As we move into are annual seed trial, we welcome Paolo Arrigo of Seeds of Italy. Here he tells us in his first guest blog about the company and the Italian way of life.
Someone once said that 'Italy is not a country, it is a way of life'. A large part of this way of life is food and all things related. The last 2 weddings I've personally been to were 23 courses overlooking lake Orta and 26 courses in Venice, and life is often dictated by mealtimes. How do you eat 26 courses? Slowly and enjoyably with much dancing during and after!!
Shops and offices close between 1 and 4, bars sell more espresso's than beer, and a good night out will be classed on what and how much you ate, rather than drank. When visiting my father's sleepy mountain village in Piemonte, not only are we always invited for lunch and dinner 3 times over each day, but if we are not there at midday or 8pm respectively, heads roll. This is a serious subject, but whilst every Italian (me included) thinks they are both a football manager and a chef, one this is true, we live to eat and we know our food.
I only wanted a seed stand in my father's Italian deli and I unwittingly approached Franchi who are 7 generations and still in the same family since 1783 and they are also, unusually, seed producers. Seeds of Italy has been distributing this Italian way of life through our Franchi branded seeds in the UK for over 14 years now but I remember at first the most common question was “will these grow here?”
Well, Italy is perceived as being a hot country here in the UK, and whilst that is partly true, more of Italy is actually Alpine than is Mediterranean, with the Alps and Dolomites in the North and the Apennine mountain range running all the way down the spine of Italy for over 1,000km. The winter Olympics of course were in Turin, (Piemonte) in 2006 and in my fathers village in Piemonte, it snows very little, but temperatures of -18c are common in winter, and in Friuli (in between Venice and Yugoslavia) last season, it went down to -41c and that is colder than Moscow. Turin has twice the rainfall of London, Bergamo where Franchi seeds is based, officially has wetter summers than winters and Sicily is just several hundred feet lower than the Great St. Bernard pass through the Alps and that is why there are 2 great ski resorts in Sicily!
So as a result, the opposite is actually true when talking about growing veg. It’s BECAUSE the varieties are Italian that some of them are far hardier than some domestic British varieties and they love our milder climates. We are very lucky in Britain also and especially in the South where we have a temperate climate. That is to say, it is warm in the summers but not too warm and cold in the winters but not too cold. That means we can have lemons in Sicily and leeks in the middle and north.
The interesting thing about our varieties too is the regionallity and each city will have completely different veg from the next one. So just zucchini varieties (we're the only English speaking country who says Courgette because of the Norman influence!), we have varieties from Milan, Rome, Sicily, Naples, Friuli, Genova, Sarzana, Florence and another from Tuscany, Piacenza, Nizza Monferrato, Bologna, Albenga etc and each region will have a completely different recipe for it's own courgette, onion, tomato etc. So the round zucchini from Piacenza/Parma are simply cut in half and stuffed with the 2 local ingredients….. Parma ham and Parmesan cheese and then roasted in the oven. Italian food is peasant food - simple, regional, tasty….. like any peasant food from Lancashire hotpot to Swiss cheese fondue which was the crusts of the cheese, a dash of Kirsch and stale bread to dip into it!
The classic Italian basil is used to make 'Pesto Genovese' though it is illegal to claim your basil is 'Genovese' unless it is produced in the DOP region as it is rightly protected by law and almost all of the seed is used in the production of plants to make pesto and none is destined for seed packets. But the Basil from Naples, the 'Bolloso Napoletano' has leaves bigger than your hand and since the buffalo are kept in that region, it is used to eat with Mozzarella.
Franchi seeds can be bought in Italian deli's and garden centres but remember, if it doesn’t say Franchi on it, it is not 7 generations of experience and passion, of regional, alpine, traditional heirloom varieties. For more info, please go to www.seedsofitaly.com or for an alpine range exclusive to us, go to www.lebenseeds.co.uk which is our sister brand.