The Valnerina is the valley formed by the River Nera, which has its source in the Monti Sibillini, in the Marche region, but follows most of its course through Umbria before flowing into the Tiber, in Lazio. The upper part of the valley, situated in southeast Umbria, is characterized by steep mountainous terrain, which is often hard to farm. The climate is different from that of the rest of the region, with the altitude of the surrounding mountains making for harsher winters and cooler summers. This is why the upper valley is home to very distinctive produce, such as the roveja (a small pea-like legume) and buckwheat, which, unlike more common crops, manage to exploit even its poorer, rough terrains.
Grano saraceno, Saracen grain, the Italian name for buckwheat, evokes distant origins (its domestication zone has been identified in the mountains of Southern China) and an affinity with graminaceous plants. In actual fact, the groats are similar to those of cereals but the plant belongs to a separate botanical family, namely that of the Poligonaceae.
Buckwheat resists cold quite well but needs regular water, which explains why it has spread across the entire Alpine chain and in the Apennines in Central Italy. The plant has a short growing cycle (about 120 days), hence the possibility of rotation with other crops (winter leguminous plants and cereals), and requires neither fertilization nor chemical spraying.
It blooms at the end of May and a distinctive honey is made with the pollen from its pink and white flowers. The harvest is carried out from late August to September. In many cases, buckwheat is still hand-scythed and bundled into sheaves that are left in the field for 15-20 to mature prior to threshing. Alternatively, 80-90% of the achenes are allowed to brown and the buckwheat is harvested by direct combining.
The presence of buckwheat in the Valnerina has been documented since the Middle Ages, and in some texts of the period it is cited as a medicinal plant. It has always been used in many ways: with buckwheat flour it is possible to make pasta, cakes and polenta, and it is also possible to eat the hulled groats. Buckwheat’s health-giving properties range from its low lipid content to the high biological value of its protein, superior even to that of legumes: it is also gluten-free, which makes it especially suitable for breadmaking, at least in pure form.
A recipe characteristic of the Valnerina is buckwheat and lentil soup (lentils being another typical local product): after boiling the lentils with herbs, the buckwheat groats are cooked directly in the cooking broth. When they are cooked through, the lentils are returned to the pan and the soup is anointed with extra virgin olive oil.
Buckwheat is harvested in September and is available all year round.
The Presidium was set up to support the reintroduction of buckwheat into the Valnerina, to help halt the abandonment of the district (which was hit by the earthquakes of 2016 and 2017), and to re-establish the local supply chain. Producers currently commercialize buckwheat groats, hulled groats and flour.
Communes of Norcia, Cascia, Preci, Poggiodomo, Cerreto di Spoleto, Sant’Anatolia di Narco and Sellano dell’Alta Valnerina in the Upper Valnerina, in the province of Perugia.
Communes of Ussita, Visso and Castelsantangelo sul Nera in the province of Macerata and Leonessa, in the province of Rieti.
Presidium supported by
Azienda Agricola Tamorri Vera
Località Buda di Cascia
Azienda Agricola Lavosi Maurizio
Località Fogliano di Cascia
Azienda Agricola Persiani Roberto
Località Colmotino di Cascia