Good rice? It’s natural!

“The name Riso Buono (Good Rice) came naturally – our product is made in small quantities, the first step on a new path of awareness and of life.”

So says Cristina Guidobono Cavalchini, an accountant from Rome as well as a financial journalist who’s worked in both Rome and the City of London. Until just a few years ago she couldn’t have imagined how her life would be one day transformed…. by her father-in-law.

Casalbeltrame seen from the fields.

FROM THE CITY TO THE RICE PADDY

A former diplomat and ambassador, her father-in-law asked Cristina to do a survey of the family property called La Mondina in Casalbeltrame, a small town near Novara with less than a thousand inhabitants. Cristina, who was used to intricate urban maps and the big city lifestyle, had never heard of the place, but this didn’t hold her back.

“I arrived at Malpensa airport and I took a taxi. When I mentioned the name of the town the taxi driver turned and look at me as if to ask: “where?” I couldn’t give him much information, besides that Casalbeltrame was between Novara and Vercelli.” Once they arrived, Cristina told the taxi driver to stick around and wait, and not to abandon her in the middle of nowhere.

“I was a little bit disturbed. I found myself in front of a beautiful old farmhouse, but it was a crumbling ruin. There were 122 windows to fix – I didn’t count them then and there, but that what’s it came to in the end, and I repeat that number like a mantra – 3000 square meters of roofing in disrepair, mice, and the fields, well, let’s just say they had seen better days.”

The first impression, therefore, was that there wasn’t much to be done. Cristina returned to Rome and was determined to forget all about La Mondina and Casalbeltrame, but the family didn’t see things the same way. The farmhouse needed to be repaired, and the fields needed to be productive once more. So Cristina, who had no agricultural or culinary background – “I didn’t eat much, and mostly the same things: watermelon, chicken breast with salad in winter, pasta every now and then,” – said to herself: “Alright, let’s try and grow some rice.”

LA MONDINA 2.0

Cristina Guidobono Cavalchini: “In Rome you dream of the countryside; when you’re in the country, you praise the city.”

Though her background knowledge on the subject was lacking, Cristina’s curiosity and desire to roll up her sleeves, as well as her ability to invest in the project with great effort, were her most important resources.

“Thinking about the rice I wanted to grow, I was first attracted by Carnaroli. I was focused on the classic Carnaroli, as I wanted the best rice for making risotto, at least for me.” Unfortunately almost nobody in the region of Novara cultivated Carnaroli, and the widely-held common belief was that the land was not suited to it.

“They must have thought I was mad. And yet we did it. For over a year, at intervals, I went into the fields with an agronomist who followed me step by step. There was no Christmas, no Easter, no holidays. I learned to know and recognize that excellent variety of rice, which isn’t easy to grow, and I brought lots of ancient techniques back into use (which are neatly in line with the guidelines produced by Slow Food, ed). From the practice of rotation (which we can apply because we’re lucky to have 200 hectares of terrain, which we alternate so that while one half is cultivated, the other half rests and recovers) to the choice of organic and natural fertilizers, from the seed selection to practice of sowing in water, to make sure that the plants are nourished by the soil.”

FROM RICE TO FLOUR: THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CLOSED CYCLE

The rice paddy landscape.

Then there’s the processing, with a light whitening, because a rice that’s too white is not synonymous with goodness, on the contrary, it will have lost a good portion of its sensory characteristics. Non-invasive processing techniques, therefore, are also required in order to make rice flour. “As well as the classic Carnaroli we also produce Artemide, which is a cross between Venere (medium-grain, black rice) and an indica variety (with a tapered grain and aromatic qualities). Our ambition was to become a closed-cycle company, where our waste is reduced to a minimum and the resources are used with proper foresight. From the broken kernels of the Carnaroli and the Artemide we make two flours, both of which were immediately well-received on the market. They’re ideal for people with a gluten intolerance, or those who want to make particularly light breads.”

WHICH MARKET?

The demand of the market is an important reference point. “Big distribution networks don’t interest me, not even the luxury ones. It would mean lowering the quality of the product for the sake of quantity. What I want is to be able to tell the story of our product, to say why this rice is different from others, to work in places like the Academic Tables at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, with chefs who can really bring its qualities out, with delicatessens who want to sell it, and some channels of online distribution.”

Come and discover Riso Buono at the market of the Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, the beating heart of the event and a meeting place for thousands of producers from across the world, as well as hundreds of thousands of visitors, a unique occasion to discover the extraordinary diversity of world gastronomy.

by Silvia Ceriani, info.eventi@slowfood.it

GUIDELINES FOR EXHIBITORS: RICE

In all our events, Slow Food chooses exhibitors for the Market who are ambassadors for the philosophy of good, clean and fair, and for our international campaigns; the selection process is described in this guideline document, a constantly-evolving tool which has the twin objectives of being useful for producers and in line with the principles of the movement.

  • Only rice grown by the company can be displayed and sold.
  • The cultivation must be sustainable with regards to the fertilization, protection and working of the soil. Chemical herbicides, hormonal treatments and neonicotinoids are not allowed.
  • Rice that has undergone whitening treatments with oil (Camolino rice), glucose and talc (coated or glazed rice) cannot be displayed and sold.
  • Priority will be given to:
  1. Companies that display and sell rice varieties traditionally cultivated in their local area
  2. Rice that is processed by the company
  3. Companies with organic certification.
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