“A symbol of the hard life of work in the fields, Farro della Garfagnana, as old as the work itself, is a product of quality and tradition”

Historical Background

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. 

Farro della Garfagnana PGI is sold in 500g, 1kg and 5kg bags, which are marked with a numbered recognition sticker.

Production

There are about 50 small farms producing farro in Garfagnana and their compliance with the control systems required by the production rules enables the grain that reaches the consumers’ tables to be certified with the PGI trademark.

From late September to mid-October, the fields, at an altitude of between 300 and 1,000 m above sea level, are prepared for planting by ploughing and subsequent tilling.Only farro seeds obtained from the Consortium can be used. A quantity of between 100 and 150 kg of farro seed may be used for each hectare of land. 

Both at this stage, and at all later stages, the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides is absolutely prohibited, although organic fertilisers are permitted. The farro planted in the autumn remains dormant throughout the winter and, unless damaged by excessive rainfall, which can lead to loss of seed through surface run-off, it begins to germinate in early spring.The harvest generally takes place between mid-July and mid-August, depending on the weather conditions in spring to summer, which can cause a slight variation in the working calendar.

Traditionally, the harvest was done with scythes and the farro was stacked in sheaves in the fields before being threshed on the farm using a small thresher. Now harvesting is done using combine harvesters.

Once the harvest is completed, the various producers bring the farro in the husk to one of the companies authorised to store and process it. At this point, the crop is offloaded by the agricultural vehicles into a collection tank and then stored in various silos, where it remains until it is processed.

The inspection body authorised by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry ensures that the various processing stages comply with the requirements of the production rules, and conducts analyses to ensure that no pesticides, chemical fertilisers or herbicides have been used. Only then are the packaging companies authorised to sell the product.

Removal of the inner husks, in order to make the grain edible for human consumption, has been an important process for millennia, performed in various ways using special equipment.In ancient times, the grain was separated from the husk by pounding the spikelets in special mortars, and the material thus obtained was then winnowed and sieved, after once more drying the product, which would have been soaked to facilitate the separation of the husks and chaff from the grains.

Today, the husking of the spikelets to obtain the bare grain for food consumption is done using mechanical machinery. The farro previously stored in the silos, which have fans to remove light materials, is processed in a first husker that produces a raw material consisting of husked grains, spikelets and chaff, which is removed by a second fan. 

The remaining material is sent to a separating table, on which unhusked spikelets are separated and sent back to the first husker. The bare grains are sent to a second husker/polisher, which completes the cleaning of the grains, partially removing some of the integuments, which are taken away by a vacuum system.

The product of this second husking is then sent to a rotary grain cleaner, which eliminates vetches and other weed seeds and conveys the grains to a hopper. The last step before sale involves the affixing of the numbered identification sticker: only now, at the end of this processing cycle, can a grain of farro become a grain of Garfagnana Farro PGI.

The inspection body authorised by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry ensures that the various processing stages comply with the requirements of the production rules, and conducts analyses to ensure that no pesticides, chemical fertilisers or herbicides have been used. Only then are the packaging companies authorised to sell the product.

The protection Consortium assigns numbered stickers to the companies, to ensure that the quantity of farro placed on the market corresponds to what was actually obtained from the respective harvest, thereby preventing fraud.

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.

Especially in the past, work was such an intimate part of human life for the farming families of Garfagnana, that it became all one and the same. The simple passage of time was marked by the needs of the crops and completely conditioned by them: every day followed the rhythms dictated by the fields, each month was organised according to its activities and each year repeated the same rhythm. 

The living presence of hard work was even felt in moments of leisure, and the work itself, in its less strenuous aspects, became in turn an occasion of enjoyment, a time of meeting and a happy pastime, in a world with no room for other pastimes. For years, or perhaps centuries, the customs and traditions of Garfagnana, handed down by generations of parents to their children, have been steeped in this unity of life and work.

Credits: Story

Curator — Consorzio Produttori di Farro della Garfagnana

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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