Let’s be honest, everyone loves rice, at least in one – or even all – its thousand recipes. The elegant, elliptical shape of its small grains turn rice into one of the most versatile ingredients of the international cuisine and one of the easiest to find. Yet, what really makes the difference from rice and a good rice are its origins or – to be more precise – its land of origin.
Pack your bags or start travelling with your mind if you feel curious to know where the perfect ingredient for a peerless risotto comes from: the destination is Northern Italy, in the area of Vercelli.
Rice cultivations in Vercelli [Photo credits: Strada Del Riso Vercellese]
Here rice acquires a new meaning: not only it is a local traditional produce, but an important heritage preserved every day by the attention and devotion of the Vercellese inhabitants, who become with the passing of time both guardians and narrators of a unique history.
But why here? The history of rice starts centuries ago, in the Middle Ages, both thanks to favourable geographical and morphological elements and both for the intuition of locals of using the richness of the land to fulfil the needs of nourishment for people in the area. The particular clayish ground, combined with the abundance of pure water from the glaciers of Monte Rosa – on the border between the regions of Piedmont and Aosta Valley – has done the majority of the work. Then, massive intervention on the creation of artificial water ways used to canalise water into selected lands destined to the cultivation of rice have made the magic begin.
For those who wonder on the connections with rice from the Far East, the relationship between Italian and Oriental rice couldn’t be tighter. Indeed, the first seeds of the rice used to start the cultivations have long travelled throughout the globe to find the ideal location where they could eventually grow bigger, rounder and, of course, tastier.
Since 1300 the so called risaie - the Italian word for rice fields – have appeared in the Vercellese territory making it recognisable for its pure green features, especially in late Spring and Summer, providing the landscape with a romantic, dreamlike flare.
[Photo credits: Piemonte Expo]
A tip for the most curious ones: in case you try to Google ‘rice cultivation in Vercelli’ you are for sure about to find vintage black and white pictures of dozens of women all ages bent hand in water to gather the purest rice grains. Their name is mondine and until 1950s they were the protagonist of the harvesting process. Today if you happen to get to Vercelli’s surroundings around September or October you will see that majestic machines have replaced these women’s hard task in daily life routine… but not in the local’s and Italians’ heart which is still bounded to the mondine with a deep feeling of affection and respect.
A historical picture of the Mondine
There’s no better way to get into the local history than indulging in a real (or even imaginery, why not) journey throughout Vercelli’s heritage. It will be a pleasure to discover that the entire features of the area, ranging from entertainment to food, up to a relaxing stay can be connected by a route: the Rice Route, born to offer its guests new experiences seen from unusual points of view.
One such example can be a short tour within one of the rice mills, to get into the secrets of this ingredient’s production and harvesting directly from the producers. This experience will surely thrill you thanks to the passion of the people working tirelessly to keep this wonderful tradition alive.
Or even a simple stroll through the beauties of the area, which can include churches with a long history to tell, ancient traditional houses or even hectares and hectares of green lush lands intertwined by tiny gravel roads where time seems to have stood still to centuries ago.
Traditional Panissa [Photo credits: Riseria Re Carlo]
Of course, after the effort of a long day tour comes the reward! What better way to end the journey than titillating your palate with a freshly cooked risotto? You will have the utmost of choice, though if you want to stick to local traditions, then go for a panissa! This Vercellese recipe is based on simple, locally sourced ingredients such as beans, chopped cabbage, pork meat cubes and, not to mention, rice and is full of taste, perfect for even the most demanding taste buds. Maybe paired with a glass of local red wine such as Barbera, to feel, eat and drink like a local.
You can learn more on the Rice Route on its official website.
Learn more about our brand ALESSANDROSIMONI which is based in the region of Vercelli.