It's July. In Italy, as in much of the rest of Europe, the cities are starting to empty. In town, the streets are looking deserted, while traffic jams are building on the way to the beaches and the countryside. In these days of sunshine and free time, why not set off on a journey to discover the many Slow Food Presidia and their producers? Today we want to take you with us on a virtual trip, travelling across and down the boot to visit some of Slow Food's newest Presidia. From north to south, these six products represent excellent examples of courage and love for a place.
Let's start in the northeast, in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, with Gorizia Rosa Radicchio. The name suggests a flower, but this is a variety of red radicchio, with an intense, slightly bitter flavor and crisp leaves. A favorite of the House of Hapsburg, its name comes from its shape, which resembles a rosebud about to bloom. The variety had long been abandoned, because it requires patient care during cultivation and because of rampant overbuilding around the town, but now six growers have revived the variety.
Moving west, to Piedmont, we reach the Presidium for a blond onion from Curreggio and Fontaneto, two municipalities in the province of Novara. According to tradition, the local producers would go to the Cureggio train station every day to send crates of their golden-blond, extremely sweet onions to the markets in Milan and Turin. As well as being used as a base seasoning for many dishes, a number of local dishes feature the onion as the main ingredient. The recipes have been passed down through the generations, and include peasant soup (water, a pinch of salt, butter or lard and minced onion), onion frittata (with wedges of onion or the unripe bulb, called scigulòtt), frittata rognosa (with the addition of duja salame), rustìd? (pork loin and offal cooked in onions, prepared when a pig is slaughtered), cassola and a classic onion soup. Thanks to the commitment of two young farmers and their careful research, the seed has been recovered and the onion is now being grown again.
On to Lombardy and Lake Como, home to sun-dried missoltino, small fish dried using an ancient technique, and down to the border with Emilia-Romagna for Felonica tiròt, an unusual kind of onion focaccia.
Agone has been fished, salted and dried along the shores of Lake Como since the time of Pliny the Younger. Their fat and omega-3 content guarantees a long shelf-life and an excellent flavor. Dried agone is named after missolte, the wooden barrels in which the fish were traditionally cured.
The original recipe for tiròt, a thin, crisp, golden and intensely fragrant flatbread, dates back to the 19th century. Traditionally it was eaten while working in the fields or at the end of the day, in the evening, when families would gather in the farmyards. The women would mix a dough of flour, onions, lard, a little yeast, water and salt in the early morning, then take it to the town's collective ovens for baking. The powerful, delicious smell of onions would drift out of the ovens and fill the streets of Felonica.
Moving down the length of the peninsula, we arrive in Basilicata, where because of depopulation and changing dietary habits, the red bean from Pantano di Pignola was until recently on the verge of extinction. A few kilometers from Potenza, Lake Pantano di Pignola fills a wide basin surrounded by the Maddalena mountains, over a thousand meters high, which form a kind of natural amphitheater. The bean variety was introduced by Spaniards returning from the Americas; round and ovoid in shape, the bean has a beige background covered in the dark red streaks that give it its name. The beans are excellent in starters or as a side dish, but they can also be cooked in soups, on their own or combined with vegetables or meat.
Finally, our journey would not be complete without a stop on one of the islands. Until the 1950s the mountains that stretch from behind Palermo to the Madonie in Sicily were dotted with scattered herds of cows whose deep-black coats contrasted with the stony background. They were Cinisara, a breed that had been selected over the centuries to thrive in this harsh, wind-swept environment, with little greenery and baking summers. Now, thanks to the Presidium, seven farmers have started breeding the Cinisara cattle again, and as well as meat they also produce an excellent Caciocavallo Palermitano, which perfectly showcases the extraordinary qualities of the breed's milk. Yields are low, but the milk is rich in fat and aromas from the typical Mediterranean vegetation on which the cows graze.
Our virtual voyage has come to an end, and it only remains for us to wish you a happy holiday with the Slow Food Presidia!
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