It’s always a pleasure to hear about new business ventures starting up in the area, and we like it even more when it’s young people, giving it their all and trying to make a difference. In the case we are going to talk about, the afore-mentioned young people have put locally-grown products, tradition with novelty touches, expertise and the wish to experiment, all into a big, shiny steel cauldron, which has taken the form of a brewery – TURRIS BIRRA
We were welcomed into the little public area by the very enthusiastic Chiara Tarana. This 37 year-old, mother of two small children, alongside her husband Davide Cresci, decided to take on a new adventure four years ago, drawing on experience acquired in the field during previous years. Chiara, who comes from Piacenza, had worked as an architect in Parma before taking a completely different path, whilst Davide is currently juggling his energy between his job as a bank clerk, and the brewery. The cosy reception area was an interesting start to our visit, since one wall is covered in mostly dated black and white photos, featuring various members of the family – ancestors who were the unknowing inspiration of Chiara and Davide’s modern-day activity. In a corner stands a lovely antique architect’s drawing board, restored to perfection by Chiara’s father, who was also an enthusiast. And shelving on another wall exhibits the many different kinds of beer which are produced by the family. We were informed that beer-tasting sessions are often organized for groups, together with a guided visit of the laboratory, and explanations of the brewing procedures.
But that day we had Chiara all to ourselves, and it didn’t take any prompting to have her bubbling over with information, anecdotes and sheer passion. She told us that the family-owned business was launched almost four years ago, and that Davide’s father also collaborates with them. They had been experimenting for seven or eight years at home before putting their trials and errors to good use, therefore they already had a very accurate idea of what they were getting into, and how to go about it. So the notion began to form partly for this reason, but also because Davide’s family owned a large area of land just above Borgotaro, and it was wanting for a better use. Up until then, it had been used as grazing land for sheep and cows, as well as for making hay.
A new kind of cultivation was initiated; distichous barley (a spring-time species which has only two rows of grains ) requires a very poorly fertilised, and scarcely irrigated land, as compared to the classic cultivations. In addition to the barley fields, the family owns fruit and chestnut orchards, and the latter was to become an important, and unusual contribution to the brewery. The family is very keen on sticking to good-quality, uncontaminated ingredients for their beer, and any external purchases (barley malt, hops and yeasts) are channelled through Italian guaranteed productive systems. In fact TURRIS BIRRA has already obtained organic certification.
Going back to the unusual types, amongst the many new experiments was a beer flavoured with chestnuts; there was an abbundance of them, so why not? And here again, only natural methods are taken into any consideration. The sacks of chestnuts are transported to Corchia, an antique hamlet an hour away from Borgotaro, which is worth a visit in itself. The old stone houses have been restored to their original splendour, and a walk through its olde-worlde atmosphere is like travelling in time. Here, the chestnuts are gradually essicated for forty days in “caselle” – small stone rooms containing storeys of grids on which the fruits are placed. A constant fire is lit underneath, which slowly dries the chestnuts out, until they are ready to be taken back to the brewery. Once here, they are added to the cisterns full of beer in the making, which is subsequently subjected to a series of filtering procedures, before obtaining the final result. A beer with a slight hint of smoke, very delicate and palatable.
The basic ingredients of the beer are very simple; barley malt, water, hops and yeast. The finely grounded barley malt is mixed with water, heated to 65/68 ° (so-called “mashing process”), and becomes most when the starch content turns into maltose, ie. sugar. At this point, when the most has separated from all the insoluble residues in the mixture, it is transferred into a boiler, where it is brought to the boil. After this procedure, many variants can occur, according to the kind of beer which is being brewed. Hops, which give the typical bitter flavour and aroma are added, as is yeast, both at specific stages of the process. Once the beer has been bottled, or put into barrels, it needs to rest for at least three months in order to mature.
The family has chosen to remain a niche product, so is selling either privately, or to restaurants in the area and beyond. The beer is supplied in half litre bottles, which is in itself quite unusual, and the various types (some filtered, some not, some with rich maltiness and strong flavour, and some far more discrete) have been met with great enthusiasm by all beer lovers. We ourselves were offered a taste, and it’s easy to understand why!
After a brief look at the laboratory, with its shiny steel cisterns, our visit came to an end. Chiara had illustrated her work with passion, and she told us that she and her husband hope to be able to expand in the future. We wished them the best of luck, and, with the gift of a couple of bottles in hand, we happily left the premises of TURRIS BIRRA!