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Green gold: Bronte’s pistachio harvest in pictures

Green gold: Bronte’s pistachio harvest in pictures

Great Italian Chefs 24 October 2017

We talk to pistachio farmers Giuseppina and Alfio Paparo to get a behind-the-scenes look at the biennial pistachio harvest in Bronte – home of the world’s best pistachios.

We’ve spilled plenty of virtual ink already on the virtues of Sicily and its unique gastronomic history. Having been conquered by a swathe of different civilisations hailing from North Africa to the Middle East, the island has been blessed with a rich culinary heritage where typical Italian ingredients like pasta, tomato and olive oil sit seamlessly alongside more exotic produce like dried fruit, nuts, couscous and saffron. Out of all this produce, however, perhaps none is as typical of Sicily as the pistachio. Originally from the Middle East but now quintessentially Sicilian, the pistachios grown on the island are some of the best in the world, and none are as coveted as those from the town of Bronte.

Bronte sits in the north-east of Sicily, right on the edge of Mount Etna. Many things struggle to survive in the shadow of the volcano – not least the people, who have to deal with Etna’s semi-regular eruptions – but the fertile soils are perfect for pistachio trees, which thrive on Etna’s sunny slopes. Every two years, the pistachio trees of Bronte release an emerald harvest, and Giuseppina and Alfio Paparo – who run traditional pistachio farm AromaSicilia – are two of the farmers on hand to collect the green gold.

‘There is a slow pace to life here,’ says Giuseppina. ‘We are amongst beautiful historical buildings and the main cities are just half an hour’s drive away.’ In September of every odd year though, Giuseppina and Alfio’s gentle lives are put on hold. ‘We work intensely for two weeks,’ she explains. ‘The weather has to be perfect, and when the fruit is mature enough, the shells will split, and we can begin picking, cleaning and processing the pistachios.’

Like many of the world’s greatest vineyards, the lava deserts of Etna are steep and rocky, with excellent drainage. That makes them perfect for growing pistachios, but not so ideal for harvesting them. It’s impossible to get any sort of machinery onto the volcano’s slopes, so every other year Giuseppina and Alfio climb and hike their way between volcanic rock formations, picking the freshly cracked pistachios by hand. ‘It’s hard work,’ says Alfio. ‘Most of our harvest comes from the region of Dagali in Bronte – the name comes from the Latin dagali or dagale, which refers to islands of vegetation that are saved from the volcanic lava flow. In reality, most of the land is a desert of lava rock, so everything has to be harvested manually.’

Despite the back-breaking work, at AromaSicilia they manage to harvest around 18,000 kilograms of pistachios in their two weeks, and every nut is worth its weight in gold. Bronte pistachios are smaller than their counterparts from central Asia and the Middle East; they’re also a deep emerald green after being shelled and processed. The trees are given a minimum of five years to grow before the pistachios are harvested, and that extra time in the ashen soil of Etna gives the nuts a unique resin aroma. Bronte pistachios are also abundant with minerals, amino acids and vitamins, and this as a whole package makes them extremely popular all over the world, earning them DOP protected status in the process. ‘Exportation to the rest of the world is incredibly important,’ says Giuseppina, ‘but we still sell over half our pistachios to Sicilians.’

Those Sicilians include the famous Pasticceria F.lli Gangi, a pastry shop in Bronte that specialises in baking with the region’s green gems. The pasticceria first opened its doors in 1993, and made a name for itself by using local pistachios to make everything from arancini and pesto to sweet treats like cannoli and pistachio ice cream.

Hoping to catch the next harvest? Well, you have until September 2019 to plan your trip. In the meantime, keep an eye out in good Italian delicatessens for pistacchi di Bronte!

With thanks to AromaSicilia for allowing us to photograph their harvest. For more information visit aromasicilia.com/en.

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Green gold: Bronte’s pistachio harvest in pictures


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