You’ve got to love any food that can be served for every course of a meal. Rice is just such a one. You can have your cheese ‘befores’ on rice crackers, eat risotto for a first course, serve rice with the main course, and enjoy rice pudding for dessert. And of course it is all washed down with delicious sake (rice wine).
Unless you live in a rice-growing region you may think, as I used to, that rice grows in grocery stores in bags labeled “Carolina”. But of course it doesn’t; it grows in rice fields which, in this season in Italy, are exquisitely flooded with water. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I’m a huge fan of Piemonte, not least because the scenery around the rice fields is so exotic.
The land, flat as a rice cake, suddenly rears up into snow-capped Alps. Add the acres of flooded fields reflecting the surrounding trees and mountains and, well, it’s just something that can’t be done justice with a photo.
But how does the rice get from lake to table? Ha. That’s where Tomasoni Brothers Riseria (and countless other small processors) come in. The rice, which is a tall slim grain, is harvested and when dried looks like the brown bouquet in the center of the photo at the top of this post. The illustration on the left shows all the bits and pieces of the plant. The rice kernels are the seeds, which are produced at the top of the grassy stalks.
When ripe, the rice kernels are threshed from the chaff (and I’m not exactly sure where or how this happens) and the resulting ‘seeds’ are brought to Tomasoni to be turned into salable product.
Here are some of the machines that accomplish this miracle:
The rice is carried into the riseria in huge sacks – we’ve seen this happen in the late summer. Then it is fed into the wonderful old machine above from another room.
This is the inside of the machine – it engages in some kind of swishy motion evidently. As you can see, the rice is still brown, that is, it still has its husk. After it has been swished around a good bit, the kernels fly through some other machines and lose that husk, becoming the white rice we are accustomed to buying to make risotto.
This is the most amazing machine of all and, I suspect, one of the newest. Each and every grain of rice is scanned by this gleaming device, and if a black speck is detected, that kernel is shot off to another place to become animal food. Only the unblemished best for us humans!
After all the cleaning and packaging is done, one needs only customers to buy the rice. As is so often and so charmingly the case in Italy, selling has more to do with socializing than with actually taking money and handing over goods in exchange.
And finally, here are the cheerful and helpful brothers Tomasoni, Virgilio and Luigi. They are always willing to discuss rice, to tell you which is the best variety for Risotto (Carnaroli) or to find a particularly happy print bag of whatever it is you want. You can find them at their Riseria, which is in Rovasenda, just past Arborio.