Home / Posts Tagged "organic"

One of the main characters of Expo 2015 was Strettura’s bread, a distinctive product of Umbria along with truffles, saffron from Cascia, spelt from Monteleone di Spoleto and the red potato of Colfiorito. In this mixture of cultures, traditions and craftsmanship called Expo, Umbria was symbolize by an overworked but genuine product: bread.
But why the one from Strettura one?

Foto via

Locus amoenus and works from the past

Strettura, unlike what the name suggests, is a beautiful valley placed about 13 km from Spoleto; his width valleys allows the cultivation of ancient cereal varieties, now set aside from the large industrial production. The golden ears cover the gentle slopes, which seem to suggest the rounded shape of the finished product and, before that, the soft texture of the dough, together with the lightness of the leavening.
It looks like an oasis, Strettura.
Spring waters, that flow from the Apennine rocks, make it a pleasant place to stroll; Spoleto is near, but far enough to leave this village in the tranquility owned by the ancient sites with genuine traditions. It seems to smell the scent of freshly baked bread, a symbol of what is familiar and good in the things of the world.

Times are changing

Foto via

But Italian habits have changed: the consume of bread, contrary to the past, seems to have diminished. According to Coldiretti, in 2016, each person has consumed 85 grams of bread a day, compared with 1,100 grams a day during the years of the Unification of Italy.

A change also evidenced by the countless idioms that concern the goodness of bread and its essential presence on the tables – “You’re as good as bread,” “To sell like bread,” “For kings, there is no tastier food than bread”, etc. Those expressions existed because of the difficulty to find any other nourishing food beside bread, but now they seem shells, emptied from any grip to reality.

It is true that we eat less bread, but when we do it, we want to try a unique experience higher than the flatness of industrial production. Today, consumers choose products based on alternative cereals -kamut wheat and spelt, also because of the increasingly amount of food allergies – but they choose also to purchase products at zero distance and high nutritional value, which can somehow raise quality of their culinary experience.

More quality and less quantity, therefore, along with the desire to consume products that are the result of love and respect for the Earth, and of the people who perpetrate them.

The bread Strettura is emblematic product of these changes in eating habits. It acts also as a link between past and present, combining a production chain that belongs to the past with the modern consumer, more aware and attentive.

«Thou shalt prove how salty is / The bread of others» D. Alighieri, Paradise - Canto XVII

Foto via

It’s true, the bread of this Umbrian village is a rare commodity: the crops are limited, peculiar of those lands brushing that side of the Apennines; they use only spring water, with unique chemical and physical properties.

The bread itself is not suitable for mass distribution, bound as it is to a slow and handicraft processing. Indeed, it’s composed of wheat flour, obtained by a milling process made by traditional methods: the oilseed and protein parts are not brutally separated from the starch, but, enriching its composition, they let the bread retain an aroma and a unique fragrance, which speak of goodness, simplicity and authenticity.

The flour is skillfully combined with the leaven of the previous processing and with little salty spring water: the bread of Strettura is indeed an unsalted bread, like other types from Umbria, Tuscany and Marche.

This loaf, marked with a cross in the center, rests all night; the next day, the mixture is cooled with the addition of other warm water and flour. It follows a strictly manual processing, which makes the dough smooth, homogeneous and with a “right” consistency, that only the bakers of Strettura could recognize.

Just a few more hours of leavening and finally the loaf can be baked. The cooking is made exclusively in a brick oven fueled by twigs from the Mediterranean forest: they give the filone acciaccato the characteristic aroma which, together with the thin crust and the solid soft part, becomes the perfect side to cured meats, cheese, vegetables and soup.

 

 

 

A renewed interest in quality and healthy food has grown over the last 20-30 years and Umbria finds itself in the middle of a Renaissance that includes heritage, biodynamic and organic foods.

Ancient Tastes

Heritage or heirloom foods refer to cultivars that have been re-discovered after years of non-use or little use. Seeds have been traced back for generations and sowed to produce fruits and legumes that had been “lost” due to newer varieties or hybrids. Often times you can no longer find these fruits in commercial stores. Some might not as aesthetically attractive as their modern counterparts but they possess a unique and delicious taste.

For almost 30 years, growers near Città di Castello have been hunting down and creating a collection of heritage fruit trees—their orchards include apple, pear, cherry, plum, fig and almond. All the trees have been catalogued and the seeds preserved. Along with promoting heritage fruits, they sell their historical trees to the general public, via Azienda Agricola Archaeologia Arborea.

Let's Staring at the Stars

Biodynamic, instead, refers to a way of farming that believes in a very close partnership with the rhythms of nature. Based on the principles outlined by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, its goal is to restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. Important tenants include crop diversification, the use of complimentary crops such as clover or barley to re-introduce nitrogen into the soil, frequent crop rotation and even considering the position of the moon and stars in terms of your sowing and reaping.

In Umbria you can find a number of different products, including biodynamic wines by Azienda Fontesecca in Città della Pieve, by Fattoria Mani di Luna in Torgiano, or by Raìna, whose headquarter is placed in Cannara. Similarly, some farms produce biodynamic oils – such as Azienda Agraria Hispellum in Spello or Fonte Vergine in Terni – or grains – e.g. Azienda Biodinamica Conca d’Oro in Gubbio or Torre Colombaia in San Biagio della Valle (near Marsciano). Local Umbrian dairies also produce cheeses milked from goats raised under biodynamic principles, such as Fattoria Il Secondo Altopiano, placed in Orvieto.

One can apply for membership into various biodynamic associations, of which Demeteris recognized world wide and theAssociazione Nazionale per l’Agricoltura Biodinamica, a national Italian group, has it’s Umbrian seat based in Spello.

The Matter of Organic

Organic is perhaps the most strictly controlled, yet mis-understood name that can be found on many tables today. Just a decade ago, the term “organic” was placed on products loosely, and without certification, but now very strict labelling requirements mean that you can only use the word “organic” if you have received certification from government controlled agencies. Acceptance into organic involves strict control over the amounts and types of fertilizers, prohibits the use of pesticides and herbicides, and dictates that you treat your crops sporadically—and only when rain or climate indicates it is necessary.

The famous Green Leaf guarantees organic and indicates that a product has met the controls set by a comprehensive European law referred to as 834/2007. There are a number of entities that can award the green leaf in Umbria, including ICEA, Ecocert (French), Suolo e Salute, Bioagricert.

A Delicate Method

To qualify as organic, you must also harvest or prepare your product on organically approved tools.

So, a grain farmer will need to send his crop to an organic mill, such as the Molino Silvestri in Torgiano. The Molino grinds and sells a number of grains and flours for private use and restaurants in Umbria and Tuscany.

Likewise, to produce organic olive oil you need to press in a mill that has obtained organic approval. Often you are the first to press in the morning so that you are on clean machinery, with no residual from non-organic fruit.

Every product of the Earth can be organic: we can have wine, such as the one produced by Azienda Agricola Di Filippo in Cannara or the one by Cantina Antonelli in Montefalco; we can have saffron, like the one by Azienda Agricola De Carolis Adelino in Civita di Cascia, jams from Azienda Agricola Sibilla in Norcia, cheese from Azienda Agricola Rossi Rita, which collects and processes organic milk from cows breed in several farms placed in Valnerina.