For three generations, there has always been a Marino in Cossano Belbo, milling grain and producing some of the flours most in demand among Italian restaurants in general, and Piedmontese restaurants in particular.
Working at the family mill since 1956, these dedicated millers select the best crops from a number of carefully selected farmers located in Piedmont, Tuscany and Basilicata. They operate a pure certified organic system and still use handcrafted French millstones from the nineteenth century.
The stones were the starting point of our conversation with Fulvio Marino.
«They come from La Fertè, a French company, and date back to the end of the nineteenth century. They are extremely hard, do not wear easily and are very slow. The result is a soft milling process which doesn’t heat the cereal, so that it conserves its organoleptic and nutritional properties. The stones leave no residues and don’t alter the product. It’s almost a cold milling.»
And what cereals do you mill?
«Spelt, rye, einkorn and durum wheat. Meanwhile, in the cylinder mill we produce 0 and 00 grade wheat flour.»
How do you choose your suppliers?
«We are pure millers, we don’t grow cereals, instead we visit farms and select them carefully, asking them to comply with our quality standards. And all the cereals are organic.»
Organic is a fashionable and widely used term. And people are far more knowledgeable about gluten intolerance. Much more has been discovered about coeliac disease in the last 5 years than over the last twenty. How have you responded to this change in dietary habits?
«We first came into contact with gluten intolerance nearly twenty years ago, when my uncle found out he had the condition. Since this is a family firm, used to eating what it produces, we asked ourselves what we could produce as an alternative to wheat. After lengthy research, when we turned to research and test centres, we found the answer. We began looking for old cereals that had almost been forgotten, and started producing spelt, rye and einkorn wheat. Twenty years ago, spelt was known largely in Tuscany’s Garfagnana area, and was eaten whole in soups. No one had ever thought of milling it. The same was true of einkorn wheat, an ancient cereal and the progenitor of modern cereal cultivation, grown originally in the Fertile Crescent. Clearly, all these cereals contain gluten, but their organoleptic and nutritional properties make them much easier to digest than soft and durum wheat.»
How did you find it?
«Of course we have seed banks today, but we found out that in nature einkorn wheat is present in many different families. Together with Coldiretti and a number of local growers from the Alta Langa area, we sowed them all. We created crops of einkorn wheat with a very varied genetic profile, which over the course of time have generated natural hybrids, creating an absolutely unique genetic heritage.»
Alta Langa, which means zero-miles production?
«Yes, but we’re not obsessive about it. Zero-miles production is extremely important for us, to the extent that it guarantees the quality of the product. Growing durum wheat at this latitude rather than in southern Italy would produce poor crops and harvests, and be detrimental to farmers. Here, for example, the wheat would be subject to mould.»
Mills used to be powered by water. How does the Marino mill 2.0 work?
«With solar power. Unfortunately, the water course here is completely unreliable, it bursts its banks and it dries up. Until 7/8 years ago, we had a turbine linked directly to the mill wheel, but the last flood destroyed everything. So we changed to solar. We have our own 90KW plant, which produces more energy than we need.»