We The Italians | Italian flavors: Garfagnana Farro

Italian flavors: Garfagnana Farro

Italian flavors: Garfagnana Farro

  • WTI Magazine #152 Jun 25, 2022
  • 161

Farro, or emmer, is a grain that has been cultivated for thousands of years in the Mediterranean basin and is the progenitor of all wheats known today, including soft wheat and durum wheat. Its cultivation dates back at least 7,000 years BC. It was the staple food of the Assyrians, the Egyptians and all the ancient peoples of the Middle East and North Africa. According to recent studies, its place of origin appears to be Palestine, where a wild species of farro is still widely found.

From here, its cultivation was brought by nomadic herders to all regions known at the time. Its cultivation as early as the Bronze Age has also been confirmed in Italy, as shown by some farro seeds discovered in the clothing of the “glacier mummy”, or Similaun Man, dating to around 2,000 BC. It was already farmed in the Po Valley in the early Neolithic era. The oldest evidence of cultivation of the grain comes from Vhò (Piadena, near Cremona), where einkorn, a primitive form of wheat and the most slender of all cultivated species, was sown as early as 4,300 BC.

Einkorn was the most important cereal in the Neolithic era, followed by barley. The list of plants cultivated at that time in Northern Italy coincides with that of the Near East, where an agricultural “revolution” had occurred. In the middle and late Neolithic era, agriculture also spread to the internal area of the Alps: the farmers reached the valleys from the south, as can be seen from the early presence of cereals in the provinces of Brescia, Trento and Bolzano. In addition to the two cereals already mentioned, large farro was also cultivated here. The ears of this cereal are heavier and pendant when mature, and the spikelets have three flowers, of which two normally ripen, thus making the crop more profitable.

In Roman times, there was a radical change in the cultivation of cereals: barley and large farro became fundamentally important in the Central Alps, followed by spelt and dwarf wheat; over the course of time, einkorn lost importance and was grown only marginally. This trend remained almost unchanged, even during the Middle Ages.

Farro was grown in Garfagnana since the earliest centuries because it is a product that adapts well to cold climates and higher altitudes. Its agronomic characteristics, however, have always made it very difficult to process, hence limiting its ordinary use.

It was eaten occasionally as an alternative to maize and chestnuts, and on certain special occasions. Despite its limited dietary consumption, it was still cultivated quite widely and the harvested product was often sold, particularly to the market in Lucca, as a source of income to meet the needs of the family, since the price paid for farro was higher than that of other cultivated cereals.

With the arrival of wheat, farro underwent a period of crisis, except in Garfagnana, where it has always been grown, becoming the main product of the area and attaining Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) recognition from the European Union in 1996.

Garfagnana is the only area that has continued to produce and market faro, due to its established agricultural tradition and particularly favourable natural environment. It has become the production area par excellence of this cereal in Italy, where it is highly appreciated due to its uniqueness and quality. This geographical link with Garfagnana is mainly due to the fact that the crop, having been continued produced in the area since time immemorial, has not only genetically adapted to the local environment, but forms an inseparable bond with it and has particular qualities that make it quite distinct from that produced in other areas.

It grows best in land that is poor in nutrients, at an altitude of between 300 and 1,000 metres above sea level. The seeds are sown in the autumn, in soil that has been prepared previously. Due to the great hardiness of the plant, the farro traditionally grown in Garfagnana is a naturally organic, not requiring the use of any synthetic products. The harvest takes place in the summer using normal combine harvesters; during threshing, the entire spikelet comes away from the stalk, without the grains separating from the husks and chaff (hence it is referred to as a dressed grain).

The maximum permitted production per hectare is 2,500 kg of dressed farro and the polished yield is approximately 60% of the initial product. Before being used, the grain is polished, a process that consists in the removal of the husk and part of the pericarp.Garfagnana Farro PGI is used in various appetising traditional recipes of Garfagnana cuisine. Typical dishes include farro soup and cakes. It can also be used in the kitchen as a substitute for rice or pasta in any dish. When milled into flour, it is used to make pastries, cakes, desserts and biscuits.

The product

One of the morphological features of Farro della Garfagnana PGI is that the endosperm in the grains has a highly floury consistency. Unlike other grains used in the kitchen, it does not require soaking and cooking times are around 30 minutes. The distinct status of Farro della Garfagnana PGI is justified by the quality of the cereal, seen in the uniformity of the grain size and of the polished product.

The local area

Garfagnana is a region of the province of Lucca between the Apuan Alps and the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines. It is entirely traversed by the river Serchio and its many tributaries, and has an abundance of woodland. Its administration is divided into 16 small municipalities and its main town is Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, located on the valley floor. The area offers a wide variety of landscapes, starting from a rugged, unspoiled mountainous stretch, rocky in the Apuan Alps and with gentler grassy slopes in the Apennines, which further down gives way to hills covered with meadows and crops, with a particular scenic beauty.

The Garfagnana has a mountain climate in general, although this is not uniform, due to the influence of the mountain ranges surrounding the valley and its relative proximity to the sea.In an area with a distinctly rural character, as Garfagnana has always been, the boundary separating work in the fields from cultural traditions is so slight that it can hardly be distinguished.

By Consorzio Produttori di Farro della Garfagnana with MiPAAF