he 12 tons of bitter oranges harvested from Monaco’s streets in early February have been washed, peeled and juiced, but, much like in the principality itself, space is still at a premium inside La Distillerie de Monaco. A dozen or so waist-high stainless steel fermenting tanks crowd around the four-metre high copper still, the first vintage of Philip Culazzo’s small-batch eau de vie which has been ageing for 30 months.
“Come smell it,” he says, beckoning me over to one he has opened. “That’s the essence of pure, distilled orange right there.”
Before the fast cars and gleaming motor yachts, citrus trees were synonymous with Monaco. “Agriculture was the lifeblood of the local economy,” Culazzo says. That was until the mid-19th century when the ruling Grimaldi family ceded 95 per cent of its territory to its French neighbours. Today, if you look closely enough around the two square kilometres that remain, there are still tokens of this heritage: including the 600 bitter orange trees whose annual harvest was previously destined for almost wholesale incineration.
When the government issued an open invite for the public to come and take the fruit, Philip, an Irish businessman who has been living on the Côte d’Azur for a decade, was quick to respond…