Heirloom Florida Citrus Set to Become America’s New Flavor
Entrepreneur revives calamondin cultivation for artisanal debut
Culinary trend watchers, take note: 2014 is the year of the calamondin. This delicate, labor-intensive citrus originated in China and enjoyed its heyday of Florida backyard culture and kitchen experimentation in the middle part of the last century. For one Florida entrepreneur, however, the fame of this diminutive fruit is poised to reach its sundrenched peak within the next three years. That’s when Dr. Laurie Gutstein’s newly expanded grove is set to bear fruit – and bear witness to a gourmet revolution. Luckily, retailers, wholesalers and consumers do not have to wait that long to get a taste of what some are calling “the American yuzu.”
Retail sales, sampling and mail order service is now available at the Calamondin Café in Fort Myers, Fla. This “virtual café” offers artisanal jam, coulis, sea salt, cakes and gluten-free goodies featuring the legendary flavor profile of the heritage fruit. The complexity of the calamondin features a distinct tartness, which is graced with a fragrant bitterness reminiscent of a fine digestif. Calamondin Café is the largest grower of toxin-free calamondin in the U.S. It does offer fresh fruit when available, though buyers must be aware of the labor required to process these seedy globes, scarcely larger than a marble. The calamondin are never picked, but rather, snipped, as the peel is so delicate that it easily tears, rendering the fruit unusable.
Most will find the intense flavor best serves their culinary needs when purchased in a more readily usable form. The experts at Calamondin Café can recommend myriad uses and recipes for the coulis – a smooth, concentrated fruit curd style puree that adds a blissful zing as a glaze for seafood, pork, chicken wings or tofu. Its sunny, golden color will beckon to cocktail hour guests when served with a fresh goat’s milk cheese and crackers.
The little fruit is so precious, nothing goes to waste. That thin peel, while notoriously persnickety, is nonetheless beautiful and flavorful. The fragrant oils within provide a pleasing backbone to all the products produced at the café. Gently dehydrated and generously sprinkled into the café’s signature sea salt blend, the peel makes an everyday meal shine. As Southwest Florida locals have discovered, it’s a wonderful addition to Gulf seafood.
During calamondin processing, the top of the fruit is cut off to allow for juicing and seed removal. Don’t think for a minute that those discs are thrown away. Instead, they’re candied to make a beautiful sweet/tart cake garnish, a gourmet addition to homemade ice cream, a delightful breath freshener or just an addictive treat.
Calamondin is personal to Dr. Gutstein, as it represents a family legacy. Twenty five years ago, her father relocated from New York to Florida and was treated to a taste of calamondin jam by a friend. He was so taken by the flavor he planted his own tree and took up the job of jam making. As often happens, modern life started to get in the way of this old fashioned pursuit – for dad, as well as many other calamondin enthusiasts.
A radiologist by training, Laurie decided the calamondin was simply too historically important and too intriguing a flavor to disappear from the culinary landscape. She said, “Over the years as backyard trees died off and busy schedules did not allow time to work with this labor intensive fruit, the taste was in danger of extinction. At Calamondin Café we have decided to revive traditional Florida calamondin delicacies and spread the sunshine.”
Gutstein and her crew have added trees every year, for a total of just under 400. Their grove on beautiful Pine Island is set to grow to more than double that size, when an order of 500 new trees arrives in May. With such exponential growth, the focus is to employ additional people, develop new recipes and finally give the calamondin its day in the sun. If the local reception is any indication, the time is now for retailers and wholesalers to get ahead of this tropical wave.
Calamondin Café was recently granted membership in the Specialty Food Association, and will have a booth at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City in June. The flagship coulis and the jam will be entries for the sofi™ awards, widely considered the Academy Awards of food.
Samples to media and industry available upon request