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Farro from Rustichella d’Abruzzo

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—about 1,000 feet above sea level. It is planted in October and harvested in June.

Gianluigi Peduzzi of Rustichella d'Abruzzo works alongside a group of local farmers who cultivate farro of the local variety (known as farro vestino) over just 50 hectares between Penne and the Gran Sasso, the highest peak of the Apennines. Farro thrives in this stony, well-drained soil—without the use of fertilizers.

What is Farro?

In Italy, Farro is the overarching term used for einkorn, emmer and spelt, (also known as farro piccolo, farro medio, and farro grande), each a subspecies of the genus Triticum (wheat), each with a different genetic makeup. Farro, essentially, is an unhybridized ancestor of modern wheat (barley, by the way, is of a different genus altogether, and neither a species nor a subspecies of wheat.)

Farro Grande: Spelt (Triticum aestivum spelta) is a subspecies of Triticum aestivum, which includes common bread wheat (Triticum aestivum aestivum).
Farro Piccolo: Einkorn (Triticum monococcum monococcum) is a subspecies of Triticum monococcum.
Farro Medio: Emmer (Triticum turgidum dioccum) is a subspecies of Triticum turgidum, which includes durum wheat. It is the primary farro grain planted in Italy (Abruzzo included) and it is considered to be of a higher quality for cooking than spelt or einkorn.

History of Farro

Farro findings have been reported from archeological sites in Neolithic Egypt, Turkey and early Bronze Age Mesopotamia. 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. Farro 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.

Farro has been cultivated in Italy since the time of the ancient Romans, but unfortunately lost its position with the advent of the intensive modern wheat agriculture after the World Wars, and the “invention” of modern wheat. Lately, however, farro is experiencing a new surge in popularity because of its small-scale farming methods, high nutritional value, very low gluten count, and wonderful flavor and texture.

Nutrition of Farro

A revered heirloom grain, farro is high in protein and 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.

Farro in the Kitchen

By now, specialty shops and fine restaurants throughout the US and Europe are big consumers of this versatile rustic grain, making use of it in both traditional and new, creative ways. Zuppa di farro (farro soup), farrotto (farro cooked as risotto) and panzanella di farro (farro salad) are some of the typical ways you will find farro featured in Italian restaurants today.

This hearty, chewy grain is wonderful as an accompaniment to mushrooms, wild game and sausage, and as part of any stuffing for turkey or even tomatoes. It is appealing as a substitute for rice, and does well in both hot and cold dishes. Farro can also be boiled and kept in a well-sealed container in the fridge, to be used in soup or simply sautéed with olive oil and garlic for a perfect side dish. Farro lends itself to creativity in the kitchen!

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  • gluten free = Gluten Free
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