Niscemi is a town located in the hills of the province of Caltanissetta. It extends over a plateau and sits at just over 300 metres above sea level. The Oriented Sughereta di Niscemi Nature Reserve is located in this area, it is an extremely important piece of land that preserves the
biodiversity of the last remaining strip of a vast wooded area. Traditionally this area was used for the production of wood and cork, which was a widespread practice in Sicily, in the 1600’s.
Historically, in Niscemi, farmers were devoted to the production of durum wheat, and almost always rotated these crops with barley and broad beans. Already in the mid-19th century, the availability of water for irrigation improved dramatically, which allowed for the spread of the first
artichokes. Initially cultivated for local consumption, the Niscemi artichoke soon reached the Sicilian markets, thanks its first cultivation in an open field, which was recorded in 1874.
In the first twenty years of the 1900s it reached the general markets of Rome: the artichokes were placed in "cufina", reed and dwarf palm containers, covered with a cloth and, were taken on either the back of a mule or in carts, to the railway station of Caltagirone where they would then leave the island and continue onwards to the capital. Around the 1980s, the first artichoke processing and transformation companies were born in Niscemi, producing ‘a cariofina (a typical Sicilian way of preserving artichoke hearts).
Today it is only cultivated by a few farmers, who protect and improve its characteristics. After the second world war, in fact, two important things happened, on the one hand the cultivation of vineyards took over, which led to further deforestation of the Mediterranean scrub, and on the
other hand, non-local artichokes were introduced to the area and became widespread. Especially the violet de Provence and Romanesco varieties, which have replaced almost all of the artichokes in this area, due to their higher yields and superior resistance when being transported. Even
today, Niscemi is considered the capital of the artichoke and the producers of the area account for over half of the production of the artichokes in Sicily. These factors have led the historical variety to be at a great risk of disappearing.
The local Niscemi variety does not have any thorns and it is called "nostrale", it used to be called vagghiàrdu (the strong one). The plant has a vigorous appearance and can last for two years; the flower heads have the shape of a chalice. The bracts are light green with violet hues. The
receptacle, also known as the heart, is compact and does not have much thistledown or "barba" at any point throughout the season.
Its organoleptic characteristics are highly appreciated: the taste is delicate, aromatic and persistent. Not much of the leaves need to be thrown out and they are easy to process.
The season begins in mid-November, peaking during the Christmas period, then continues until the end of April with further smaller blooms.
Traditionally, they were consumed daily. Farmers, during the harvest period, began their working day at dawn by having breakfast with roasted artichokes, simply cooked by being immersed in charcoal made from the vine shoots and dried artichoke plant residues. Even today this is one of
the simplest and most common ways to taste it, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. In the kitchen it is prepared in many ways, both raw and cooked, combined with local cheeses and with traditional recipes that are preserved by a very conscientious food culture. The
production of processed products is still linked above all to use within the family; artichokes in oil or vinegar are often used as a gift among families or friends.
Today there are still two producers who cultivate the Niscemi "Nostrale" artichoke, in an area that
is extraordinarily important for the conservation of biodiversity. The total area of land that is
cultivated consists of about six hectares of artichoke fields, which are located in the Ulmo and
Arcia districts, near the Oriented Sughereta di Niscemi Nature Reserve.
Producers are very attentive to the sustainability of their cultivation and their use of correct soil
management practices. Irrigated water is used frequently, especially during long periods of
drought. Fertilisers are generally used before planting the crops.
One of the two producers is certified as organic and alternates their production of artichokes with
that of other traditional Sicilian vegetables and grains. Both of them work hard to involve other
producers, making the cuttings that are recovered at the end of the season available free of
charge. They have also created a strong bond with some local restaurateurs who support the use
of the "Nostrale" artichoke throughout the season.
Niscemi Area, Caltanissetta Province.
This Presidium is supported by
Slow Food Sicily.
Az. Agr. Profeta
Viale Mario Gori, 573
Tel. +39 320 6814102
Tel. +39 389 6783695