No Grapes Here, Stupid


Panorama: Farmland

We woke up this morning in Alba, Piemonte's capital of food, wine and castles, and it was snowing! I bet the folks up in the mountain resorts are happy. Maybe enough will fall to silence the big snow cannons, or at least slow them down. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I want to tell you about our journey here...and our extraordinary dinner last night.

The land began flattening as we headed southeast out of Pinerolo towards Alba and was soon just a plain as far as the eye could see. It was hard to believe that just an hour before we had been high up in the Italian Alps.

Now, neat rows of planted trees and shrubs lined the road on both sides. Were we getting towards wine country already? Some of the plants looked like grapes, we thought. But we're no experts. And all the plants are bare now. So we decided to stop and find out.

We pulled into a farm and started chatting to a man with crinkly blue eyes and a weather-beaten face who climbed off his tractor to greet us.

Growing grapes here? No way, he laughed. But aren't we just a few miles outside of Alba, that grape-growing center? Yes, but this isn't the kind of land that produces grapes. Ooops. Sorry, sir.

What Armando Franco and his two brothers are producing at their farm outside Savigliano is milk. And that's what their father and grandfather produced there before them. The Francos started their farm in 1949 soon after the war.

Besides milk, the Francos also produce everything that their cows -- and the pigs they raise too -- eat. So they grow corn and orzo and mix it all together with hay in a special feed for the cows. Then, as an aside, they grow everything that their families eat too.

He told us that the plantings we saw driving in were mostly fruit trees -- kiwis, peaches and apples. This was fruit-growing land.

I thanked him for the tour of his farm and told him I had been worried about waking him up since it was early afternoon, classic Italian siesta time. We don't sleep in the afternoons, he chuckled kindly. We work this land from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.

Gotcha, Signor Franco. Buon lavoro!

By Daniela Deane |  January 26, 2006; 3:19 AM ET  | Category:  Food
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