We The Italians | Italian flavors: Rotonda White Beans

Italian flavors: Rotonda White Beans

Italian flavors: Rotonda White Beans

  • WTI Magazine #102 Apr 14, 2018
  • 114

Always present in the rural tradition of the Mercure Valley, white beans have played a major role in the agricultural history of the local populations. An 1852 publication by the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies speaks of the cultivation in the area of “graminaceous, leguminous and filierous plants” and specifically mentions the "bean, and this is several species”. 

Today, the presence of white beans in alimentary and culinary traditions of the area is demonstrated by the many dishes that enrich its gastronomy and aromas. Inserted in a basket of products under the Parco del Pollino brand, in 2000, Fagioli Bianchi di Rotonda DOP were incorporated into a wider program to promote and popularize them that has seen them play a leading role, together with other area specialties, in regional and national exhibitions.

Having launched and consolidated the awareness-raising phase, in 2011 the producers decided to form a consortium. Thus began a new phase of building the relationship between the product and consumers: promotion of the PDO, and thus quality certification, and the distinctiveness of Fagioli Bianchi di Rotonda DOP.

The Product

Fagioli Bianchi di Rotonda DOP can be used fresh, as green pods called “vaiane” or “fagioli verdi”, or dried, which are tastier than the fresh ones because they have a greater concentration of nutritious substances and flavours. 

Fresh Fagioli Bianchi di Rotonda DOP are distinguished by a pod that is white tending to yellow or ivory, waxy and turgid, with a length not exceeding 20 cm. The seeds are round-oval, white and completely free of streaks. These beans have a high protein content, equal to or greater than 24% of the dry matter, which is well above the average of many other varieties.

The lower percentage of the integument compared to total weight makes them particularly appreciated by consumers. In fact, this peculiarity reduces cooking time and enhances its attractiveness.

Production

The cultivation of Fagioli Bianchi di Rotonda DOP is still the traditional as well as the planting and sowing distances and, except for the latter, by now almost completely mechanized, all cultivation is carried out by hand. To support the plants, stakes are made from chestnut wood according to a technique that is passed down from generation to generation. 

Adopted exclusively by producers of the Mercure Valley, the particular positioning system of the plants using “dibbling” (small groups) or “netting” allows good ventilation between the rows thus preventing moisture from forming. 

The most delicate and, at the same time, unique phase is harvesting: today, the beans are still harvested and shelled as in the past; the pods, which are allowed to dry on the plant, are harvested by hand and arranged on a clearing or on the premises where they are left to dry for a few days. Then they are placed in jute bags and “beaten” with the poles of chestnut wood. 

After “beating”, the beans are separated from the pod and selected; afterwards, they are placed in crates where they remain for a few days. Then they are cooled in cold rooms and packaged.

The Area

The production area of Fagioli Bianchi di Rotonda DOP involves a few municipalities of the Mercure Valley, in the territory of the Pollino National Park: Rotonda, Castelluccio Inferiore, Castelluccio Superiore and Viggianello. 

It is precisely in this large river basin, which takes its name from the Mercure River, that these legumes find their ideal growing conditions. The soils are of alluvial origin and are sandy and silty-clay, cool, deep and fertile; they have good exposure and a remarkable ability to store water. 

The abundance of sulphur and nitrogen in the soil influences the high protein content of the bean, while the low concentration of limestone is responsible for the fineness of the membrane and its delicateness. 

The mild climate, with abundant rainfall in the period before sowing, and the favourable temperature range between day and night favour the fertilization of the pods and the abundance of beans.

Trivia

According to popular belief, sowing should only carried out strictly in the first thirteen days of June, because in this period Sant'Antonio provides for a favourable harvest. 

The white beans can claim illustrious admirers. It seems that even Giuseppe Garibaldi, was a great admirer. An article dated 2 September 1860 said that, returning to Sicily, Garibaldi stopped in Rotonda to sleep and eat, tasted the white beans and was so pleasantly surprised that he decided to bring a small amount to plant in his Caprera.

Consorzio di tutela dei Fagioli Bianchi di Rotonda