It is at Molino Paciscopi that the association Grani Antichi was created (Ancient Grains).
Initially, Montespertoli had been trying to sell their bread locally as part of the Tuscan initiative, “Filiera Corta.” As part of this project, the Tuscan region has been sponsoring local producers and small reselling business to work together, and sell food made within a 70km range. Councils, cooperatives and other businesses were also able to obtain financial help from the region to organize markets to sell local products (This operation still continues today). The locally grown wheat from modern varieties was milled at Molino Paciscopi and sold to local bakeries. Bread was made and sold in the Florence area. The project started in 2004 and worked initially but at a small scale as this bread does not have sufficient unique features to be able to go beyond a couple bakeries and few selling points.
In 2008, the situation changes. Prof. Stefano Benedettelli from the University of Florence meets the miller Gianni Paciscopi from Montespertoli and he is quickly convinced to start working with the ancient varieties the university was testing, instead of using the modern varieties. A friend and client of Gianni Paciscopi, the baker Marco Panchetti starts collaborating with the miller and then a few producers are convinced to try the new “old” grains they had never worked with before.
The industrial processes had previously killed the links between producer, miller, pasta maker, baker and consumers. Ironically, this link has been a difficult one to recreate, also due to the fact that traditional techniques had been lost. The stone-grinding mill had almost been abandoned and was used only once in a while to grind low quality grains for animal feed. Sour dough bread was not made any more in Montespertoli and ancient grain varieties had been forgotten.
This forced all the participants of the project to acquire new (old) professional skills. The work in progress is really a combination of different heritage skills. The university team, led by Prof. Benedettelli, helped select the wheat varieties and develop the milling process, the bread and pasta making processes; and made progress on the research on health benefits.
Francesca Castioni, an agronomist, follows the producers in the field. The miller, bakers and pasta makers prepare the products and sell them helped by other members of the association. Thus, the environment gains as the association ensures that all wheat is grown sustainably and the best practices are respected in the agricultural fields. Consumers gain as they can buy a better product as it is being quality controlled by the university and the Grani Antichi association.
The Ancient Grain Varieties Association of Montespertoli in Tuscany
Passion for the earth and knowing that only through sustainable agriculture it is possible to aliment oneself well are some of the principles the members have in common.
A local network of producers, consumers and small businesses who transform the products, form the economic instrument that makes this project a reality.
Fundamental in the production of ancient wheat varieties is the respect for three-year crop rotation. This means the land where ancient grain varieties are grown is also used for other produce like chickpeas, beans, lentils, sunflowers, animal feeds, and others. It is also very important to respect the land and its fertility. Therefore a disciplinary has been made with clear rules for production and transformation.
All our products are traceable and we have a patented trademark.
A 'grain' of History
All Tuscan indigenous varieties of wheat, called Ancient Varieties, may be traced back to the work of a group of geneticists in the early ‘900s.
The first cereal genetic research centre was established in 1919 by Nazareno Strambelli. Different research stations were created in various parts of Italy in the following years. Professors would then move around the stations and teach where help was required.In the beginning of the 19th century, also because of the fascist government policies, Italy was self sufficient in terms of wheat and was even exporting.
By 1940, new varieties were selected and synthetic fertilizers were introduced. Strambelli and then Marco Michaelles selected many varieties that were used until the 1970s. A fundamental role was played by the research centre located in the farm of the Count of Frassineto in Arezzo, a province of Tuscany. One of the main features of these research projects was that the selection criterion for wheat was based on how adaptable the grain was to Tuscan soil and not how efficient the grain would be for industrial purposes.
The selection of new varieties and research in all fields of agriculture were essential to the success of Tuscan food.
However, recent modern techniques and globalisation have started to obstruct the Traditional Tuscan model and a balance needs to be found. Following industry’s demand for higher performance gluten and reduced costs, techniques have changed and modern dwarf varieties with different types of gluten have been planted everywhere causing most old varieties to disappear from the fields.
As previously mentioned, in the past 40 years, farms have felt the pressure to cut costs. Local consumers also have increasingly chosen cheaper agricultural products as their purchasing power was reduced. In some areas, especially in cereal cultivation, competitive imports have discouraged their cultivation.