Wednesday, October 26, 2016

organic Fassone farm

Just like the Mediterranean scrub is unique, so the Monferrato wine district is unique territory in the world: its landscape is highly varied, not simply steep hills or plains, but a mix of them both, uncultivated woods, vineyards, wheat fields, hazelnut groves, animal farms and vegetable farms. 
Every season changes its colors and its atmosphere: in the summer, days are literally endless while in the fall, haze and rain make the best time to savor its rich local specialties.
Being just at about 1h driving from both Turin and the Milan Malpensa international airport, it is the ideal destination to enjoy amazing food, outstanding wines, castles and art.

Azienda Agricola Monfrin on the Monferrato hills and its semi-wild cows

When our winemaker friend Stefano Girola invited us over to see his grandfather's land, we didn't think it twice and accepted right away! We were curious as to what this area has to offer in terms of authenticity and nature, something that could bring us directly to the local philosophy of life of the residents.
Stefano and his daddy showed us around and introduced us to their neighbors: our first stop was a real organic Slow Food certified fassone cow farm.
Although we are not great carnivores, we were quite intrigued to find out more about the fassone aka the native Piedmontese cow.

Piedmontese fassone cows
This is how we found out why culinary speaking - it is so highly selected: because it extremely lean and low in cholesterol!
No wonder, every body all over the Piedmont brags about it, restaurants highlight it in their menus and residents look for it at the butcher's. Kids love it too because it is particularly tender and it has a delicious flavor.

Giulia Micco petting one of her 30 cows
Naturally, the farms, the breeding methods and the animals' food are always under scrutiny and especially in Piedmont, where the Slow Food movement was born, people are really into "where their food is from and how it is produced". 
The Italian legal system doesn't make things any easier and it has rather strict requirements to issue the organic certifications; producers and farmers must jump through MANY fire hoops to comply with the regulations, and the whole process takes years.

Giulia Micco welcomed us on her family farm: Azienza Monfrin at 10 minute driving from Moncalvo.
It felt like being inside a country life children's book. In fact, this farm is part of many educational programs and Giulia is used to show it to kids and international visitors who look for outstanding and sustainable farming methods. 
The 120 cows, calves, oxen and bulls are fed only farm produced straw, cereals and hay and they are all free to wander on the farm, grazing wherever they prefer. This makes her farm semi-wild and the calves stay with their moms till they are 7-8 months.
This is not a milk farm because the fassone cows don't produce much milk, only 20/25 liters each and, as a regular practice, Giulia's family leaves it all to the calves.
If they happen to have a cow that has extra milk, like it can happen in the summer, they keeps it for their own family consumption.

Giulia's farm doesn't kill calves, if they did it, they would never get oxen. Also, as you can see in the picture, each pregnant cow has a tag with her name and the name of her calf's father. Everything on this farm happens rather naturally, even the deliveries; the veterinarian is called only for emergencies.
When  cow turns 26, she usually leaves the farm because older cows and oxen usually make larger calves and then the pregnancies and the deliveries are risky and can't be natural.

Azienda Agricola Monfrin produces its own cereals, hay and straw 
Visiting Giulia's farm, petting the calves and seeing the grain elevator was like going to another dimension, faraway from our city life. When we buy, cook and eat, we rarely think about the animal and how it is raised but these are critical issues we should all inquire about.

Fratelli Micco butcher shop in Moncalvo
Before lunch we visited Giulia's parents butcher shop in Moncalvo.
Besides the Slow Food certification, their fassone meat has won hundreds of awards and their shop was awarded the best butcher's in Italy!!
As we don't eat much meat, we can't really tell you personally how good it is, but we can certainly assure you that the animals are raised happily and free; they are very well cared for during every stage of their lives, with a great attention to any detail.

just a selection of the many awards, and picture with Carlo Petrini, the Slow Food founder
We'll never tire to repeat that in Italy, when an animal product is organic, it also is the food, the medical care and the area where the animal is born and raised. 
Even if you aren't a carnivore, you won't regret visiting Azienda Agricola Monfrin and seeing the cows, their calves, the oxen and the bulls grazing freely on the farm property!

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