THE BEST ITALIAN CARNAROLI RICE
Rice, a common ingredient in every diet around the world, could seem far too ordinary and banal. Quite on the contrary, the company Acquerello produces a one-of-a-kind rice variety. Acquerello rice can be described as being both white rice and whole-grain rice at the same time, since it combines the white rice ease of cooking and the nutrition benefits of whole-grain rice: a winning combination to obtain the perfect rice.
The Colombara estate, headquarters of the Acquerello company, is where the magic happens. In this ancient hostel for wayfarers, rice cultivation started in 1400. This estate is indeed located in the Vercelli plain, in Piedmont, which is historically devoted to rice cultivation. Huge water pools are scattered around the area in which the typical rice field fauna lives: frogs, herons, dragonflies etc. Respecting this delicate ecosystem and its fauna is paramount for the production of high-quality rice. environment protection has always been a top priority of the Acquerello company.
Acquerello rice is unique, because its manufacturing process entails as many as twenty steps; one of such steps involves a processing helix which allows obtaining white rice by rubbing grains one against the other, thus avoiding breakage. Rough rice ages for at least one year in refrigerated silos at a constant temperature below 15 °C. This allows stabilising starch, meaning that rice grains will release less starch during cooking and will thus increase their liquid absorption capacity. 1% of rice production is left to age for 7 years, culminating in the production of a refined rice to suit the most demanding palates. Acquerello rice is a synonym of innovation and technology. The germ - i.e. the part of the rice grain where most of the nutrients and vitamins are packed, separates from the grain during processing; thanks to a patented process, it is then re-integrated into the grain, thus maintaining the properties of whole-grain rice in white rice, too. That’s why Acquerello rice is more nutritious, healthier and tastier.
Acquerello rice - Italy’s best Carnaroli rice - was first created in 1991 in the Colombara estate. However, the story of the estate is much older than that. In the 15th century, when rice started to be cultivated, this estate was a hostel for wayfarers. In 1571 it became a farmstead which included houses, inns and workshops.
At the end of the 19th century, the farmstead turned into an estate and two towers were built at the entrance. Seasonal rice weeders started to work in the estate in the 1920s; a dormitory was built for them, which is still perfectly preserved and can be seen in the “conservatory of rice farming”.
Acquerello rice is one of those brands with solid roots that managed to change with the times. Rice weeders and their hard work are part of this history; they allowed the estate to grow and develop. This story is part of the Acquerello rice’s identity and although this brand is now one of the most innovative rice companies in the world, the memory of those days is still very much alive.
Let’s plunge into the history of this brand to better understand how such an unparallel product was created.
photo credits: Riso Acquerello
ACQUERELLO RICE: THE STORY OF RICE WEEDERS IN THE COLOMBARA ESTATE
One timeless Italian historical picture depicts rice weeders with their clothes rolled up, bending over the paddy fields. The Colombara estate was part of the picture, but things have greatly evolved since then. Back in the days, these young girls used to weed the paddy fields and remove infesting weeds, spending a lot of hours in the water, neatly arranged in parallel rows.
This part of Italian history is characterised by strength and struggles. Rice weeders may now resemble some legendary characters, but they were actually just girls who, out of hunger and desire for redemption, ended up making history.
At the beginning of the season - at the end of May -, these girls would move in the farmsteads, where they worked very hard for forty-five days, under the sun, at the mercy of insects and animals, in the Po countryside. The quality of Italian rice stems from this meticulous and careful work.
Rice weeders did not only remove weeds, they also transplanted seedlings, which had been sown very close to one another, in the muddy paddy fields which were drained using sluices.
The most joyful moment was the day they received their wages, of course. The rice weeders had to make a lot of sacrifices: the work was strenuous and they were far from home, doing a job for which they were often pitied. They had tanned faces, since they spent long hours at work under the sun reflecting in the water, which made them easy to spot. That’s why rice weeders applied a thick layer of white cream on their face to avoid tanning, which was not very fashionable back in the day.
Their work contributed greatly to Italy’s agricultural economy of the early 20th century, but their story was not always rosy. Work days started at the crack of dawn and rules were very strict in the paddy fields.
Obviously, not all companies were the same, but the job was really hard in itself. One thing is always associated with rice weeders: their singing. These women used to sleep, eat, wash themselves and work together for almost two months; they were sisters and shared not only work, but also their struggles.
photo credits: Riso Acquerello
COLOMBARA ESTATE: ACQUERELLO RICE COMES TO LIFE
A lot of time has passed since rice weeders. Acquerello rice was officially created in 1991, when the company took five important decisions to develop this flagship product.
1- One and only variety
The heir and owner of this estate Piero Rondolino decided to only grow one rice cultivar: Carnaroli. At the beginning of the 90s, this rice variety was not as famous as it is today, but its quality was already top-notch. This variety requires a lot of hard work and care and does not have very high yields. It was, hence, quite challenging to obtain a top-of-the-range product which would suit the demands of Italy’s haute cuisine.
2- Standing out with an ‘aged’ rice
That’s right, the Rondolino family turned to past practices and decided to let rough rice grains age for at least one year in silos at a controlled temperature. This aging allows the rice to develop unique scents and flavours and increases the already excellent cooking firmness of Carnaroli rice. The Acquerello rice aged seven years is truly one of a kind.
3 – From rough rice to white rice
Rough rice is turned into white rice, using a helix; it is an old processing method, dating back to the 19th century. As it is the case for most ancient practices, this processing method requires a long time, during which rice grains are gently rubbed against one another, thus avoiding breakage.
4 – An innovative packaging
In 1991 no-one packaged rice under vacuum in tin containers: ideal for its aesthetics and to preserve the rice qualities.
5 – The restored germ
In the 2000s, the Colombara estate developed an international patent to make the Acquerello rice even more unique, by reintegrating the germ into the rice grain. White rice is thus able to regain its mineral salts and vitamins that wholegrain rice usually has, as well as acquire more flavour.