Sunday 21 April 2013

Really fresh bread from the source

Recently, my friend Letizia took me to a very interesting, inspiring farm/mill/bakery just outside the Umbrian town of Bevagna.

From the field right onto the table, family-owned Granarium says it is committed to producing bread the old-fashioned way.

That means the Lucarelli family, working in the green heart of central Umbria, controls every step of the food production process: from planting to harvesting the grain, grinding it, baking it, and even selling it.

Their company, Granarium, is serious about the "zero-kilometre" production method - every step of the process occurs right on the farm - the way grandpa would have done it.

It has to be, for there really is no other alternative for a small farmer to remain financially viable and independent, says Gian Piero Lucarelli, who founded Granarium on the family farm with his sister Patrizia less than one year ago.

Their philosophy also offers real benefits to the consumer, who can buy flour, bread or other bakery products from Granarium and know everything about its origins, he adds. "Our goal is to offer the consumer a product of high quality, in absolute transparency of all stages of the supply chain," Lucarelli said as I visited his small, clean plant located a few kilometres outside the town of Bevagna.

"A chain that is shortened by connecting the consumer with the earth...because this is my idea of where it all started".

The Lucarelli siblings, whose company motto is "Where grain becomes bread", are so enthusiastic about their operation that they offer public tours of the facility, located next to the family home.

Granarium's small retail shop is open to the back production facility, so customers can see every step, including the point where the grain is ground into flour using two massive, 1929-era millstones made of natural stone.

That distinction is important because most "stones" used today for grinding grain into flour are artificial, rather than made of real stone, and as a result, these can heat up during the grinding process, tainting the flour with a scorched odour.

The grain also passes through various cleaners, sifters, humidifiers and other stages in the process of becoming flour and being consumed.

No chemicals or preservatives are added to the grain during this process, say the Lucarellis, sticking to their philosophy of creating a product that grandpa would have recognized.

Shaped by hand, the dough rests in rising trays until it is ready to be baked in a wood-fired oven fuelled by beech to get the best heat and aroma into the product.

Small sacks of fresh flour, from white to whole-wheat, are available as well as breads of all types, focaccia, ready-to-go pizza, sweet cakes, biscotti, and even gift packages.

Besides being sold on-site, Granarium products are also available at regional farmers' markets.

Out back, three tall green silos contained the grains harvested by the Lucarellis from 15 hectares of land where they also produce lentils and chickpeas that are available for sale in the Granarium retail store.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now

My mother died this week after a long life and a short struggle with cancer. Although she was 87 and her health had been in decline, I am still in shock.

Mom loved plants, trees, flowers of all kinds, and gardening. I know she would have enjoyed these beautiful cherry trees that have been blossoming this month at the Parco Lago dell'EUR in the southern part of Rome.

The cherry trees were planted by the Japanese embassy in Rome more than 50 years ago.

When I saw them, it reminded me of the poem by A.E. Housman "Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now".

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.