Soil Systems Farm

Small is beautiful – a taste of organics in northern Italy

Small is beautiful
- a taste of organics in northern Italy
by Adam Willson

The last two weeks has been an inspiring period as we have spent valuable time getting to know quality organic producers in Northern Italy. So often farmers are bombarded with the phrase “get big or get out” but have we really taken the time to consider the options. Italy is a unique country, steeped in history and home to the “Slow Food” movement so it seemed right to investigate what organic artisan food is really all about.

Firstly many thanks to Luca Bottallo from the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne for linking me up with our host and now good friend, Mauro Zardetto. Mauro the owner of ArtMovie is a film director, part of the creative team behind Lifebank and businessman who specialises in artisan food and the preservation of food biodiversity. He took time out from his busy schedule to show us what unique things are happening north of Venice.

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A unique degustation in cheese
Just a few kilometres out of Conegliano, north of Venice, is one of the most special cheese destinations in northern Italy, Perenzin Latteria. Emanuela Perenzin, the owner and great grand daughter of the founder Domenico runs the business with her husband, world award winning cheesemaker and master cheese taster, Carlo Piccoli. Perenzin Latteria is dedicated to the preservation of artisan cheese making and they do this superbly through their combined shop, wine and cheese bar, restaurant, cheese making school and factory.

As you walk into the building you are surrounded by the wonderful aromas of hand made food. Everything is appealing to the eye and nostril and it wasn’t very long before we were sat down in the restaurant with a delicious plate of hand selected cheeses and a glass of local Prosecco. Emanuela led us through our first degustation on the unique flavours of their best cheeses.

The degustation was made up of seven different cheeses all with particular traits and histories. They included an organic goat milk robiola, a cows milk caciotta (without added salt), a raw organic cows milk cheese, a goats milk caciottona finished with walnut leaves, a buffalo milk cheese drunken with Glera grapes, a goats milk cheese drunken with Traminer wine and a San Pietro in beeswax. Each cheese was truly exceptional but what caught my attention was the history behind some recipes. For example, the drunken wine cheeses were born centuries ago when, hiding the cheese from plunderers or officials tallying food, these cheeses were dropped in the grape marc.

After a magnificent lunch we visited the classrooms where Carlo now runs international cheese making courses for students from all over the world. The attention to detail is palpable giving depth and meaning to what we sampled during the degustation.

Perenzin is a destination for anyone who is passionate about taste and aroma. For those interested in learning centuries old techniques to create new flavours, this is one place you must seriously consider.

When radicchio is no longer bitter
When we first arrived at Nonno Andrea’s farm we were instantly drawn to the beautiful farm shop at the front and the bustling enthusiasm of its customers. As the afternoon and evening progressed the numbers soared and it was obvious that this place was special to the locals as well. It was full of a wide selection of vegetables from the farm and front and central to this activity was the in-season radicchio.

Nonno Andre (Grandfather Andre) is located 12 kilometers north of Treviso situated among the rolling hills of Montello. This 60ha mixed vegetable farm is  a unique vision of where all farming should be heading. The owner and guest for the afternoon Paolo Manzan is a young farmer who has been at the forefront of promoting biodiversity in vegetables farms. He is part of a growing number of farmers in Italy dedicated to protecting seed and plant diversity and his farm is certified for these biodiversity qualities under the trademark Certificato Biodiversity Friend.

Treviso is famous for radicchio as its climate suits the production of this unique vegetable. What’s so special about Nonno Andre is their radicchio is tasty and not bitter. I tasted fresh leaves in the shop expecting a bitter residue but experienced nothing but unique flavours. Maybe it has something to do with his focus on composting, minerals and diversity, the foundations of organic farming that are often ignored in favour of just being chemical free. I could not help but marvel how much effort and organisation went into producing his product. It was inspirational. From their commercial kitchen the chef experiments with new flavours, recipes and packaging. Everything is checked and double checked and the radicchio washing and packaging crew were working well into the late afternoon despite the cold weather.

After the farm walk we sat down in his house and partook in a degustation of his radicchio products. Dips, pickles, jams and beers all made from his radicchio shared with friends and enthusiasts passionate about food and the art of preparation. To be honest these spreads were healthily addictive with great colour and texture. The setting in his house was equally special, a restored old homestead that dates back many many years.

When we left Nonno Andre my last glimpses were a driveway full of customer cars on a frosty night. My passion for quality food was enlivened and a new friendship was kindled. This is a special farm run by special people and their passion for quality is matched by each customer’s satisfied face.

Prosecco 300
Tucked in the hills north of the frescos of Conegliano’s Duomo di Santa Maria is a vineyard like no other I’ve seen. Not only is the air cold and crisp and the view sublime but there is a story that must be heralded. A story of protecting the heritage of prosecco.

The owner, Fabio Zardetto, a trained and experienced winemaker, took over the family vineyard in 1998. The vineyard dates back 100 years. The hills are remnants from the glacial past equal distant between the Dolomites that protect it from the fierce winter of the Alps and the Adriatic Sea which tempers the climate. The area of Conegliano Valdobbiadene is the historic home of prosecco and the Glera grape variety has been grown in this region for more than 300 years.

The hills of this vineyard have historically had a lot of slippage so it was completely renovated with unique underground drainage prior to the whole 20ha block being replanted with Glera grapes. However, these were not ordinary Glera grapes. Fabio, working together with the local university and three other vineyards, has been at the forefront of preserving the biodiversity of this ancient variety. He has been concerned that the current commercial plantings of Glera have had the varietal diversity reduced back to just a handful of genetic variants. With the help of the university they identified and sampled 300 different clones from the oldest vines in the region. Each of the three vineyards now has 4 replicates of each of these 300 clones making up the 1200 new Glera grape cuttings. These are randomly scattered and recorded in the vineyard so that the genetic diversity of the variety can be measured and preserved in the years ahead. This will be a unique prosecco that I look forward to tasting.

When it came to the tastings Fabio introduced two new proseccos to us with the fabulous Perenzin cheeses, local salami and bread he had prepared. With his new winery and state of the art equipment, he has developed a unique organic prosecco. Both of the proseccos are sulphur free but more importantly both are sugar free as well. In other words, there is enough sugar in the grapes to complete a slow fermentation, creating a truly natural product. Further, the yeast used is derived from the local vineyards giving an unbelievable flavour to each glassful. It is not a generic yeast. Lastly, the second prosecco was unfiltered adding another dimension to the taste and colour. Fabio is a unique man with a clear vision of what is achievable whilst working with nature. His passion for life and biodiversity brings art and microclimate to the forefront of production.

In conclusion, this trip has been a memorable one indeed. I must add a quote from the famous photographer Steve McCurry when interviewed by Francesca Lombardi. “There is no other country in the world that has such depth of art, culture, landscape and design, this tradition goes back thousands of years”. I would add that this is matched only by their understanding and passion for food.


Perenzin Latteria

Nonno Andrea

Zardetto Prosecco

Firenze – made in Tuscany
No 27 – summer 2013
Uno sguardo che non si dimentica – The Unforgettable Glance by Francesca Lombardi

Steve McCurry







2 Responses to Small is beautiful – a taste of organics in northern Italy

  1. thank you for your enlightening story on “small is beautiful”
    It is a wonderful picture on what can be accomplished from people
    looking to care for the land with passion. Well done.

  2. Julie Armstrong says:

    Great article, I could feel how much you enjoyed your time in Italy and being amongst enthusiastic and committed like minded people. Sounds like my dream holiday.
    Regards, Julie

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