The moretto is a variety of spring “armed” (i.e., thorny) artichoke with violet coloured heads that are triangular in shape, with a pointed tip.
The total size of the plant varies greatly, including the flower head, it can be between 55 and 80 centimetres. The average weight of the central flower head is just over 60 grams, although it is possible to find flower heads that reach or exceed 100 grams. The other flower heads are smaller in size and weight (about half of the central one). They have a bitter taste which is typical of this variety, an herbaceous scent and a pleasantly crunchy texture.
The Moretti artichoke production area is between Faenza and Brisighella, reaching east to Zattaglia and west to Rio Cosina. Mice really like to eat its roots, which is why it is more widespread in clay rich soils, where the problem of rodents is more contained. Traditionally it was grown in the embankments near the house, where the ashes from the chimney were thrown (another useful factor which helped to keep mice away).
The first evidence of the diffusion of this artichoke in the Ravenna area dates back to a period between 1581 and 1583 and can be found in the text by Bernardino Carroli “The well-created young man”. Innocenza Malvasia also mentions its cultivation, in her “Instruction on agriculture” of 1609.
It was then traced in the investigation by Domenico Ghetti for the Jachini commission (1879), which remained unpublished until 1999 and published by Casadio C. in “The Faentine agriculture in the time of Oriani”.
Luigi Biffi followed in 1880 with the “Memory around the conditions of agriculture and the agricultural class in the Faenza district”, a documentation that was produced by the Consortium of mountain basins in the municipality of Brisighella and neighbouring areas in 1925. The first edition of the Italian gastronomic guide published by the Italian Touring Club in 1931 talks about it, and so does the collection that was revised by Raccagni in 1993 “My medieval cuisine”. Oral testimonies state that in the 1940s-1950s many of the families in Brisighella cultivated it in their gardens.
During the reclamation of the mountain terrain, carried out during the Fascist dictatorship, an attempt was made to cultivate the area of the ravines, by creating plateaus where peach trees and early horticultural plants were cultivated. The Moretto artichoke was planted alongside these cultivations. Today they are instead associated with olive trees.
In the 1970s, cultivation expanded and developed to reach commercialisation and in the 1990s it spread to restaurants. In June 1993 it was mentioned for the first time publicly in a local news article with the name of “carciofo moretto”, a name that was given to it by the chef Tarciso Raccagni of the Gigliolé restaurant in Brisighella.
In fact, as already mentioned, clay rich soils are ideal for the artichoke, in particular the ravines. The local clays are high in potassium and minerals which determine the excellent organoleptic qualities of the moretto artichoke.
The rows are usually planted between 80 and 200 centimetres apart. In each row the plants are distributed every 50 to 100 centimetres. The artichokes are harvested by hand.
An important precaution for the management of artichokes is keeping the soil well-tilled. The plant is cut in the late summer, but after the autumn rains it begins to shoot up again from its roots. It is therefore important to thin the plant between the end of February and the beginning of March. At the end of March they are fertilised with organic products that are rich in nitrogen and potassium. The harvest period usually begins at the end of April (after the 20th) and ends at the beginning of June.
The moretto artichoke is commonly preserved in oil and is mainly consumed raw during the production season.
The conservation of this product is endangered by its scarce diffusion: the plants are very delicate and the best results, at an organoleptic level, are obtained on the ravines which are fragile and conditioned by adverse weather conditions both in winter and in spring.
It is a difficult agricultural crop that is currently unable to be modernised for industrial processing. This makes its production and commercialisation in large quantities particularly challenging.