Marche Italy: Bread and Wine

What does dirt mean to you? Maybe not much if you are living in an urban city where no matter what, food shows up in the stores, the trains get you where you need to go; and pavement spreads and slides along the ground and up buildings, creating ease of transportation—encasing you in a seemingly steady world.

For those nearer to the agricultural universe—where the fruit of your labor can very well mean literally the fruit of your labor—soil is a more immediate and important thing. Nevertheless for all of us these days, survivalism can cause many things to feel immediate, and the actual victory of survival can brings heartfelt shared celebrations wherever there are humans on earth.

This past summer, whether I looked out over the rolling hills of Le Marche with friends, drank a glass of Verdicchio wine, or hovered over a plate of farro salad, the partaking of these elements brewed much reflection in me. In those moments, I understood how wealthy I was (despite my dour financial state, awaiting me back home). Someone, somewhere planted those seeds of grain for my farro salad. Someone, somewhere tended the vines for the wine. Many I didn’t know went into the fields to harvest, and all I did was show up at a table, invited by friendly people wanting to share. “I’m just a writer,” I thought. “What did I do to deserve such luxury?”

For millennia, the Marchigiani nurtured beautifully savage-growing fruits and grains and built communities that survived continual invasion and war. This partnership between the soil, the plants and their caretakers supplied the needed bread and wine for survival. It's easy to look at an ancient man-made Roman ruin and see antiquity, but it takes a different and further-reaching perspective to see antiquity hanging in a cluster of grapes in the sun, or hear it blowing through the fields of grain.

Bread and wine—ancient symbols of the fruits of our labor.

Today, each time I head to the subway, with my face towards work and the things I have to do; when the city rises around me, pushed from underneath by ambition for what is to come; when the reports say this recession is no where near over; when I calculate my monies to the penny… because it does make all the difference; when it all just becomes too overwhelming:  I find a place where something is growing from the soil. I look upon a tree or a few nurtured flowers and think about how blessed I really am. I think about how many meals I’ve shared with friends, family and complete strangers. I remember how I ate farro salad and drank Verdicchio wine with friends this summer in Le Marche. I allow myself to take the time to be thankful. I remember who I am. I’m a Native woman, and I’m wealthy beyond measure. I’ve shared the bread and wine.

Bread: Farro

Farro has been much debated in recent years. Confused with many other forms of grain, it has been hard to pin down just what farro really is. However, with a good amount of research, farro today has been defined as three main grains growing in Italian fields: farro piccolo, farro medio, and farro grande, which are specifically einkorn, emmer and spelt. Emmer (Triticum dicoccum) is the most widely grown farro in Italy. It is also the most ancient, and therefore the most authentic as farro. Dating back thousands of years to the Fertile Crescent, it is the original grain from which all others derive.

Farro was also the standard ration of the Roman Legions, and was the primary ingredient in “plus” a type of polenta eaten by the Roman poor. Although the "staple of the people," its cultivation dwindled as other grains became more easily cultivated. What eventually happened, presumably out-of-the-blue, was that the French began using farro in soups, feeding it to individuals of the “plush-room” variety—and voilà: a rebirth. Today the cultivation of farro is expanding, and it’s not uncommon to eat pane di farro (farro bread), farro salad or find farro pasta in and around Le Marche. 

Wine: Verdicchio

Growing in the land of Le Marche since Etruscan times between the tenth and eighth centuries BC, Verdicchio was first trained and cultivated by using the trunk of a tree to support the climbing vines. It was so valuable, the pips of the wine were found in ancient graves.

In the 1500’s Pliny the Elder wrote of the wine in Le Marche, describing in depth the Verdicchio grape. By the 1800’s, it was grown amidst fields of grain, supplying to villages both bread and wine.

In the 1900’s, a bottle with an amphora shape, reminiscent of Etruscan wine containers, was designed specifically as the vessel for Verdicchio. With this development, the modern era of Verdicchio wine production was born. By 1970, over a million Verdicchio bottles were being sold all over the world.

From the ancient tree, to the refined bottle, Verdicchio holds strength. Noted as a “dirty little white” or “a red wine with a white color,” it never fails to please, and will continue to bring our thoughts to the hills of Le Marche.



—- Elise McMullen a.k.a. The Galavant Girl



top photo by Lenny Ciotti


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