Wooding lab: Bringing wild food to the masses

Wooding lab: bringing wild food to the masses

by Great Italian Chefs 13 April 2018

Wooding Wild Food Lab is the world’s only wild food research facility. We stopped for a chat with founder Valeria Margherita Mosca, and got a behind the scenes look at everything Wooding does. Take a look!

Great Italian Chefs is a team of passionate food-lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest news, views and reviews from the gastronomic mecca that is Italy.

Great Italian Chefs is a team of passionate food-lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest news, views and reviews from the gastronomic mecca that is Italy.

Do you do the odd bit of foraging? Perhaps you nip out in March for a few leaves of wild garlic, or you scour the hedgerows in late summer, returning home with bowls of blackberries and brambles clinging to your shoelaces. For most of us, foraging is a sporadic part of our cookery, but in the village of Santa Margherita, just outside Monza in northern Italy, there’s a whole laboratory dedicated to the research of wild foods – the only one of its kind in the world.

‘We established Wooding back in 2010,’ explains Valeria Margherita Mosca, the founder of the lab. ‘Our mission is to demonstrate the importance of wild food, both nutritionally and culturally, and that involves a lot of foraging, studying, cataloging, analysing and experimenting with wild plants, to see what is suitable for us to eat!

‘I’ve been foraging since I was a child,’ she grins. ‘My grandmother taught me so much about wild food – she was a real forager. I’ve always been passionate about it, so it made sense for me to combine my love of nature, my love of food and studies in anthropology to start this journey.’

'Wild vegetables are more nutritious, and more interesting from a sensory point of view,' says Valeria
Wooding lab has been studying wild food for nearly a decade, but now you can taste the fruits of their labours at the recently opened Wooding bar in Milan

With eight years of exhaustive research under their belts, Valeria and her team have been able to build the world’s very first database for wild foods. Much of this is anthropological study, cataloguing foods that people around the world have foraged for generations, but Wooding lab also does research into finding new wild food sources. ‘There’s this ocean truffle in the Faroe Isles,’ Valeria tells us. ‘It’s a seaweed, but it smells and tastes like a white truffle!’

Not content with simply recording the huge diversity of wild food sources around the world, Wooding Lab puts that knowledge into practice in all sorts of areas, handling everything from product development and consultancy to catering. In October last year, they opened Wooding Bar in Milan – the first bar in the world to serve food and drink using only foraged ingredients. ‘It represents all our hard work and it took us a long time to put it all together. It’s hard for me to choose a favourite dish or cocktail; I love them all!’

Wooding Bar is a beautiful place for a cocktail, with long Lebanese cedar wood benches and distressed pastel walls
As well as cocktails, the bar serves food which is also made entirely from foraged ingredients

The bar has captured the imagination in Milan and beyond in the last six months, and the future looks bright for Wooding, both in the bar and the lab. Valeria has big plans for the next few years. ‘I’m an adventurer at heart – I’m always exploring!’ she laughs. ‘The next step for us is to start reconstructing. We have a big project called ‘Thinking Like a Forest’ that’s all about going into abandoned alpine areas nearby and trying to re-establish them as part of the local environment.’

As the world’s leading authority on wild food, Valeria feels strongly that Wooding should continue to be a force for change. As projects like Wooding Bar help to inspire a new generation to forage and create by themselves, Wooding lab also gives them the tools and the help to put it into practice. ‘We’ll be going into public schools and helping to teach children about foraging,’ she explains. ‘There’s definitely a growing interest. Foraging puts us back in touch with our local environment and forces us to learn about and respect our ecosystems and habitats. I think people are ready to return to the past in that sense, but with an eye on the future.’