The Alife onion takes its name from the municipality of the same name, in the heart of the fertile Alifana plain in the province of Caserta. Its cultivation is ancient. According to local legend it first appeared during Roman occupation; it is said that gladiators would rub their bodies with the onions to tone their muscles. With changes in rulers (in the Medieval age the Alifana plane was invaded by the Lombards) the onion never lost its importance: It was used to pay rent and often given as a gift.
It was considered an effective painkiller for headaches, used to treat snakebites and even to counter hair loss. The history of this onion is centuries old, thriving until the end of the twentieth century. In 1980, around 30 large-scale farmers produced six tons each, all of which were bought by Neapolitan and Roman merchants and then distributed on the national market. Over the last few years however, the tradition has almost been lost: today it is small family farmers who are preserving the Alife onion.
The Alife onion has a slightly flattened bulb and an intense copper-colored skin. Traditionally the seeds are planted in August, replanted between January and March and harvested by hand in July and August. The onions are braided together by their stems into clusters known as ‘nserte. Its taste is sweet and savory, never pungent, and is well renowned for its delicacy. During the international Fiera Campionaria in Milan in 1930, Luigi Sasso, a farmer from Caserta, showcased the onion which was awarded a certificate of merit “for its tastiness”. It can be eaten raw (in salads), added to omelets and used in agrodolce (a traditional Italian sweet and sour sauce).
The onion is harvested in August and then dried to conserve them until the following spring