by Lynn Olson, Cooperative Services Manager
Many thoughtful approaches are used to achieve bionaturae’s goal of sustaining their culture and that of the many family farmers who grow with them in Tuscany, Italy. From an initial approach using organic cultivation to shunning modern adaptations to produce food faster and faster, family-owned bionaturae and their Tuscan soil are both part of a much larger food sovereignty revolution. Their line of foods include pastas, juice nectars, canned tomatoes, fruit spreads, olive oils, and vinegars.
Bob Donella, Vice President of Marketing and Sales for bionaturae’s US-based partner, spoke recently about bionaturae’s unique opportunity to preserve old-world, traditional methods of growing and producing foods in one of Italy’s most treasured and protected regions. Tuscany, the primary region where most of bionaturae’s food is grown, has been aided by a European initiative called GMO-Free Europe to successfully ban any and all genetically modified organism (GMO) crops or supplies from being planted or used within their borders. Bob says, “The best way to avoid the problem is to shun it as a culture.” GMO-Free Europe has seen legislation enacted to protect over 80 percent of Italy’s territories at present. GMO-free municipalities (or “Communi Antitransgenici”) began mobilizing in 1999 and their work on legislation now guards 39 select regions in six European countries (Austria, France, Spain, UK, Greece, Italy).
The three brothers who originally formed bionaturae employ a practical, family-friendly business philosophy to their business. Growing up in and around farming and in their mother’s small natural foods store in Tuscany led to their transformation into organic farmers and, eventually, into major distributors of organic foods throughout Europe and the U.S.
bionaturae uses only Italy’s finest tomatoes, heirloom fruit trees, 300 year-old olive trees, potatoes and wheat, to name a few. All are grown in one of the world’s richest agricultural centers then harvested and produced in orchestra with an extensive network of family farms and distribution partners.
Old world ways
Of the first steps the brothers took in the early 1990s, Bob says, “They started with pasta as the first product, and the key for that was, they went to a pasta factory that had been making [it] for a century but they [the pasta makers] were, at that point, making stuff in more modern ways. So the boys asked them to produce the pasta, for example, with the [old, traditional] bronze dies.” Literally finding the retired, discarded bronze relics in the basement of the factory, management at the pasta factory was resistant but they cleaned the dies and put them back to work making pasta. Downgrading from state-of-the-art Teflon dies designed for faster production and mass efficiency was a hard sell, but eventually all were swayed to believe that this was not only possible but that there was indeed a market for this slower, more traditional product.
Of the bronze dies, Bob says, “[They] create a rougher surface and the sauce clings to the pasta and has a nicer mouth feel. It [bronze dies] just makes pasta the way pasta originally was.” There are other “old world ways” employed by the bionaturae brothers. Bob says, “They made sure that the pasta would be properly dried, not in hot temperatures like most pastas are [today], but at room temperature, for up to 48 hours. The drying of the pasta like that means the wheat is more naturally preserved in terms of its color, flavor, nutrition, the texture of the pasta.” It is this attention to detail, as it is for all of their other products, that guides their decisions in making a truly more wholesome product.
Likewise, early in the company’s history, the brothers began experimenting with the family’s antique copper kettles to recreate family marmalade recipes from heirloom pears, apricots, and berries from the area. In recognition of their commitment to these old world foods and methods, the company continues to use the antique kettles and openly vows that the kettles and the practices “will be cherished forever.”
Reconciling a long lost love
Setting a new standard for superior pasta in the U.S., especially in the gluten-free category, bionaturae and their growing list of organic fruit and grain offerings have captured the palates of thousands of new organic consumers each year. Frequently lauded by the Celiac Association and other gluten-free advocates, bionaturae’s recipe for great textured and tasty gluten-free pasta enjoys a healthy following. Asked which ingredient may be the key to their formula for the unique gluten-free pastas, Bob shares, “The Italian producers had an idea—to come up with their own formula where they included rice, potato and soy. In mixing these ingredients together and making a dough, they would pre-heat the recipe before extruding it through the dies that make the shape. In doing that, it help[s] those three ingredients...to congeal in a way where they would hold together better and wouldn’t be starchy and wouldn’t fall apart when they were cooked. So, they produced the first and only gluten-free pasta that does not require rinsing after you cook it.” He adds, “The most important thing bionaturae’s done, to me, is the idea that you can have a whole grain pasta that [is] light and delicious and [isn’t] gritty and grainy and just really inedible.”
All of bionaturae’s products are, in addition to Italian certification standards, grown and produced in accordance with the USDA’s Natural Organics Program standards and ultimately certified through Quality Assurance International (QAI), including their partner factories in Italy and distribution sites in the US.
Creating economic opportunities for growers and producers in remote areas of Italy has been helpful in starting other businesses to support their mission, including an oil-pressing cooperative for and of organic olive farmers. And in the region of Modena, known historically for their fine balsamic vinegars, is another partner family whose centuries-old balsamic company is sustained through partnering in the bionaturae line of organic foods.
The company philosophy
The company philosophy is to make the most authentic Italian foods by staying true to nature and tradition, transforming raw material with artisanal techniques of an Italian past. For more information on bionaturae, log onto http://www.bionaturae.com to read more about this company and learn more about their partners and practices.