La RaccoltaBy Glenn Greenwood
March 20, 2019
Our man Marcello has the good fortune of having relatives in Italy. On his most recent visit, he had an opportunity to visit a few of our producers. He was able to see their operations and to stay and work with them. He came away with many wonderful experiences, and has agreed to share a few of those with us.
Over the last three weeks I had the opportunity to visit a handful of Ritrovo’s producers’ production facilities, gardens, and kitchens. I was impressed by their dedication to bringing their very best into the products they make, and their pleasure in knowing that their products are enjoyed and appreciated here in the U.S.
As an employee of Ritrovo, I understand that Ritrovo’s products represent high quality and purity. But, there is another quality that I didn’t realize I have been enjoying. Without exception, I found our producers to be committed to using ingredients as fresh as those in their own gardens. I saw families working together, cooking regionally influenced recipes, and I experienced the preparation and cultivation of a final product that not only preserves their ingredients and traditions, but spotlights them.
At Radici of Tuscany which is just a short drive east of Florence, Sandra Masi and Viviano Venturi operate their production facility and tend their extensive organic gardens. Radici is nestled in the hills above the famous Arno river, in the small Tuscan town of Loro Ciuffenna. I saw that the same vegetables they were preparing to send to the local farmer’s market were also being used to prepare Ribollita Toscano – a traditional vegetable soup we are excited to have back in our catalog. I not only got to tour the production kitchen, I also joined in and helped them prepare the Ribollita!
Many of Radici’s recipes come directly from that region of Tuscany. They include the White Bean Appetizer, Sugo alla Sangiovese and a pesto made with Giant Tuscan Kale. Later that afternoon, Viviano and I talked as we toured his fields of vegetables. He explained why he grows certain vegetables, and how they are well suited to that region’s climate. For example, the Costoluto and Canestrino tomatoes for their Tuscan Tomato Pieces with Giant Basil are regionally adapted varietals that tolerate the hot and dry summers of Tuscany. At the end of 2015’s exceedingly dry summer, Radici harvested both types in abundance.
Across the Arno river I witnessed and participated in the Vendemmia or wine harvest on the estate of Mannucci-Droandi. While they had not yet begun harvesting their olives for the 2015 crop, it was obvious how much care Roberto and Maria Droandi take to ensure quality in their products. Friends and family were there to help, and the work was rigorous. After an amazing dinner of semolina gnocchi and black truffle, and pasta with eggplant, peppers and other vegetables from their garden, we headed back out to the vineyards. It was a clear night, and the moon had just risen. We scoured the rows of vines chasing off deer and wild boar that have a particular appetite for Sangiovese grapes. We retired just before midnight and I returned to my bed exhausted by the nighttime extracurricular activity. That evening marked one full month since Roberto and Maria had begun the nightly routine of walking the vineyards, using tiny fireworks to chase off the hungry animals!
Further north in Piedmont, at the village of Carrù, I helped Laura Bonino from I Peccati di Ciacco prepare a batch of Bruschetta Sauce. What amazed me was that she did not treat the preparation as an industrialized, precisely metered process. Rather, she worked as though she were in her own kitchen preparing a sauce for a dinner. All of the recipes she uses are her own, or are local traditional versions. Instead of tossing in the garlic, oil, spices and tomatoes all at once; she sautés the garlic in the oil until it is just perfect then carefully adds the other ingredients. She finishes by boiling off just enough water to make the sauce the perfect consistency. Laura adjusts the temperatures attentively by watching and tasting, not by a timer. So it is very much like her standing in front of her stove at home, she just happens to be doing so in a pan that is slightly larger than usual.
My days visiting our producers were full, and enlightening. I was taken aback by their dedication to being true to tradition, and the hard work needed to bring the freshest ingredients into their products. By simply eating and sharing a Ritrovo product, you are also experiencing this story. Whether that of the Tuscan Kale Pesto, Sugo al Sangiovese, or Amarena Cherry Jam. Through these amazing products you can appreciate the carefully selected raw materials, skillful preparation, and above all, the people who are not only artisans but stewards of tradition.