Saturday, April 29, 2017

An enchanting treat in Ticino

The sun’s shining, there’s a sound of splashing water, and it smells of popcorn...

For many years, nothing unusual there for the residents of Vergeletto. Maize arrived in the Onsernone valley and thus Vergeletto in the early 19th century. Rye had been the order of the day until then.

One day, Nunzia, the local miller began roasting the nutritious yellow kernels in a pan over the fire, until one third exploded. These popcorns were then put together with the rest of the kernels and milled which led to the “good flour”, the farina bóna. But when Nunzia died in 1957, she took the secret of farina bóna with her to the grave – and the mill wheel stood idle for almost 60 years.

These days it’s a local school teacher, Ilario Garbani, who works Nunzia’s old mill. Working with his pupils, he studied the history of the product and discovered more about the tradition. He started making the tasty maize flour some three years ago, the only person in Switzerland to do so. Memories of farina bóna were revived as a result of a series of initiatives and the restoration of the old mill in Loco in 1991.

Every Tuesday Ilario takes visitors through the little village and explains the history of the farina. He begins the tour in what he calls his “laboratorio”, where roasting machines are fired up every now and then when Ilario is called upon to make his fine flour for retailers around Switzerland. He then brings his roasted kernels to the restored mill....

...and that's when it starts smelling of popcorn amongst the stone houses of Vergeletto!

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