Next to the Trasimeno Lake, the company grows legumes and grains, following natural rhythms. The land is not just soil to exploit, but a value to transmit to future generations.
by Filippo Benedetti Valentini
With hands reddened by the sun, Patrizia opens a pod that contains the fruit of a season of work in the fields. Before the end of August, and before the Fall rains begin, the people of Azienda Agricola Bittarelli of Castiglione del Lago get ready to harvest spelt, wheat, barley, corn, olives, chickpeas, cicerchie, beans and Fagiolina del Trasimeno. These are like pearls among leaves and buds, on the same land that has been cultivated according to Nature’s laws.
Vaiano, Località Poggio del Sole, a small promontory on the Trasimeno lake, only two kilometers away from Tuscany. Here hills have been drawn by tractors’ furrows, and every cultivation has its roots in ancient sharecropping tradition, witnessing a territory that, motionless and uncontaminated, lays claim to its domination over mankind. This is the territory where, since the 1970s and over three generations, the Bittarelli family has built a company that today is the unit of measure for quality products in the area.
On 120 hectares of land, Patrizia and her husband, Patrizio, along with their two sons, 25 and 19 years old, cultivate grains and legumes following crop rotations, thus avoiding synthetic fertilizers and herbicides. They are not farmers but rather “gardeners” of their territory.
Fagiolina (little bean) from Trasimeno
The product that identifies them the most is Fagiolina del Trasimeno. Of African origins, it is an ancient legume, introduced to this territory by the Etruscans four centuries before Christ. The humid soil and windy climate of the lake have always been the ideal conditions for its cultivation, which, until the last century, was the most important source of proteins in this area. They are more nutritional than regular beans, but lower yields, it was slowly abandoned after WWII to cultivate imported legumes that did not require as much human labor. Then, in 2000, thanks to a project between farmers and the University of Perugia, it has been reintroduced, and this ancient legume has become a Slow Food Presidium.
How to pair it
Some people claim that the best Fagiolina has a dark color, but that’s not correct, according to Patrizia: “Research tells us that it comes in 21 different colors, from white to black, passing through different shades of brown.” It’s planted in the springtime and, in the summer the small pods are harvested, strictly by hand, when they are dry. They are dried for two more days under the sun, then are beaten with a stick, and passed through a sift. It is a product high in protein and fiber, does not need to be soaked before cooking, and is easily digestible thanks to its very thin skin. It has a delicate taste that is heightened by olive oil, such as the light and fruity Leccino and Dolce Agogia. Fagiolina del Trasimeno is also great for cold salads with perch from the lake, smoky tench fish cooked in a soup, or with cotechino (pork stew), as a substitute for lentils.
Soups and other legumes
They have an Italian variety of chickpeas, very resistant to parasites (for this reason, they do not need to be treated by chemicals). The chickpeas are small and have a smooth skin, they are picked by machines, and bagged immediately. From the plant to the shelf. There are also cicerchie, another traditional Central Italian product, a symbol of poor farmers’ cuisine, a great source of proteins, calcium and phosphorus. A classic recipe is soup, with sautéed onion, pork jowl and a spoon of tomato sauce, then aromatized with rosemary and sage. Once cooked, place a spoonful on a slice of toasted bread, and then add extra virgin olive oil.
The hard grain is also a typical produce of the company. In 2016, despite heavy rains, they produced 300,000 KG of the best wheat: without microtoxins, with a high specific weight, rich in proteins and gluten. A small part of it is ground by Patrizia in her mill to make homemade pasta that she gives to her guests; the rest is sold in the general market, where, unfortunately, it is mixed with lower quality grains. This is the difficult law of global markets, where prices are usually decided by the buyers. Starting next year, they will reintroduce the Senatore Cappelli wheat, a variety that was common in Italy in the first half of 1900s: this variety produces high quality semolina that Patrizia wants to sell directly to her costumers.
Extra virgin olive oil
The company is transitioning to organic, and at the moment the products that are organic certified are spelt, cicerchie, chickpeas and fagiolina del lago. Inside the olive grove there are free range animals. Gooses, hens, ducks and rabbits keep the soil free of unwanted weeds and they guard the territory. The olive varieties are Moraiolo, Frantoio and Leccino, which produce an extra virgin oil of medium to intense fruity aroma, ideal for traditional dishes with legumes. They also have oils aromatized with chili pepper and fresh lemons.
Since 2013, the Agricola Bittarelli has also been a didactic farm and, together with other companies of the Trasimeno Lake, is has signed an agreement between producers, schools and local authorities to promote a healthy lifestyle to children. When visiting the company, children understand productive cycles, seeing products with their own eyes. They learn about seasonality, learn to use their senses and, most importantly, they understand the labor behind a bag of legumes. By explaining agricultural work to children, Patrizio is able to keep this territory alive every day. It is not simply soil to exploit, but a value to transmit through the years and to future generations.