The only clementine produced in France, Corsican clementines are tiny, brightly colored fruits that come in a fiery shade of orange that is impossible to replicate elsewhere. They are delicately acidic, with a thin skin and seedless, juicy flesh, and are always sold with their long thin green leaves still attached, which serve as a mark of their freshness, as they should be eaten within five days of being picked.
The Corsican clementine has benefited from protected geographic indication (PGI) status since 2007, but the history of the clementine and Corsica dates back much longer than that.
The production of citrus fruits is an ancient agricultural activity for this Mediterranean island region, located off the southeastern coast between France and Italy. It was during the Roman era in the first century that the first citrus fruits were harvested on this island, although clementines would not be produced here until later. Although the exact details of its origin remain somewhat obscure, it is universally recognized that a French priest, Frère Clément, for whom the fruit bears the name, was the first to cross the species of mandarin and regular oranges, thus creating the clementine sometime around 1900 in Algeria.
It did not take long for the clementine to make its way to Corsica, which has near perfect growing conditions for this fruit, where it was first planted around 1925. In the early years, the production was limited to just a handful of trees, but today clementines from Corsica make up nearly 100% of France’s annual production.
In order for a clementine to benefit from PGI status, the farmers must respect strict, time-tested traditional methods of growing the fruits, which include the obligation that they be picked by hand and undergo no coloring treatment. Today the clementines are intricately linked to their place of production, and are impossible to cultivate anywhere else. The cool nights of Corsica transforms the chlorophyll of the plants into a fiery orange color that is impossible to replicate, while the maritime climate prevents freezing and allows the fruit to ripen at its own pace.