Susa Valley chestnut

Ark of taste
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Marrone della Valle di Susa is a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) that refers to the fresh fruits of five different local varieties of chestnut (Castanea sativa) from the Susa Valley in northwestern Italy. These varieties are named for the five municipalities where they originated: San Giorgio di Susa, Meana di Susa, Sant’Antonino di Susa, Bruzolo, and Villar Focchiardo. Susa Valley varieties belong to the marron type of chestnut, which is larger, sweeter, easier to peel, and less starchy than the standard chestnut (in Italian, the latter is referred to as castagna rather than marrone). Traditionally, Susa Valley chestnuts are most often eaten boiled or roasted. They can also be used in various sweet or savory recipes such as castagnaccio (a chestnut cake), goose with chestnuts, leeks and chestnuts, chestnut frittata, or chestnuts with honey and lardo (cured pork fat). Being of the marron type, Susa Valley chestnuts are only rarely dried and milled, as their flour has poor binding properties. Standard chestnuts (castagne), on the other hand, are often turned into flour. Marroni are sometimes mixed with castagne to produce a flour with a sweeter flavor.

The production area for Susa Valley chestnuts includes 28 municipalities in the province of Turin, located along the length of the Susa Valley and ranging in elevation from 350 to 1,050 meters above sea level. The valley’s soils are rocky and sandy, the terrain is sloped, rainfall is relatively infrequent, and temperatures are cool (11-12 °C). Chestnut groves must be carefully managed and kept clean throughout the year; maintenance activities include mowing, eliminating ferns and bushes, and otherwise keeping a healthy herbaceous layer beneath the trees, always without the use of synthetic chemicals. Harvest takes place each autumn between September 20th and November 10th, with fresh chestnuts becoming available as of September 25th. Most of the crop is sold directly by the producers to be consumed fresh, while a small portion of the chestnuts are transformed into creams and marrons glacés or preserved in syrup with lemon or orange peel and vanilla or rum. Fruits that are not sold within 30 days after harvest are cured by soaking them in water for a period to preserve them without altering their characteristic qualities.

The cultivation of chestnut trees for their fruits in the Susa Valley almost definitely began during Roman times, although the first hard evidence of their diffusion in this area dates to the Medieval period, around 1200. Since then, chestnut production has played an important role in the local economy, guaranteeing a dependable and profitable source of food. Beginning in the late 19th century, Susa Valley chestnuts were exported in large quantities, but production came to a halt in the mid-20th century due to the spread of chestnut blight, depopulation of the valley, and changing diets. Nevertheless, a festival dedicated to Susa Valley chestnuts has taken place in Villar Focchiardo during the third weekend of October for the past 60 years or so and attracts many participants.

Today, despite some recent boosts in chestnut production and the recognition of Susa Valley chestnuts as among the most valuable varieties on the market, numerous challenges threaten their survival: gall wasps weaken chestnut trees, making them more vulnerable to diseases; rising temperatures have killed many of the trees, causing some small-scale producers to abandon chestnut growing; and the impossibility of mechanization on the steep terrain of Susa Valley has driven the adoption of other crops in less demanding areas.

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Production area:Susa Valley