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Farro

Farro is Farro.
In Latin, Triticum dicoccum.

There is much confusion and disagreement about what exactly is farro. Many authors and journalists refer to it as emmer, spelt and einkorn, but throughout Italy the grain is simply farro. Farro is an unhybridized ancestor of modern wheat. Regional differences abound and this may explain the confusion about the name. People have used “barley” and “spelt” in similar ways, but these names are more commonly used in countries beyond the Alps, mainly Switzerland and Germany. Even small Italian producers, when shipping farro to non-Italian speaking countries have erroneously labeled their product as “spelt” or “barley.” These, however, are different subspecies. Farro is Triticum dicoccum, emmer is Triticum Turgidum, while spelt is Triticum spelta - they all have a different genetic makeup.

Farro findings are reported spanning from archeological sites from Neolithic Egypt, Turkey and early Bronze Age Mesopotamia. The ancient rabbinic literature cites farro as one of the five grains to be used during Passover as matzah. The ancient Romans cultivated the grain in the Italian peninsula where it became “far” or “gran far,” which was milled into “puls” to make a dish very similar to today’s polenta. The grain is believed to have fed the Roman legions, given as a ration to each solider in small bags from which they made food or fermented it with water to make a type of beer. The grain lost its position with the advent of the intensive modern wheat agriculture after the World Wars, but in the past 20 years the grain has gone through a renaissance because of its growing method, nutritional value and culinary re-discovery.

In Italy today farro is cultivated in a very small area around the foothills of both sides of the central Apennines, mainly in Tuscany, Umbria, Marche and Abruzzo. Farro thrives on stony or rocky well-drained hillsides about 1,000 feet above sea level. Farro is planted in October and harvested in June and survives in poor conditions, without the use of either fertilizers or pesticides.

Gianluigi Peduzzi of Rustichella d’Abruzzo works alongside a group of local farmers and friends who own over 50 hectares in the area between Penne and the Gran Sasso, the highest peak of the Apennines. This area is partially protected by the Riserva Naturale Regionale Lago di Penne, a World Wildlife Fund reserve. The yield of over 100 tons of farro of the local variety known as farro vestino is then used for producing the flour for making Rustichella d’Abruzzo farro pasta as well as farro polenta. Prior to milling, the grains are sifted and sorted through an advanced selection process, separating the whole ones of the finest quality. Farro grains with their shiny reddish-brown color, pointy ends and very sharp texture, are processed for husking and pearling, removing the outer hard husk but leaving much of the bran intact.

This particular process makes cooking farro easier, ensuring a delightful chewy bite, which will hold even when cold. Unlike barley or spelt, which easily become mushy, farro feels al dente, but backwards: harder on the outside, soft in the middle.

The nutritional virtues of farro have long been revered in Italy. Farro is rich in fiber, magnesium and vitamins A, B, C and E. Protein content is also high and when combined with legumes, farro forms a complete protein source. The starch it contains is very similar to that of rice and is very low in gluten, making it easily digestible even to some gluten-sensitive people.

By now, gourmet shops and fine restaurants throughout the United States and Europe are big consumers of this rustic grain, making use of it in the old ways and traditions of Italy or in many new, creative ways. The versatility of the grain makes it quite appealing as a substitute for rice, as well as for serving it in cold or hot dishes. Zuppa di farro (farro soup), farrotto (farro cooked as risotto) panzanella di farro (farro salad) are some of the typical ways you will find farro featured in most Italian restaurants today. This hearty, chewy grain is wonderful as an accompaniment to mushrooms, wild game, sausage, and as part of any stuffing for turkey or even tomatoes. Farro can also be boiled and kept in a well-sealed container in the fridge so it can be then used in soup or simply sautéd with olive oil and garlic for a perfect side dish. Farro is a great grain to play with in the kitchen and be creative as possible.

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