Very often, we hear the elderly criticizing young people, accusing them of being too lazy to work, of having no incentive or determination . Now whilst there may very well be some like that – there always have been, and there always will – we can vouch for the fact that there are also some very dynamic and enthusiastic youngsters out there, who are not afraid of getting their hands dirty. In our search for interesting stories, we came across Christian Ronconi, a young man who bubbles over with new ideas, one of which is already paying off nicely.
Christian, 34 years old, was born and raised at Mormorola, a hamlet of Valmozzola, less than an hour from Bedonia. His grandparents emigrated to America in 1960, did quite well for themselves, and were able to return to their homeland, build a house and in 1972, set up an inn. At the age of 15, Christian began to help out, and in later years, when he had a job at a local racing car assembly plant, he would do his 10 hour shifts, then go and finish off the day, or what was left of it, in the family business.
In 2013 however, when Christian took over the business himself, he decided it was time to make a change, a difference; his family owned large stretches of land all around – how could he put it to good use? He was making pizzas, but he wanted to make a name for himself with something special……a little research in the National Agricultural Variety Register led him to rediscover the variety of wheat which was originally sowed in his area, a wheat called “Gentil Bianco”, abandoned by farmers years ago because it grew to a height of nearly six feet. This was a problem back in the times when there was little or no machinery, and wheat (or anything else for that matter) was reaped by hand. Bad weather would cause the tall plants to bend towards the ground, making them difficult to cut and gather, and for this reason, farmers chose to prefer less prestigious varieties, which were easier to deal with.
A little bulb went off in Christian’s head – here was the idea he had been looking for; sowing his own, indigenous wheat, producing his own flour, and using it to make pizza like no other! Moreover, this particular variety has excellent organoleptic properties, besides having a very low gluten content, which would satisfy many customers suffering from gluten intolerance. It seemed perfect! So, albeit strongly advised against making such a major investment, the young man proceeded to purchase the necessary equipment, rounded up some extra local help in the form of willing young men, and launched himself into this new venture.
The cultivation of mountain territory presents a series of complex problems, so any kind of incentive is highly encouraged; a new consortium has recently been established, denominated “BioDistretto delle Alte Valli, which incorporates an extensive area ideally spreading around Mount Penna, including five valleys and thirteen municipalities, as well as two regions: Liguria and Emilia-Romagna. The purpose of the consortium is to preserve and protect the water, the air, the soil and social life of its territory; to promote a good lifestyle through the development of organic agricultural farming and, at the same time, of tourism related to the surrounding natural heritage.
Becoming a member of this circuit is obviously an ambitious goal, partly because the requirements are demanding, but also because any business can only benefit from the acknowledgement and the prestige it brings. This is what Christian is aiming for, and he is well on the road to obtaining certification for his restaurant/pizzeria called Asterx (yes,without the i!). Having decided on his course of action, he got the full works under way, not simply sowing and reaping his own organic wheat, but going on to grinding it with a good old fashioned millstone, as our forefathers did. The result is an unrefined but genuine flour, mixed with bran; in recent years denigrated as a side-product of flour manufacture, bran has now been rightly reinstated as a healthy food, which also adds flavour to the flour. This flour is then used to make bread of many kinds, and of course the pizzas, which have already put Christian and his business on the map. The word has spread like wildfire, and customers are prepared to put in quite a few miles in order to taste one of these reknowned works of art!
Not being the sort who will just stop at first base, Christian has more plans up his sleeve………he would like to include in his offer artisanal beers produced at Borgotaro and Bedonia, as well as cheeses made by local farmers. He is also planning on building a new mill, preserving all traditional features, with the idea of inviting his guests and visitors to discover where their pizza/bread came from, by witnessing the whole procedure themselves. A whole new experience!
But Christian is not only about flour and pizza! He is a keen photographer, and spends much of his (little) spare time roaming around, taking snaps of his natural surroundings. And talking of surroundings, he also operates his own drone, with which he has filmed many breathtaking videos of our beautiful territories.
We wish this industrious young man luck in his path!