Cover story:

It took an in­ter­na­tional top chef to put this hum­ble na­tive on the map. LINDY ALEXAN­DER in­ves­ti­gates how the fin­ger lime is tak­ing the world by storm.

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - LOCAL FOOD -

This week we dis­cover how fin­ger limes are tak­ing the world by storm, af­ter renowned chef Rene Redzepi, re­cently raved about the hum­ble na­tive fruit

When ac­claimed chef Rene Redzepi de­parted Aus­tralia af­ter 10 weeks of run­ning Syd­ney’s Noma pop-up early last year, one thing was on his mind. Asked which lo­cal in­gre­di­ent he loved work­ing with Down Un­der, Redzepi said: “It would def­i­nitely be the fin­ger lime. That has to be one of the most iconic in­gre­di­ents of the world – it’s per­fect for just any­thing, and I wish we had it in Den­mark.”

Redzepi’s de­sire may well come true. Ru­mour has it that the chef is cul­ti­vat­ing a fin­ger lime tree of his own. There are al­ready plan­ta­tions of cit­rus aus­trala­sica in Cal­i­for­nia, Is­rael and France as the world at­tempts to feed its lust for the bright Aussie lo­cal. But what is it about the fine-skinned, oval-shaped fruit with its glossy, pop­ping, caviar-like pearls that has chefs and din­ers so en­rap­tured?

“I love the fra­grance and the sour hit of the fin­ger lime caviar,” says chef Mat Lind­say from Ester in Syd­ney’s Chip­pen­dale. Fin­ger limes are com­monly paired with seafood, and Lind­say uses them in a crab sauce with salt and white pepper.

“It’s this fiery sauce where you get fresh bursts of cit­rus at the end that clean your palate,” he says. Lind­say has also used the tart globes to lift caramelised pineap­ple, and has toasted the skin to make a smoky pow­der. “There are so many ways to use fin­ger limes rather than just scat­ter­ing them over oys­ters,” he says.

The fruit of the thorny plant has been a source of food for indige­nous Aus­tralians for many cen­turies.

Chef and restau­ra­teur Kylie Kwong has been us­ing them in her cook­ing for more than six years and isn’t sur­prised about their grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity. “I just love the tex­ture of those globular vesicles, the crunch, the acid­ity, the ver­sa­til­ity and the glo­ri­ous colours of the dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties,” she says. “There was an enor­mous amount of cov­er­age on the de­li­cious­ness and ver­sa­til­ity of fin­ger limes when Rene Redzepi was in town, and his own ob­ses­sion helped raise aware­ness.”

Kwong loves pair­ing freshly squeezed fin­ger limes and salt­bush salt with caramelised Flin­ders Is­land wal­laby tail. “The salti­ness, the acid­ity, the sweet suc­cu­lence of the tail cre­ates a won­der­ful bal­ance and an in­ter­est­ing mix of flavours, tex­tures and colours,” she says. “I love a freshly squeezed fin­ger lime in a gin and tonic.”

Go­ing one bet­ter, you could en­joy gin made us­ing the limes’ tangy flesh. Head dis­tiller of Four Pil­lars Gin, Cameron Macken­zie, says fin­ger limes don’t dis­til like an or­di­nary lime. “Fin­ger limes are just spec­tac­u­lar be­cause they give a lime vanillin char­ac­ter,” he says. “They are in­tense and fra­grant, and go beau­ti­fully with South-East Asian spices.” He com­bines co­rian­der, star anise, gin­ger and turmeric to fill out the bright fin­ger lime flavour in Four Pil­lars’ Navy Strength gin.

Fin­ger limes are na­tive to north­ern New South Wales and south-east Queens­land, and there are around 50 fin­ger lime farm­ers in Aus­tralia. One of the big­gest grow­ers is Ian Dou­glas of The Lime Caviar Com­pany. The former Mel­bourne QC re­tired to south­ern Queens­land in 2007. “My wife Margie re­ally dis­cov­ered fin­ger limes,” he says. “She had bought a tree years ago but we didn’t re­ally know what it was. We had seen the fruit but thought it was poi­sonous so we didn’t touch it.” Af­ter read­ing a mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle, Margie re­alised the fruit wasn’t toxic and in fact pre­sented an op­por­tu­nity to be at the fore­front of a new agri­cul­tural in­dus­try.The cou­ple now has 4,500 trees bear­ing six va­ri­eties on their 30-acre prop­erty in the Scenic Rim. This com­ing sea­son Dou­glas hopes to pro­duce more than 18,000kg of fruit that will sell for $40 per kilo.

Dou­glas’ fin­ger limes are reg­u­larly found on the menus of Brae and At­tica in Vic­to­ria, and Wasabi and Rickys in Queens­land. “De­mand is grow­ing more than dou­ble each year. It’s just ex­ploded,” he says. Dou­glas ex­ports fresh fruit to France, The Nether­lands, Italy, Sin­ga­pore, Hong Kong and Spain, and dis­trib­utes frozen pods to Ja­pan, Tai­wan, South Korea and New Zealand.

As of February, Dou­glas will sell pure, seed­less and spoon­able frozen fin­ger lime caviar. “There’s no equiv­a­lent on the mar­ket,” he says. “I’ve given sam­ples to top chefs and they have loved it. It will save them labour be­cause they don’t have to re­move the seeds.”

While the frozen prod­uct means that Dou­glas’ limes will be avail­able all year, Gerard Buchanan al­ready grows a va­ri­ety that fruits year round. To­wards the end of its Aus­tralian stay, Noma was buy­ing around 25kg of fin­ger limes from Buchanan each week. While some have names such as Pink Ice or Sun­rise, Buchanan’s most pop­u­lar va­ri­ety, a na­tive to his Chilling­ham farm, is sim­ply known as, “The lime green fin­ger lime”.

As the world scram­bles for the Aussie na­tive, Aus­tralian lo­cals can pur­chase the cit­rus. Avail­able from good gro­cers and Wool­worths, fin­ger limes are now be­ing sprin­kled over oys­ters, stirred into cock­tails and paired with rich meat by home cooks, too.

“I JUST LOVE THE TEX­TURE OF THOSE GLOBULAR VESICLES, THE CRUNCH, THE ACID­ITY, THE VER­SA­TIL­ITY”

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