Apart from being a citrus fruit, bergamot also has a mention in works of literature. It is mentioned in Proust’s ‘Recherche’, in Tomasi di Lampedusa’s ‘Gattopardo’ and in ‘Marianna Ucria’ by Dacia Maraini. The plant, a stumpy tree with dark leaves, has been well-known since the 1400’s. Its fragrance was once extracted manually from the skins which were squeezed up against large sponges which where then wrung out: today the extraction operations have been mechanised and the fragrance is also obtained from the flowers and from the branches.
There are various hypotheses concerning the name. Some have linked it to the Spanish town of Berga, and some have it derived from Pergamo, in Turkey. The truth will probably never be known, just as we shall probably never know how true the story is of the Moor from Spain who was said to have sold a branch in Reggio di Calabria for eighteen scudos, or the one which tells about the plant having American origins, having been brought to Europe by Columbus in person. The possibility, however, of the essence of bergamot being used for perfuming food and cosmetic products is both clear and tested. In international perfumeries, it has been in use for at least three centuries; since, that is, the water since known as Kölnischwasser (eau de Cologne) was patented in Cologne, also taking its name from this city. It was an Italian merchant, Giampaolo Feminis, who discovered the virtues of bergamot: passing Reggio di Calabria, he came across it in a garden. His heirs, the Farini of Germany, shared the extraordinary discovery with an industrialist, and it was the beginning of an era. In the XVIII century, the cultivation of bergamot spread over the whole of the area around Reggio. Currently, the area taken up with the cultivation of this citrus fruit is about one thousand five hundred hectares (three thousand seven hundred acres), distributed along the coastal road which goes from Villa San Giovanni to Roccella Jonica. One prized type of bergamot grows around the village of Pentadattilo: it is distinguished by a fleshier kind of fruit which is particularly rich in essential oils. The production of essence is around sixty tons per year, equal to about one hundred and twenty quintals (two hundred and forty hundred weights) of harvested fruit: a quantity which is insufficient in respect of that demanded by the industry. Measures aimed at revitalising the sector have been invoked by different parties, as has the request for recognition through the guarantee of a Denomination of Protected Origin definition.
The relative regulation, which has already been published by the Gazzetta Ufficiale (Official Gazzette), defines the zone of production, indicates the methods for the cultivation, harvesting and extraction of the “essential” oil and specifies the characteristics: the liquid should be clear, the colour between green and yellow-green, the fragrance "characteristic, fresh, recalling that of the pericarp of the bergamot". The logo portrays the bergamot fruit on a profile of the region of Calabria.
Its use is limited by its acidic taste (it is used more for giving flavour to liqueurs and tea). In the past, in France, an effort was made to characterise certain biscuits with it, and there was talk of some madeleine cakes having been offered to the king of Poland, Stanislao Leszczynsky, at a lunch with Louis XV. Today, there are only a type of sweet and the ‘pazientino’ biscuit, which is produced in a few places in Piedmont.