Friday, June 22, 2012

The Italian Amber Waves of Grain

MC:  As we were driving towards the town of Assisi on our tour bus last Wednesday I noticed that there were acres and acres of dead grass. However, after about thirty minutes into the drive I realized that this was not dead grass, but fields of wheat. It was interesting that just three or four weeks ago these fields were lush and green and now, right as the temperatures are beginning to soar, they have turned a beautiful golden brown. As it turns out the variety of wheat grown is known as Triticum Durum, or just durum for short. This species of wheat is the only tetraploid species that is widely used in commercial production and originated through genetic hybridization. The word durum is Latin for “hard” and is properly named since it is the hardest of all wheat species. When milled, durum wheat makes an excellent flour for pasta and bread making. For high quality pasta and bread, the endosperm of the durum can be coarsely ground and purified into semolina flour.
Italians are known worldwide for their delicious pastas and breads so it is no coincidence that there are over 1.5 million hectares of durum wheat planted in Italy with around 75% of all production residing within the central region of Italy. Every time we leave the medieval walls of Santa Chiara I notice the spectacular wheat fields with their golden heads wisping in the wind. It seems that everyone grows wheat, from the self-sufficient farmer all the way to the commercial producer. Italians have placed wheat wherever they have room, whether it is right next to their grapevines or directly in their backyards. Durum wheat is not only a very important staple crop but provides a striking contrast to the Italian landscape; without it the Italian culture just would not be the same. 

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