Bitter orange flowers offer sweet flavours

High above the Mediterranean Sea in Vallebona, an ancient town in the Italian province of Liguria, lies a grove of bitter orange trees. Family run, the La Vecchia Distilleria grove is developing a reputation for high quality orange water known as Acqua di Fiori d’Arancio Amaro and for a limited production of neroli, an essential oil.  

The magical orange flower water offers sweet flavours

Flower are handpicked, a painstaking job performed between April and early June by Pietro Gugliemi, his family and friends. His nonna, grandmother, Ines still helps with the harvest aged 97!

Around 100kg of flowers are needed to distil 100gm of neroli the final, most valuable distilled product which is sold to perfumers. For every kilo of flowers about two litres of distilled orange flavoured water are produced.

I had met Pietro at the vast, international 2018 Terre Madre event organised by the Slow Food organisation in Turin, Italy. Pietro is the latest generation of his family and the energy behind the reopening, recovery and newfound success of La Vecchia Distilleria. He has trebled the number of trees in the grove to 300, invested in distilling knowledge and equipment and revitalised a post-harvest street feast in his village of Vallebona at which bouxie or bougie (fritters) are served smeared with sugar and sprinkled with orange water.

Pietro on his stand at the 2018 Terre Madre event in Turin

Pietro kindly sent me a bottle of the water containing 100ml of the liquid gold with which I shall make delicious cake (see recipe below), sweet focaccia and perhaps a Mojito cocktail or an orange blossom lemonade.

Real orange blossom water has floral flavour with little of the acidity you might expect from a citrus product.


A simple, perfumed, fresh tasting cake that ideal for breakfast, with coffee or afternoon tea. Pietro’s orange water is hard to find (search for La Vecchia Distlilleria on Facebook) but other orange blossom waters can be used but try and avoid the synthetic brand, instead use orange zest and a juice from half to one orange.

Many thanks to Francesca for sharing this delicious recipe … follow her on Instagram on @frikassea !

You’ll Need

Large mixing bowl
Wooden spoon/ mixer
Cake tin (max diameter, 24cm)


125 g butter, unsalted and softened
125 g Moscovado sugar, or cane sugar
80g plain flour
2 egg yolks
2 eggs
4g baking powder
Salt, pinch
3 tablespoons of orange blossom water
Butter, knob to grease cake tin.
Icing sugar, sprinkle (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 175˚C.

Combine the softened butter and sugar, with a spoon or mixer.
Add yolks, one at a time. Mix.
Add eggs, one at a time. Mix thoroughly.
Sift flour and baking powder into mixture.
Mix thoroughly.
Fold in the orange blossom water.
Place mixture into cake tin.

Bake in oven for 30-35. Check at around 25 minutes, if using a fan oven.
Top with icing sugar (optional).

Serve and enjoy!


Have the cake neat, or with a dollop of rich, double cream. The orange water is a delicate taste so you don’t want to overwhelm it strong flavours, but maybe a citrus sorbet might do the trick.


This cake also pairs well with chilled white wines such as a Semillon or Semillon-Sauvignon blend and, my personal favourite, a sparkling wine such as Franciacorta from Italy or a glass of Spanish Cava. If you are really looking for a boozy hit, then why not pour yourself a frozen Orangello or perhaps an orange liquor such as Triple sec or Cointreau.

A good pairing … flavoursome and delicious
Bruce McMichael

Food writing, discovering food stories, meeting producers, chefs and food enthusiasts are all part of desire to inspire, inform my readers and fellow food lovers. I am a freelance writer, journalist and published author focusing on the international world of food and drink, culture and travel. In 2019 I graduated from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy with a Masters in Food Culture, Communication and Marketing. I am now a visiting Professor at the university teaching Food & Drink Writing. Based in London I travel widely, particularly across western Europe. I have chaired many conferences and meetings, spoken at conferences and events and often appear on radio and TV talking most about food, the business of food and being an entrepreneur. In 2017 I won an episode of the ITV (the UK-based national television channel) cooking competition show, 'Gordon Ramsay's Culinary Genius'. I took my children on holiday to Sicily with the prize money. As an experienced farmers' market manager and operator of a small marmalade/ preserves company, I am very familiar with the issues surrounding local food, farming, enterprise and the environment.

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