A hearth to warm up, eat and gather around. A pot hanging above the fire. Polenta turned out onto a large wooden cutting board, topped with stewed meat or cheese that melts into delicious strings.
The image of a tradition linked to periods of poverty, but also moments spent together, in the name of bonding.
Just like pizza and pasta, polenta, made with corn flour, should rank among typical Italian foods: very popular and respected, it was a blessing during times of famine or war.
Easy to prepare, very few ingredients (corn flour, water and salt), and great versatility, for a tasty recipe that is perfect every day at the table, either as a side dish or an entrée.
Just as Andrea suggests in his cooking classes, polenta can be used to prepare hors d’oeuvres of fish or meat, first courses, side dishes to second courses, or even to stuff ravioli. Also for desserts, corn flour is a fine ingredient: bussolà, zaeti, fregolotta and pinza are all typical local desserts, all made with “polenta flour”.
The history of Molinetto della Croda in Refrontolo, in the province of Treviso, is linked to this tradition: built in 1630, it was used until 1953 to grind corn to make polenta. After a period of disuse, the City decided to renovate it in the mid-nineties and restore it to the service of the community.
When the only motive force was water, many mills were built along the rivers (about forty in the area), where the population used to grind flour: in fact the Molinetto (‘little mill’) was built near a waterfall, on the “rock face” of the mountain.
This has always been a place where people bringing corn would meet those who grind it, have a chance to chat, debate and even enjoy a glass of wine together.
To this day, thanks to the volunteers of the Molinetto della Croda Association, the mill and sales are opportunities for exchange, not only in the material sense: there are plenty of legends, tips and stories that turn the transaction into a special and enriching experience.
For Ruth and Andrea this mill is a magical and enchanting place, that they often love to go to, also in the company of their guests: the force of the water, the community spirit, the timeless atmosphere, make it truly unique.
Introduced after the discovery of America, but previously farmed for thousands of years in Central America, for a very long time corn was the staple for many Italian families, especially in rural areas.
Molinetto della Croda has chosen to produce two types of corn that are commonly considered prime for polenta, but also the trickiest to grow: biancoperla and marano.
Long, thin, white cobs with bright seeds, a very tall and fragile plant, that needs to be harvested before the cobs ripen completely and get too heavy: Biancoperla corn is the variety to produce what is also known as white “Treviso” polenta.
Small cobs and limited yield (about 40 quintals for hectare) distinguish Marano corn, which takes its name from Marano Vicentino, the town where it was farmed for the first time in 1890, thanks to an idea of a farmer: with his flour he produced the unmistakable yellow, soft and tasty polenta.
The low yield and tricky production proved to not be discouraging in comparison to the love for the product, the tradition and the quality, just in the way that technology has never been able to compete with the uniqueness of the stone mill.
At stone mills, grinding does not perfectly separate the parts of the seed, the bran, the chaff, to obtain a pure and perfectly refined flour. Rather the resulting product is richer in fibre, nourishing, fragrant and tasty.
Ruth and Andrea allow their guests to enjoy the daily experience of grinding, which is certainly one of the most pleasant, even in terms of the senses: you caress the flour, you feel the consistency and smell the fragrance, you hear the flow of the water and admire the force of nature.
Each bag is lovingly filled with white or yellow flour to soon become a plate of polenta, hot and flavourful, to enjoy during the many gatherings that make Molinetto della Croda, Ruth and Andrea’s shared nest, a magical place.