Ancient Grains, new flavors:
the rediscovery of Sicilian wheat
Sicily has historically been a region rich of wheat. The wheat cultivation in the island is supposed to date back to the 3rd millennium BC. The different wheat cultivations give the Sicilian landscape incredible colors, changing from one place to another, according to the grain variety and the time and place of sowing. For a long time, ancient grains grown in the past in Sicily remained only in the memory of our grandparents until, finally, some visionary producers and professional millers have renewed them selecting them grain by grain with the use of tools of the latest technology before grinding them in the same stone mills that have been used for a long time.
How the Journey through
Sicilian wheat began
The first miller was Filippo Drago, owner of Molini del Ponte. With his work, he managed to create the perfect synthesis between ancient gestures and innovative technological instruments. His journey through the ancient grains of Sicily and the decision to rediscover and recover this forgotten heritage first began when he studied the story of ancient grains and found out that many seeds of autochthonous Sicilian grains were preserved in the Museum of Caltagirone, an inland Sicilian village in the province of Catania.
These grains are “kept alive” and sown for mere anthropological purposes: varieties that are preserved but not utilized, practically as if they were in a state of hibernation. Those Sicilian ancient grains used to grace the fields of the island. Over the centuries, farmers watched their plants take on the qualities that the terrain and climate offered and, each year, they saved their best sheaves of wheat to plant the following year, gradually allowing each wheat variety to be the very best expression of the area.
Sicily has 54 different varieties of ancient grains and thanks to the work of Filippo Drago and his network of producers, lot of this varieties are being produced again: “Everything started in 2003, when I met the director of the Sicilian Experimental station that guards all the ancient Sicilian grains. Then, I started wandering through the field trying to convince farmers to plant again those varieties. And it has revealed to be a winning strategy.” Over those years, in fact, he managed to create a solid network of suppliers so that he can now rely on 100 farmers for a total of three thousand hectares of land.
Between ancient stone mill
and latest technology machinery
Molini del Ponte was born in Castelvetrano, with 12 mills in the center of the small village. Thanks to excellent results reached, the young entrepreneur managed to open a second plant in Selinunte, near Trapani. There, he owns 6 hectares and other 4 mills.
Drago’s work is a constant struggle to strike the right balance between past and future, between the ancient skills passed down from one generation to the next and the need to keep pace with change: but how is it possible to reconcile these two aspects in order to go on developing the business?
“Simple. On one hand, I acquire state-of-the-art machinery to select and keep the grain clean and, on the other, I continue to practise traditional stone milling with a particular type of stone whose grooves have been notched out by special hammers. Each stone is still crafted with special patterns – all of which date back to the 1800s – suitable for grinding a particular type of grain”.
The weath harvest for safe and healthy grains
Why should one prefer ancient grains? Even when you buy excellent quality industrial grains, they still are industrial and treated with chemical weed-killers and fertilizers. If the artisan respects the rules of the production the results is higher, respects the environment and there’s no need to use any chemicals.
In fact, the Mediterranean micro-climate in Sicily provides enough sun, warm temperatures and dry weather to naturally and effectively ward off mycotoxins that wheat crops are typically vulnerable to. As a result, there is no need for chemicals, such as Glyphosates, to keep the fungal infections away.
The dependence on the climate also means that grains grown in Sicily follow the seasons rigorously – there is only one harvest per year. Grains are given time to grow throughout winter, flower in spring, mature appropriately and let the sun zap away any mycotoxins before they are harvested and stored in summer. In essence, grains grown in Sicily are naturally safe, healthy and happy grains.
From the ancient grains
to the traditional types of Pasta
At Molini del Ponte, the tradition of the ancient grains goes hand in hand with the traditional Sicilian Pasta: in their catalogue you can indeed find the Pasta types that are typical of the island and used in the classic Sicilian recipes.
Spaghettoni are the Sicilian cousins of the most famous Spaghetti: they are the same as the “normal” Spaghetti but thicker. They are used in a variety of dishes and with different sauces. For a real Sicilian recipe, however, try them with only olive oil, garlic and breadcrumbs. A real praise to simplicity! Another less known but unmissable Sicilian Pasta type is Busiate. Traditionally from Trapani in Western Sicily, Busiate are formed by twisting strands of pasta dough to create a spiral shape that is hollow in the center and looks a bit like a telephone cord. They are traditionally served with the classical Red Pesto from Trapani.
Fusilli are probably the most famous Sicilian types of Pasta. They give any dish an unexpected twist with their spiral shape. One of the most famous Sicilian recipes is indeed Fusilli with Norma Sauce: the sauce consists of golden fried aubergine in a simple tomato sauce, topped with basil and wonderfully salty ricotta salata. The shape of fusilli is simply perfect to retain the sauce and the morsels of golden aubergine.