Food sustains us in the obvious way and in a much deeper way. When food is grown, harvested and prepared with love and dedication, the positive spirit of that food is felt by those who eat it. A grandmother’s best recipe is unforgettable because she brings generations of care to her cooking and you can really feel that goodness.
It is so utterly important to know where your food comes from these days, by whom and how it is prepared. Being an informed consumer is powerful, enabling you to choose foods that are honorable. The best part of our job is when we are out in the fields, not caring about getting our shoes dirty and being with the farmer that many of us may not consider when we sit down to eat each day. Good food starts with a seed. Farmers are always so touched and delighted to have a visit and proud to have their picture taken.
In this post, I am going to share my recent day at the rice harvest.
Every road trip in Italy seems to begin with getting lost and asking directions.
The rice fields are beyond this gate.
These antique estates are called cascine, and are very large because they housed seasonal workers that tended to the rice fields. Today, this entire structure is empty, outside of a barn and the farmer’s house.
One last gate and we are at the fields.
The first week of October and this year it feels like August at about 90 degrees at noon.
This field is not ready to be harvested. The water that floods the fields from April to October was drained about a week prior to this picture and in one more week, the grains will be very dry and ready to harvest.
Rugiada (pronounced roo-jah-dah) is the Italian word for the morning dew. I think rice plants are so amazingly beautiful to see.
The second farm we visited was ready for harvesting.
Rice grains are covered by a thin husk called chaff. We mill in a dedicated gluten free facility. The chaff is removed and the entire grain is milled whole. The field is within miles of the mill and the mill is a short distance to the pasta factory.
Rice was brought to Italy about 700 years ago and was a welcome crop in the regions of Piemonte, Lombardia and Veneto because the farmland was swampy. Today Italy is the largest producer of rice in Europe but only grows a very small fraction of the rice grown in the world. Rice arrived in the U.S. about 300 years ago. China is the world’s largest rice producer.
Rice fields are flooded because the plant grows better and because it helps to control weeds and pests. At this farm, they slowly release water about a week after the plants have germinated. Rice is planted by seed in Italy. Since rice grows in water until harvest, it is essential to know where your rice is grown and to ensure that the farm is flooded with a very pure source of water.
The best part of the day is spending time with the people involved in making our products. This is Lorenzo, the son of our pasta artisan, tasting the whole rice grains. Just a week later, he is producing our brown rice pasta with this year’s new crop.
Meet Umberto, my hero. He works in the accounting department at the pasta factory and is a photographer by hobby. At 70, he was out there at 1pm in the blazing sun, running up and down the field taking these great photos for you. He also took the lovely photos at the villa. Grazie Umberto.
And here is the farmer who was thrilled to discover that his picture was going all the way to the USA! We talked about making risotto. When I first came to live in Italy about 25 years ago, it was the first time I had ever tasted risotto and I really loved it. I have heard of different ways of cooking risotto, either adding a ladle of broth at a time, twice the broth as rice and cover, or equal rice and broth and a ladle at a time until it is done. He uses the third method. You can talk politics and food with just about anyone in Italy.
And that is me, Carla. I asked to ride with the farmer in the tractor, to everyone’s surprise. The only girl around that day, but what fun! I am pretty much known around here as the pesky American woman who sticks her nose into everything, who has endless questions and special requests. I think that’s why they like me.