Opening doors and hearts…food, friendship and solidarity in Mondovi

Last week I met with Lorenza Borsarelli – fifth from the right – to find out more about the work of ‘Intrecci’ (interweave), a collective of local agricultural producers who, like me, believe passionately in the power of food produced sustainability and with love to bring together communities and create a shared sense of identity and belonging. Based in Piedmont in north western Italy, the group currently comprises six companies who have come together with the explicit of promoting local ‘cultura’ (culture) with a emphasis on ‘condivisione’ (sharing) and ‘crescita’ (growth), in all senses of the word.

Lorenza began by telling me a little about the companies who currently form ‘Intrecci’. Agricola Basso is located in the hamlet of Prea di Roccaforte Mondovì and is run by Claudio and Paolo Grossi and their mother Domenica Basso who have cleared and recovered five hectares of their great-grandparents’ chestnut grove creating 5,000 meters of terraces on which they grow vegetables and small fruits which are then transformed into jams, sauces, sauces and pickles. Lorenza’s own company Agritrutta, which she runs with her husband Andrea Fariano, is set inside the beautiful Crava Morozzo Nature Reserve producing a range of smoked and marinated products made from freshwater fish – particularly ‘trota’ (trout) – harvested from two of the reserve’s lakes.

Local freshwater fish products from Agritrutta on sale in Mondovi

The Azienda Agricola Marco Bozzolo is dedicated to chestnut growing. As someone who spent much of the Autumn snuffling through the woods close to our house, I know that chestnuts are a big thing in Piedmont! Marco and his family cultivate many ancient varieties of chestnut in their fifteen hectares of woodland but above all the Gabbiana and the Frattona. The chestnuts are dried using a traditional slow heat method over forty days and made into a range of delicious products – including crema di castagne, a delicious spreadable cream, ideal for breakfast and infinately better for you and the environment than Nutella, which is also produced in the region but on a large scale and using the ubiquitous palm oil which is associated with the destruction of biodiverse habitats.

Erbe di Montagna is owned and run by Samantha Baghino and Simone Braguzzi who, since 2006, have selected, mixed and transformed medicinal herbs to create a range of products including beautifully scented herbal and fruit teas and a range of rissoto rices flavoured with, among other things, ‘zafferano’ (saffron) and ‘zenzero’ (ginger). The products, which have received recognition of Piedmontese Artisan Excellence, are made in the company’s own laboratory using a mixture of ingredients grown locally and sourced from elsewhere. I’ve been invited to visit the laboratory to see the processes for myself. Watch this space!

Rosso Gentile Agriforno is located in Vicoforte. The owners are Luca Battistini, Enrico Bergamaschi and Stefano Tesauro who together cultivate ancient varieties of cereals which are ground into flour and then transformed into bread and pastries which are cooked in a traditional oven using only forest wood and hazelnut shells. Finally, Cascina Biasin, in San Giovanni dei Govoni in Mondovì, is an all-female company run by sisters Maria Cristina and Silvana Gasco who produce raw and cooked meats, fresh goji berries and saffron. Whilst I would descibe myself as a vegetarian and generally stick to a plant-based diet and fish, I have raised and slaughtered my own pigs and appreciate the respect shown by this company for the welfare of their animals which are bred in full-floor boxes and fed almost exclusively with herbs, hay and cereals grown on the farm. The original six companies are to be joined by two others, Anna Maria Abbona Azienda Agricola producing excellent wines in the rolling hills close to Farigliano and Azienda Agricola Simone Basso, producing wonderful cheeses. I fully intend to try the products of both of these companies so I can write another blog!

It was fascinating to learn more about the companies that comprise ‘Intrecci’ and to see the beautifully presented range of products on display and available for purchase at the Caffè Sociale in Mondovi train station (and also available through each company’s personal website). But for me the most interesting aspect of my discussion with Lorenza was learning more about the philosophy that underpins the organisation. Whilst the production and sale of high quality, local agricultural products which promote the culinary specialisms of the Piedmont region is clearly central, there is much more to it. ‘Intrecci’ is about solidarity, about the interweaving of food and friendship. Working closely alongside Mondoqui – about which I will be writing very soon – the organisation wants to create a space for cultural exchange and information sharing between people from backgrounds living in the city of Mondovi (and the region more generally), providing opportunities for local craftsmanship and delivering educational and recreational events oriented, in particular, towards the values of sustainable food production and consumption. They are also on a mission to minimise the use of plastic.

The philosophy of Intrecci is sharing together with intensity to create solidarity and to make an impact that we could not have alone. It’s about producing quality food but its also about other things… the social, the educational…about bringing people together with open minds and open hearts to connect and understand one another!

Lorenza Borsarelli, Intrecci/Agritutta

I left my meeting with Lorenza with a full heart, a head buzzing with ideas about the ways in which we might work together in the future and a jar of Agritrutta smoked iridea trout, which I will be mixing with ricotta and eating with locally produced pasta very soon!

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