Food Travel > Italian Food > Rice: why Italy does it better Date posted: March 28, 2013

Rice: why Italy
does it better

The country is the leading rice producer in Europe, cultivated mostly in Lombardy and Piedmont. The numbers and the history of rice on Swide.

Rice is cultivated in 113 countries and descends from the “Oryza sativa” species and the first plants grew on the Himalayas, over 12,000 years ago. Rice arrived over 500 years ago to Italy, after wars and plagues and hard times because people needed something cheap to feed a rising population. Gian Galeazzo Sforza, Duke of Milan, sent a rice seed (rice was likely introduced to Italy by Arabs, although some say the Venetian did so) as a gift to Ferrara Dukes in 1475, already understanding the endless possibility of a cereal that be easily grown. Although it was already sold in Turin in 1300, decades passed before Pianura Padana (North of Italy) and the rest of the country became familiar with its cultivation.

 Italian Food: Rice. Why Italy does it better. 

Rice has been, and is, a big part of Italian history and culture: families take care today of rice fields with a job often passed from father to son.

Italy produces over 40 million quintals of rice annually on over 200,000 hectares of land, mostly cultivated in Piedmont (in the triangle Vercelli-Novara-Pavia so well depicted on Swide by Gandolfi) or Lombardy, but also in Veneto and Sardinia and some very circumscribed areas in the central and southern Italy. The country is the most important producer in Europe and ranks 27th worldwide.  There are 3,000 known varieties of rice worldwide and Italy produces 150 of them.

 Italian Food: Rice. Why Italy does it better. 

The season for cultivation runs from April to September, and it’s done in water-flooded fields to help the rice maintain the right temperature to grow. Once ready the rice is collected and dried. After being cleaned the rice is whitened through abrasion and only the intact grains are sold on the market after they have passed several checks, leaving the chipped ones for production of baby food and animal feed.

Italian Food: Rice. Why Italy does it better. 

European rice is classified through size – length and wideness: round grain, medium and long – while variety needs o be labelled. Among the best-known are Vialone Nano, like Arborio, Carnaroli, Roma, all are used mainly for risotto, Baldo (rice salads, timballo), Originario and Padano for soups.  The rice business severely regulated: different varieties can’t be mixed.

Italian Food: Rice. Why Italy does it better. 

Arborio rice 

For half of the world population rice provides the main daily nutrition.

Italian Food: Rice. Why Italy does it better. 

Photography by: Alessandro Gandolfi – Parallelo Zero 


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