The butterflies are fluttering around the lavender as the sun beats down on the lovingly restored stone buildings of Borgo Petriolo. This grain farm and mill is the culmination of 20 years in the making when a group of accountants decided to tackle the question: how can we make grain growing profitable? Judging by the mill tour and bread-making workshops, the popular farm shop and wholesome restaurant, it looks like Alice Borselli and her team are answering that with a resounding yes.
Our visit to Borgo Petriolo, outside the pretty village of Antella, 20 minutes southeast of central Florence, begins down a dusty Tuscan track as Alice points out the on-site field of wheat and olive grove. “We’re surely one of the best mills in Tuscany because we grow the wheat, clean and even bake the bread right here.” The strength lies in numbers. “We decided that the best approach was to establish a supply chain. Now we work with more than 50 grain growers, whose wheat ends up here at our mill.”
Our next stop on our tour is the mill, which is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. In an outbuilding, a Willy Wonka-style set of 14 machines ensures that the final grain is cleaned to perfection, each removing impurities. One old wooden contraption is said to have been inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s experiments and stands beside an up-to-the-minute device that discards any discoloured kernels. Not that anything goes to waste at Borgo Petriolo. “Our mantra is that we don’t produce waste and any by-products from the milling end up as chicken, pig or horse fodder,” Alice explains, as she shows us the different stages in the cleaning process.
The actual milling takes place in an adjacent room: the mugnaio stands by the stone-grinding hopper and expertly adjusts the granular size of the flour before transferring the dusty product into the sifter, where fibres ensure that the flour is divided by type: bran, type 2, and so forth. Out we go into a storage area, where 25, five and one kilo bags of flour are awaiting delivery to local restaurants and bakeries. The air is filled with that comforting promise of baked bread and nowhere more so than in the laboratory where crackers are made from the likes of maize and lentils with the simple addition of water and salt after being soaked overnight and compressed and cooked by four identical machines.
The highlight for most visitors lies in the artisan bread-making kitchen. Alice opens the refrigerator and takes out the starter dough, which has a slightly acidic aroma. “That’s what you should be looking for when buying bread. Bread like this won’t go off for a week or so; just spray it with water and pop it back in the oven. We bake our bread for tomorrow.” How should we keep it to maximize the shelf life at home? “Wrap it in a paper bag and keep it in a dry, cool place. I always say, if in doubt, keep it in the oven when it’s not in use.”
Our tour ends at the Botteghina del Borgo farm shop, where the bread can be purchased by the loaf or in hunks. Locally made jams, fruit juices, salami (from the pigs fed by the chaff produced during the milling process), cheeses, wines from the Florentine hills, beers and pulses from Borgo Petriolo’s own Spighe Toscane brand, extra-virgin olive oil from Monna Giovannella organic farm, which shares the same premises, and other specialities from the sister La Torre Forno a Legna bakery line the shelves in this Wunderkammer of a store, which will have you driving from Florence to stock up the larder with wholesome food. Once you’ve got your groceries, you might well be tempted to pick up a picnic hamper filled with the farm’s produce and unwind on the grass or stay for dinner at the country-cool Ristorante del Borgo restaurant that serves “honest, local food”.
Sitting outside at the picnic tables on a summer afternoon surrounded by the beauty of Tuscany, Alice carves us slices of her pane toscano and rye bread before lavishing them with unctuous olive oil. It’s a revelation. The best thing since sliced bread—actually, it’s far better.
Festa della Battitura at Borgo Petriolo
On July 9 and 10, there’s fun for the whole family at Borgo Petriolo as the wheat threshing festival gets underway. The day’s events begin at 10am with children’s workshops to make ceramics and sustainable magnets, followed by talks about ancient grains, ottava rima poetry readings, pony rides and puppet making. Expect some of the best bread in the region, artisan gelato and watermelon by the slice! At 6pm, kids, big and small, will be enthralled by the powering up of the steam engine as wheat is separated from the chaff like in the olden days.
How to get there
Borgo Petriolo, Via del Petriolo 7, Antella. Florence
Tours, tastings + farm shop: +39 055 294458 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Restaurant: +39 055 214889 / email@example.com
The farm shop is open Tuesday to Friday 10am-7pm, Saturday + Sunday 10am-2.30pm, 4.30-7pm.
The restaurant is open Tuesday to Sunday for dinner and also for Sunday lunch.