russo family has transformed its company without relinquishing its spirit, drawing on the intuitions brought by the kind of experience that only daily work in the fields, generation after generation, can teach.
“Everything we know today – according to Giusy and Rita who together with their siblings Valeria and Vincenzo, are the Russo’s fourth generation at the helm of the family company – we owe to our father who, since we were young, took us to the estate whenever he could”.
And it is here, in this mental image inspired by the memory and the vivid colours of the family’s 50 hectares of land, that we can easily picture father Francesco wandering around the citrus orchards as his children do today, collecting cratefuls of precious fruit that where already in such high demand, particularly in the nations of the Eastern Bloc; crates that, once the Soviet Union collapsed, would turn into bottles of liquor.
Limonio’s range of liqueurs, which today includes 10 offerings, is made with nothing but Palermo ‘s finest and most prized produce – lemons, oranges, mandarins, mulberries, prickly pears and laurel, all farmed organically in the family’s estate of Partinico, and ingredients such as coffee, cocoa and cinnamon all sourced from a small number of carefully selected producers. Together with the company’s olive oil and its famous Amaro, the overall production serves as many as 26 countries, many of which are non EU countries such as the United States, Japan, Singapore, South Africa and Russia.
One family, four generations
Sicily’s twentieth century, summarised by Tomasi da Lampedusa’s famous saying “everything must change so that nothing changes”, does not (and must not) necessarily be viewed in a negative light. This is the secret of tradition: the strength to move from one generation to the next intercepting, on the one hand, the spirit of the times and, on the other, remaining faithful to one’s original vocation. This is exactly the path chosen by the Russo family in the course of the so-called Short Century.
This story begins with great-grandfather Francesco and the sale of fresh citrus fruit. With grandfather Vincenzo the company went on to specialize in the harvesting of citrus blossom and the extraction of essential oils to be used by the cosmetics industry to manufacture perfumes, but also in confectionery and pharmaceutics. An oil of extraordinary purity, the production of which required tons of fruit but, once extracted, could be used as a basis of an infinite number of preparations.
History, however, teaches us that nothing lasts forever.
Limonio, forced to diversify after the Second World War while maintaining its focus on the sale of fresh citrus fruit, stayed true to its own agricultural identity. Thus, the second generation of the Russo family company with grandfather Vincenzo at the helm, was able to find a new enthusiastic market for its Made in Sicily products, that of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Bloc, a special rapport which flourished until the collapse of the USSR at the end of the 1980s.
Once again the Russo family, represented in this delicate conjuncture by Francesco, had to forge a new destiny for their company. So, in the 1990s, they became pioneers of a production that soon spread to the entire island, establishing Sicily as a reference point for the making of a widely popular drink: limoncello.
Today, Francesco’s four children – Rita, Giusy, Valeria and Vincenzo – have become the custodians of a 100 year-old history but they are not alone, as the family can still rely on Limonio’s most ancient lemon trees in their orchards in the countryside of Partinico, several of them are almost 150 years old.