In Ghisonaccia, Haute-Corse, freshly harvested almonds are ready to leave at the smithy before being processed into confectionery. Corsica is just a Thumbs up against the United States, but successfully placed on the high end.
France consumes 43,000 tonnes of almonds per year, but produces only 1,200 tonnes, mainly in Corsica and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. A drop in the face of the 1.3 million tonnes of shelled almonds from the United States, which account for 79% of world production, according to the International Nuts and Dried Fruit Council (INC).
“Almond cultivation remains marginal in Corsica and fortunately,” says Jean-Luc Mozziconacci, president of Corsic’Amandes, which includes 99% of island producers. In 2019, 240 tons of almonds came out of the 290 hectares of Corsican orchards.
This producer from the eastern plain is also president of Sud Amandes, a cooperative based in Garons (Gard) which sells the harvests in “a niche market, upscale, made up of confectioners and chocolate makers”, he explains to AFP while supervising the harvest of this small oilseed fruit.
Mohammed, 41, one of Mr. Mozziconacci’s two employees, drives a tractor equipped with an arm and a clamp that grips the trunk. A corolla of tarpaulins then unfolds all around the tree to collect the almonds which fall when the trunk is shaken by the mechanical arm.
– “Choice of society” –
In a scaler, the hulls are separated from their gove, an envelope that is velvety to the touch. The almonds are then sent in bags to the Garons casserie.
There, everything will be valued: the almonds will be distributed according to their quality and their variety to become dragees, coated almonds, toasted, salted or sweet, powder or paste.
In Corsica, four varieties are cultivated: the “ferragnès”, with a fine and sweet taste, the “ferraduel” with a subtle taste appreciated by amateurs, the “lauranne” and the “mandaline”, smaller and appreciated by confectioners for pralines.
The hulls will be used for heating.
If, at first glance, it might seem wise to produce a lot more almonds in France given the gap between consumption and production, Mr. Mozziconacci, with “30 years of experience”, warns: “there is very very few people willing to pay a French almond at 13 or 14 euros per kilo, when the world price is at seven euros “.
“Our price is based so that the producers live. When we sell at 13 or 14 euros, 7.20 to 7.50 euros go to the producer. With almonds at seven euros, they will work for two euros per kilo and it will not be viable, ”explains Mozziconacci, fearing that an excessive increase in volumes will cause prices to fall.
A finding confirmed by Ronan Autret, general manager of François Doucet confectioner, installed in Oraison (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence) since 1969. Using these tricolor almonds “very round, fleshy, well calibrated” is a “choice of society”, according to him. “We want to support our farmers, the local sector, but that supposes, as it is much more expensive, that the consumer accepts to pay”.
If “the California almond is very bitter and very flat”, “most French confectioners buy almonds in Spain – the second largest producer in the world – or in Italy with tastes and shapes really similar to the French and less dear “, underlines this confectioner who estimates that” the + made in France + can be paid 20 or 30% more “but hardly more.
Nicolas Genot, at the head of the Maison des soeurs macarons in Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle) founded in 1793, also uses “only French almonds for the taste quality and the moderation of the treatments”.
In order to secure part of their supplies, these two confectioners have chosen to join forces with farmers to plant their own almond trees on a few hectares.
For the Office of Agricultural and Rural Development of Corsica (Odarc), the Corsican almond is “well valued because it is very qualitative”, tells AFP Marie-Pierre Bianchini, the director. But “to imagine doubling or tripling production seems difficult to me”.