Two drops of water and of beer

Autor: Raffaella Prandi

Teo Musso, the father of italian craft beer, heads to the mountains to meet Noris Cunaccia, a forager of wild mountain herbs which she uses to make her unique delicacies that are a source of inspiration for some of the greatest chefs.

life in the woodsNoris’ back is hurting her. She should take a break from gathering wild mountain herbs for a few days. It’s something that happens when you spend day after day bent over in the cold, damp woods-especially with the heaps of snow that spring has brought this year.

Teo comesIt’s something that happens especially frequently in this enchanted valley beneath witches here, and they continue to inhabit these forests to this day, now and then playing their tricks on those who come here. It would be nice if, on occasion, they would do some good, especially today, with the fortuitous arrival of such a special guest, a long-awaited friend, Teo Musso, the pioneer of Italian craft beer, who has finally arrived in Spiazzo from his home in Piozzo to meet Noris. Actually, no. He has come directly from Essaouira—that magical Moroccan city where Berber spirits keep vigil over one of the many hubs of his craft-beer empire— bearing a gift for this queen of the woods: a magnificent Berber ring.

the brewery’s Metodo Classico and the pop onesA hike up nearly to the source of the Sarca river had been planned some time ago and was something they did every chance they would get. The last time, Madame Cunaccia served as a sort of fairy godmother for Baladin’s latest creations, the brewery’s Metodo Classico, an excellent contemplation ale that is bottle conditioned for 18 months, and Pop, Italy’s first craft beer in a can, both of which were presented in the Bossea Caves, a karstic, underground temple near Cuneo.

The colourful foraging of NorisTeo calls Noris and says, “I’m here. Bring me three reds and three yellows.”
So she brings him her creations, jars of primitive herbs, creams and sauces made from the fruits of her foraging. “I’d just gathered thousands of dandelion owers, and as soon as I got in the car I was overwhelmed by an intense aroma of turmeric. I decided that was to be the yellow, a mayonnaise of dandelion, turmeric and candied Amal lemon, three things that go great together. For the red, I used cornelian cherry, mountain cranberry and mace.”

The nomadic forager of herbs

it depends on the rock...By the end of this visit, they had again promised each other to meet in the wilds of Trentino. Noris, whose ”office” has a window onto this amphitheater, says, “Over there, the dolomitic rock of the Brenta Dolomites; over here, the granite of the Adamello range. Two geological worlds facing each other. Certain herbs can be found over there, others over here, and they take on different characteristics depending on the rock over which they grow.”

Noris’ officeNoris’ office, as she calls it, isn’t an actual room with a desk, but rather a clearing in the mugo pine forest behind Malga Ritorto, in the Adamello-Brenta nature park. It is here that Noris spends a great many of her days gathering the pinecones she uses to make her amazing Mugolio pine syrup.

Giovanni and the PrimitiviziaIt takes a year for the pinecones, sprouts and shoots to ferment in a jar, and the process of reducing it down to a caramel resin is similar to that of traditional vinegar, but, for now, this is all done down in the valley by Giovanni, the trusted brother of Noris who transforms her baskets of edibles into delicacies to be used by chefs and which are distributed under the Primitivizia label. But it takes a keen eye and honed skill to gather just the right pinecones.
In the same way, a meadow in ower may appear like any other unless one knows how to pick just the right plants from among the thousands. “She recognizes all the herbs from far away” says her son, Gabriel, who goes foraging with Noris. “She’s got an exceptional eye.”

Noris' office is in the mugo pine forest.

The free spirit of the forest

“fèro”There, too, to welcome Teo to Malga Ritorto is Ferruccio “fèro” Valentini, the “free spirit of the forest” who helps Noris to gather her edibles. With him, the foraging trio is practically a hydrogen bomb of nuclear energy, a geyser spewing forth from the center of the earth. In his felt hat and felted-wool, mountain-man wear, fèro moves through the trees almost at a run and always with his arms crossed in front of him, at times looking up, but most frequently looking down, stopping abruptly when he hears a sound and then disappearing from view - something that vexes Noris no end, not knowing if she can count on him when in need. There are bears in those woods after all! But fèro blazes his own trail, never following the trails set by others.

the petrified forest of Fèro “One day, I felt his quiet presence while I was foraging. He was studying me, motionless, watching everything I did,” says Noris. They’ve been trusted friends and colleagues from that day on, and then, at a certain point, he began to pursue other passions. For example, it was fèro who happened upon a 280-million-year-old petrified forest with some of the rst fruit-bearing plants, conifers and other woody ora, 297 examples of which were given to the Natural science Museum in Trento. It is considered to be one of the world’s most important geological discoveries of the last five years. The new botanical species identified (including three new types of pine) are now catalogued as Valentiniacee in honor of fèro.

Certain herbs reflect the purity of water

The force of water

the water herbsAround Malga Ritorto, as fèro is telling of his adventures as a scientist, Noris is out gathering a leaf of lady’s mantle that looks similar to mallow. Trapped on the leaf, there is a drop of dew, sparkling like a pearl in the sunlight. As a part of their pre-foraging ritual, they each partake of a drop of mountain purity, because, as they say, fortune comes to she who finds such a leaf with five drops of dew.
“Leaves quench our thirst. It is a world of water and flora,” says Noris. “Water determines the fragrance and vitality of the leaf. Certain herbs reflect the purity of water.

THE HERB / ​​WATER COMBINATIONWatercress, for example, is a great indicator of water purity. How and if it grows tells you whether the water is polluted, such as when, simply speaking, trees have been cut down upstream. If the environment is polluted, watercress disappears. All herbs have their own way of being connected to water or drought. The leaves of alpine sow-thistle go ‘clack-clack’ when you break them off and are as brittle as ice. Other plants thrive in dense shade and humidity. Hops love damp settings and soil that drains well. Another herb that thrives in the shadows is wild baby’s breath, which has one of the world’s most noble aromas and is one of my favorites [as well as a key ingredient in Primitivizia’s Agreste sauce]. It just doesn’t grow where it’s sunny.”

the animated forestListening to Noris, one imagines a forest full of woodland creatures that bow to her as she passes by, followed by her Prince Charming. “Nature is beer and bread. Grain, water and yeast,” says Teo. “The only true regional trait of beer comes from the water. It’s a factor in fermentation and unifies the other ingredients. It’s like growing grapes on one side of a hill or the other.”

Baladin style

NO pasteurization, ONLY “live” beerTeo Musso is a laid-back leader for over 200 employees. Baladin produces 20,000 hectoliters (17,000 barrels us) per year, and their goal is to double or triple that, but in a manner that is healthy and which respects the raw materials they receive from the land. A great leader (“I’ve done all the hard work, so the people who work with me respect me,” he says) and champion of modern-day craftsmanship, Teo summarizes the cornerstones of Baladin style as NO pasteurization and ONLY “live” beer.

No Big Beer multinationals“The Americans, who are the fathers of the craft beer movement, produce two million hectoliters (1.7 million barrels) on average,” says Teo. “How can we think we can sell them anything? Maybe just a few drops of beer.” But he shouts his loudest NO for all the woodland creatures and at the abuse of power of the Big Beer multinationals who “want to erase our history”. Europe’s beer history is one made of local pubs and stubbornly independent microbreweries. It’s clear that he hasn’t quite gotten over the round of shopping that saw Birra del Borgo, founded by his friend Leonardo Di Vincenzo, fall into the clutches of the multinational AB InBev.

the revolution of the earthWith a knowing look to Noris, he says, “But we’re true warriors, not phonies. We’re two warriors who never give up. I want to lead a revolution based on the energy of the land, just like Noris. Ten years ago, we created an agricultural supply chain to show that beer is as much a product of the land as wine is.

100% MADE IN ITALYWe will be the world’s first fully independent brewery in terms of raw materials, energy and distribution. Our Nazionale is the first Italian beer to be made entirely with Italian ingredients. I was the first to go down this road with all-Italian malt and planting Italy’s first experimental hop farm, growing American and German hops. But it is by seeking an indigenous variety of hop that we will be able to create a beer that is truly made in Italy. I want to make Italy work.”

The article “Due gocce d’acqua e di birra” (Two drops of water and of beer) was published on July 15, 2016, in Cook_inc. in an issue dedicated entirely to nature. It was written by Raffaella Prandi and featured photography by Paolo della Corte. Cook_inc. is a magazine of international distribution that is published three times a year, providing its readers with glimpses into the lives of prominent gures in contemporary cuisine and taking them on a journey to discover the culinary history, tradition, culture and techniques of one-of-a-kind locations. Established in Lucca, Italy, in 2011 and published by Vandenberg Edizioni, Cook_inc. tells tales from around the world steeped in a love for good food.

A forset is like a university, where every day brings a new lesson

High-altitude gardens

alpine sow-thistleA forest is like an encyclopedia, or a university, where every day brings a new lesson. Here in the mountains, we see Noris with her three extreme gardens where she is hoping to domesticate alpine sow-thistle. Alpine sow-thistle is a plant that is emblematic of this entire region, more precious than porcini mushrooms or edelweiss.
It was once considered the fuel of mules. Roe deer love it, and even bears feed on it when they come out of hibernation. But in addition to bears, mules and deer, alpine sow-thistle is also much loved by mountain men, who gather it and store it in brine inside empty tree trunks to eat it later after a hard day of work in the woods.

experimental cultivationHere across from the eld for the experimental cultivation of alpine sow-thistle, our nomadic forager, who ordinarily roams in much higher climes, becomes somewhat sedentary. This is a protected area within the Adamello-Brenta Nature Park, an adorable, fenced-in patch of cultivated land, where Noris has been working with her sow-thistle, which she has transplanted at this more modest altitude. She is now in her fourth year of testing without having attempted a single harvest. “Such a wild plant, one which thrives up high with the glaciers, is difficult to domesticate. There are a great many variables to be considered. You need to interpret its habitat, but nature is so vast and you need to find just the right corner in which to nurture it.

tame the seedDo you see how well it’s doing? The seed is as open as a Baladin beer recipe, deposited with the Terra Madre seed bank, and the garden is protected by the slow food association. If we can manage to domesticate it, it will be that much easier to domesticate other plants and to even avoid having to go out and forage.” It will be like finding porcini in your back yard. “For six years, I did a similar thing to domesticate a strain of yeast that came from an Islay whisky distillery. It was a wild yeast - a real bitch - but it had some really amazing traits. It became the yeast we use for Nazionale and Pop, and it’s as if it were still eating smoked malt to this day. It still maintains certain notes that are a part of its nature.
But, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s been doing for hundreds of years.” Both water and yeast have a sort of memory. 

The memory of water

the Lobbia and Mandròn glacierThey fill up their glasses at a spring. “Feel the air coming out of this rock. Feel its energy. Smell it.”
The water is at one degree above freezing. They pass the glass around. “Yes, you can smell all the forest, the resins. It’s incredible.It’s smells like moss and snow, like virgin water.”
It was a purely magical moment out near the sacred origins of the world, at Malga Bedole, in the exact point where the Lobbia and Mandròn glacier, the largest glacial system of the Italian Alps, began just 50 years ago. This was where Pope John Paul II met with Italian President Pertini to talk about peace, and if water has memory in the way it ows, it will remember that moment, too.

Here you can see granite carved by the glacier as it continues its rapid retreat - on the order of dozens of meters each year - due to climate change. The great strip of ice at Mandròn, which was as wide as two kilometers in the early 1900s, has now completely disappeared. A great hollow remains as evidence of this change. “We don’t have enough appreciation for how precious water is,” says Noris. “In my lifetime, I’ve measured change by watching this glacier retreat.”

the "Sasso del pioniere" and the "super"We head to Sasso del Pioniere (“Pioneer’s Rock”), the enormous mass of granite that Julius Payer, a Bohemian cartographer of noble origins who was the first to reach the summit of Adamello in 1864, had transformed into his shelter. “This is where he would sleep, and this is where he made polenta.” What better place to open a bottle of super and enjoy a snack like cavemen: rye bread, speck, carne salada, dandelion hearts (which Noris prepares like artichoke hearts), and alpine sow-thistle from last year’s batch—although perhaps real cavemen only had alpine sow-thistle.

Water is like a gameWater is like a game; it comes and then it goes. Perhaps it even holds the memory of this pleasant chat, made more so by the bottle of super, an amber, pure-malt, abbey-style ale enjoyed at just the right temperature. The two tell stories, for example, of their trips to Tibet and how the monks there would climb up into the mountains to break up the clouds by way of vibration. “They have seen that sound waves can change the characteristics of cells,” added Teo. “It was a global discovery.

vibrationsWe could even say that certain vibrations generate changes in certain strains of yeast during fermentation. The Cerevisiae strain, for example, after 20 minutes at 500 hertz, altered 60 characters of the RNA in its cells. Of course, why wouldn’t the fermentation process be sensitive to sound? After 22 years of working with these little creatures, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s as if they had ears.” After all, are we or are we not in the enchanted forest? So long as the water forgets now! 

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