The rice of Principato di Lucedio is in a class of its own. The estate’s rice are dried to ensure the shelf life of the product, but keeping it in the kernel until ordered does not completely deprive the rice from some of its aroma and moisture content. The rice of Principato di Lucedio have an average humidity index close to 14%, giving the rice an unparalleled texture when cooked, very similar to that of fresh peas. The flavor and texture quality will become immediately evident in a Risotto in Bianco (Basic Risotto).
Italy is Europe’s largest rice producer, accounting for 5% of the total world rice production. The fertile Po Valley in Northern Italy, watered by pristine cold water from the melting snowcaps of the Alps, has sustained this agricultural product for over five centuries. The Moors brought rice to Sicily, where it became an important crop long before Genoese and Venetian merchants spread the grain throughout Italy and France, later propagating to all the continents during the age of European colonization and expansion after the 15th century.
Between the cities of Milano and Torino lies the province of Vercelli, the area where it is said that rice was first planted in the fields of a Cistercian monastery known as “Lucedio”. The monks developed a small system of canals from nearby streams of Po River to flood the fields in order to protect the rice during the planting and growing season. Rice growing soon became one of the most important agricultural crops in the area. With the passage of time, and over the centuries, the entire Vercelli province began a gradual landscape transformation to become one of the most highly specialized rice growing areas of the world. As time went by and the monastery declined, Lucedio underwent the tribulations of a succession of feudal lords. The original church of Santa Maria di Lucedio and the simple medieval structures sees a huge expansion in size until the estate became a “Principato” (Principality), with close ties to the kingdom of Savoy. Surrounded by rice fields, the Principality at one time housed over 4,000 inhabitants who performed the backbreaking manual planting and harvesting as we still see in many parts of Asia today.
In 1937, Count Paolo Cavalli d’Olivola from Torino bought the estate, increasing the property to over 400 hectares of rice fields, creating Italy’s largest rice estate. Today, his daughter, Countess Rosetta Clara Cavalli d’Olivola, oversees the restoration of the estate and the farming of the rice fields with zealousness and outmost care. Lucedio’s huge rice production was sold mostly in the commodities market until 1987 when Countess Rosetta Clara decided to make a “Grand Cru” estate rice: a single-paddy, harvest-dated rice. With the collaboration with Manicaretti and the support of great chefs and retailers in the United States, the brand “Principato di Lucedio” was born and the cloth bags with single-varietal rice started to appear on shelves and menus across the United States.
Italy grows the variety of rice known as Japonica (Japanese) variety, (Oryza sativa var. japonica), a short-grain variety characterized by its unique starch content, stickiness and texture. This barrel shaped rice is different than long-grain rice, which is usually boiled or steamed. Italian rice are classified in four categories by the length/width and amylopectin starch content: superfino, fino, semifino and orginario. The superfino rice is the one most used for risotto making, with Arborio being the most recognized variety outside of Italy. Chefs prefer Carnaroli variety, which was created in the 1950's. Among the semifino is Vialone Nano, a variety widely planted in the Veneto.
At the Principato di Lucedio careful attention is given to each step of the rice growing process, ensuring a sustainable and pristine growing environment. Young rice shoots are planted at the end of April. The fields are then flooded to create a blanket of protection for the young rice plants by regulating the temperature and protecting them from an eventual late Spring frost or any other environmental adverse conditions. The rice starts to grow quickly though mid-Summer, when golden clusters of rice kernels form on each stalk. Careful monitoring from this point is crucial to prevent the rice from developing infestation or disease. The late hot days of Summer develop the kernels to plump perfection and the rice stalks begin to bend with their heavy weight kernels. The fields are drained in late August and the rice is harvested in mid-September before the first Autumn rains. The rice is left to dry for about two months in the ancient barns and buildings of the Principato. Countess Rosetta Clara keeps the rice in its protective husk until orders are received. This guarantees a ‘fresher’ product. The rice kernels are first milled using a rice huller to remove the outer husks of the gain (chaff). At this point, the product is brown rice. The milling is then continued, removing the rest of the husk and the germ(bran), thereby creating white rice.