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History and production of the real Bronte pistachio
The pistachio tree is very old. It was already mentioned in the Old Testament and the drawing of a pistachio plant was found on an Assyrian obelisk dating back to the 7th century BC. The word pistachio comes from the Greek Pistakion which was then translated as Pistacium in Latin. But it was the Arabs that spread the pistachio all over Sicily.
As a matter of fact, people from Sicily do not call it Pistacchio, but they use the word Fastuca which comes from the Arab word Fastuq. The pistachio tree likes dry and rough terrain and the volcanic soil, fertilised by volcanic dusts, on the foothills of Etna is its ideal place. The pistachio tree is very sturdy and can live up to 300 years. It likes to take its time before bearing fruits; the first harvest usually takes place only a decade after the graft. But it’s worth the wait, because Bronte pistachios have a truly unique flavour.
The Sicilian emerald: from plant to packaging
The harvest takes place every two years only on uneven years. It is carried out from the end of August until the beginning of September, under the intense Sicilian sun. It is a lot of hard work, but I bet that no-one in Bronte would want to abandon this ritual which has been passing down from generation to generation. It is an occasion to celebrate this local delicacy.
Moreover, as previously mentioned, pistachios like to grow in uncomfortable places and the volcanic soil is not accessible to agricultural machines, so the harvest has to be carried out by hand. Harvesters de-stem fruits which fall in a basket that they carry over their shoulder. Harvesters must be very careful not to drop anything, since it is impossible to get pistachios back, once they have fallen in drops and steep terrains.
How do pistachios look like, when they are still attached to the plant? They look completely different, like white grapes. The wood-like shell and the green parts are not visible, but they are there; they are covered by the hull which forms when the pistachio is ripe enough.
The second step consists in the removal of the hull. Once it’s removed, you will see the shelled pistachio. It’s time to let them dry: pistachios are laid on nets and left to dry for two or three days. This step, which is called stendituri in Sicilian dialect, is extremely important, since it allows airing pistachios out in a uniform way, until they are dried enough. It is a traditional, slow and natural method to which the Sicilian heat contributes.
Then the shelling takes place; this is the step that has been automated the most and looks very different from the old method. Automated machines remove the wood-like shell, while in the past this step used to be carried out by hand. Farmers used to stand in a circle around the ‘u sciffu, a concave volcanic stone, and used to shell pistachios one by one. Once the pistachio has been shelled, it is still enveloped by a thin purplish skin which is sometimes peeled off.
Before being packed, there is one last step: fibre optic machines select the fruits to be put on the market, but qualified employees have the last word; they carry out the final check and send the products to packaging companies.
Bronte Pistachio: PDO and Consortium
Bronte pistachio obtained the Protected Designation of Origin in June 2009. Every production step - from the harvest to marketing - must meet product specification requirements. This pistachio type can only be cultivated and processed in the following geographical municipalities: Bronte, Adrano and Biancavilla.
The path to earn this certification was long and arduous and it took almost 10 years. In 2001 a group of farmers decided to request the PDO certification, but it was only in 2004 that the Ministry for Alimentary, Agricultural and Forester Policies (MIPAAF) granted this pistachio a “temporary protection”.
Product specifications detail how the label should look like: apart from the wordings “green Bronte Pistachio” and “Protected Designation of Origin”, there must be the MIPAAF’s symbol, the drawing of a pistachio and of the Etna and the name of the three municipalities.
The Consortium, which has been officially recognised by the MIPAAF, was founded in 2004, with the aim of protecting, safeguarding and promoting Bronte pistachios. The consortium checks whether the “PDO green Bronte pistachio” label is not being misused and also defends it in court. As a matter of fact, Bronte pistachio is one of the most counterfeited products in the world and many countries pass off their pistachios as Sicilian pistachios.
Italy only produces 1% of the world’s pistachios, but they are the most delicious ones. The wording “Bronte pistachio” is often found on ice creams, creams, pestos and chopped pistachios. We clearly suspect some irregularities and even if it’s obvious that the flashy green ice-cream does NOT contain PDO Bronte pistachios, it is sometimes more difficult to discern whether a product is authentic or not.
The real Bronte pistachio has a long shape and is very, very green. If you stumble upon round or yellowish pistachios, do not buy them because they are not the real ones. They may come from Bronte, but that doesn’t say anything about their quality. Check whether they have the label “PDO green Bronte pistachio” with the MIPAAF’s logo; that’s the only seal of guarantee.
Grandpa Don Tanu’s Sicilian tradition
Gaetano used to cultivate pistachios in his pistachio field, on the western Etna slopes. Now it is Tanu’s grandchild, Salvo Patanè, who leads the company Don Tanu with the very same passion. His outstanding products all contain PDO Bronte pistachios which are cultivated and processed according to tradition.
He makes not only shelled pistachios, but also creams, hacked pistachios and pestos, which enhance this incredible product. Doing things well has a different taste and that’s why his products taste amazing. The pistachio cream turns even the most banal pancake into a delicacy but, careful, it is addictive. The pesto can help you out when unexpected guests come knocking at your door, because it is ready-to-use and outstandingly delicious. Hacked pistachios are delicious in cakes, but I also like them with savoury dishes or to add a crunch to a bruschetta with cheese and Mortadella. The possibilities are endless and with these incredible products, it is difficult to go wrong.
Let’s tackle the subject of salted pistachios once and for all. They may taste good for a happy hour, but do you seriously think that someone would ruin a product such as PDO Bronte pistachio, which costs at least 40 euro a kilo, by adding salt to it? Bronte pistachio is not salted, since it is naturally sweet. It is this aromatic note that makes it so refined and covering it would be a shame.
Bronte pistachio in recipes
Pistachios are very trendy right now, but we all know that there are different kinds of pistachios out there. The real Bronte pistachio can be used in many recipes, both sweet and savoury. In the Arab world, many cakes list pistachios as their ingredient and the same thing happens in Sicily.
Hacked pistachios can decorate cannoli and finely hacked pistachios can be used to make crumbly biscuits, like almond biscuits. They taste amazing also in ice creams and creams, as well as in brittles and nougats. Bronte pistachio can be used in savoury recipes, such as pesto, or to coat meat and fish; for instance, it is exceptional with tuna for a 100% Sicilian dish.