10 Dec 2022

TORTONA FRAGRANT STRAWBERRY: PIEDMONT'S QUEEN FOR 100 YEARS

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"The Tortona Strawberry has a very short harvest period, we are talking about 15 days, it is like a meteor": this is how Patrizia Lodi, one of the main producers of a fruit that is truly unique for its taste characteristics, defines it. Let's discover together the fascinating history of this Italian excellence.

Summary

ORIGIN AND DISSEMINATION

The Tortona Fragrant Strawberry has its roots in the Piedmont region, particularly in the city of Tortona and its surrounding areas. In fact, this part of the Italian territory has a long tradition related to the cultivation of strawberries, the first mentions of which date back as early as the 16th century. At that time, in fact, in Tomeno Berruti's Chronicle of Tortona we read how among the most important and widespread products in those places were the "fravole" or "magiostre," so called in the local dialect.

Again, there are mentions of cultivation in the following years as well. In 1877 within a report, Mayor Davide Negro mentions strawberry as the main product of Tortona producers, and how it is also sold in neighboring areas in the middle and upper Scrivia Valley.

It was not until the early twentieth century, however, that the variety known as La Profumata was born, and it was at that time that it enjoyed a certain notoriety, established in part by the Tortona District Fruit, Agriculture and Floriculture Exhibition held in 1924, followed by the second Piedmont regional exhibition in 1926, inaugurated by Prince Umberto of Savoy.

The 'Gabbione,' a market dedicated entirely to the sale of the Tortona strawberry. Photo by Tortona Today.
The 'Gabbione,' a market dedicated entirely to the sale of the Tortona strawberry. Photo by Tortona Today.
The 'Gabbione,' a market dedicated entirely to the sale of the Tortona strawberry. Photo by Tortona Today.


Come the 1920s there were thus more than 180,000 sq. m. of cultivated land, which, however, ended up decreasing dramatically in the years to follow. This was because following the outbreak of World War II there was an impoverishment of the population, to which was added a series of problems related to the production and transportation of the product.

To date there are in fact only 2618 m² of cultivated land and the number of producers does not exceed ten. In 2000 Slow Food established its presidium; since 2001 the city of Tortona has sought to revalue this product through a series of activities and research projects, culminating in 2003 with the creation of the Consortium for the Valorization and Protection of the Tortona Fragrant Strawberry.

FEATURES

The Tortona Fragrant Strawberry(Fragaria moschata) belongs to the Rosaceae family and is a fruit similar in size to the raspberry, larger than wild strawberries(Fragaria vesca), but still smaller than those found in common commercial strawberries(Fragaria x ananassa).

This variety is called 'La Profumata' because of the peculiar organoleptic properties it possesses. In fact, at the olfactory level, the strawberry presents a very intense fragrance, while at the taste level it possesses a very sweet, aromatic taste, which many describe as reminiscent of Muscat wine.

The uniqueness of this strawberry is also the subject of interest of researchers who, in varietal selection activities, are trying to transfer its most interesting characteristic traits (taste and aroma) to new varieties. The goal is to create, through genomics techniques, a strawberry that is not only productive and hardy but also distinctive in taste and smell.

Fragaria moschata plants.
Fragaria moschata plants.


The plant is deciduous and can reach a height of 25-45 cm. The leaves are green in color, grouped in clumps supported by small, thin stems with the presence of hairs (trichomes).

Tortona Fragrant Strawberry


The plant is dioecious species, that is, it occurs with plants that possess only male flowers (staminiferous) and plants that possess only female flowers (pistilliferous). Therefore, during cultivation it is necessary to plant both plants to allow pollination. These, moreover, are developed on mulched soil (i.e., covered with materials that cannot let light through). This allows both more meticulous control over the growth of the plants, which are not disturbed by the presence of weeds, and likewise control over irrigation to promote proper plant growth.

Pistilliferous flower.
Pistilliferous flower.
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Stem flower.
Stem flower.
Flowering cultivation of Tortona Fragrant Strawberry.
Flowering cultivation of Tortona Fragrant Strawberry. Photo by La Carcassola.


The transplanting period is carried out during the end of the summer period (August-September) to ensure flowering during spring and full fruit ripening during the new summer period (May-June).

Ripening Tortona strawberry fruits.
Ripening Tortona strawberry fruits.

COLLECTION

This strawberry variety has a very narrow harvest period of 20 to 30 days (second half of May to first half of June). A field of these strawberries, under optimal conditions, is capable of producing 1 to 1.5 kg/m²Harvesting is all done by hand, this is because of the extreme delicacy of the fruit. Severing the floral stalk also results in greater longevity of the product, which usually perishes within 24 to 48 hours.


For this reason, even the packaging itself is done in the field after harvest. The strawberries are placed directly into plastic or cardboard baskets, which are in turn placed inside plastic or wooden crates.

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