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Why Norcia is so important to Italy

Why Norcia is so important to Italy

What the earthquakes took from this small but important region in Italy. A village left in shambles, struggles to get back on its feet.

During recent days after major earthquakes, over 1,100 aftershocks with up to a 4.8 magnitude have been shaking the region in Italy. But still, over 10,000 inhabitants don’t want to leave. They sleep in their cars and in shelters.

They are afraid to lose everything they have. They have already lost their homes and cattle, but they haven’t lost hope.

Borghi is gone forever. The whole landscape has been left in shambles, with homeless cattle wandering about and the first snowfall expected soon in the coming days.

Last Sunday, a very powerful earthquake of a 6.5 magnitude not only left many people homeless, but also opened many of the stone-marked graves in Norcia cemetery.

Most people are not aware of that this region in Central Italy – Norcia – is famous for food lovers from all over the world. It is in fact a world unto itself.

Whether it be for the special small and very expensive lentils, the famous truffles which 3 Michelin Stars US Chef Thomas Keller uses in his restaurant, “Per Se” in New York and Los Angeles, the region is seeing many small family businesses best known to insiders of “Made in Italy” alongside manufacturing and high-tech kitchens such as Pieve Torino, whose goods are sold as far away as into the houses of Russian oligarchs and around the globe as well. The company had planned to take part at EXPO DUBAI 2020, but now it is looking only at rubble.

Norcia is even more famous for its prosciutto (ham) on a world-wide scale than it is for its churches.

The prosciutto of Norcia was served in the US White House, and Michele Obama sent a personal letter to Norcia just 5 years ago. Now there is nothing left – the house and stables have collapsed, and the only building left was the shop, but this has also been destroyed during last Sunday’s earthquake.

The region in Central Italy is one of the finest food producers in Italy and is also known for its excellent salami DOP production. It has one of Europe’s finest distilleries of anise liquor, Liquare di Pieve Amaro Sibillla, made since 1868 and considered the best in Europe and is being sold to the USA and Canada.

We don’t give up, said one of the three sister owners; we need to get back and carry on, but to do that, we do need urgently the permission to enter the premises again. But bureaucracy is blocking everything; we can’t sit around and wait.

The little village of Pieve Torina which has barely 1,500 inhabitants is one of Italy’s most important regions for the cultivation of saffron (exported worldwide and used for Risotto Milanese). Now farmers have not only a lost a lot of money and their entire income, but they are worrying about losing their clients as they have lost 3 quarters of their entire production.

The white and black truffles of the region of Norcia are being exported to over 68 countries. It has been a family affair since 1852, and is being delivered to Massimo Bottura in Manhattan, New York; Thomas Keller in California – you name it. Olga Urbani is confident that they will make it, although she is currently sleeping in a tent, while the dogs are at work in search of white truffles even after the quake of October 30.

What about the famous lentils? There is no road any longer to Castellucio. Farmer Diego Pignatelli is hoping there will be a way – a path – next march to reach his farmland for sowing his lentils.

In Visso, home of one of Italy’s biggest frozen food manufacturers, they produce over 130,000 pizzas a day. But now they have to rebuild their business from scratch as there is nothing left.

The farmers don’t want to leave for the Adria Coast and are staying in some of the many hotels that are currently closed for the season. They are asking for tends and protesting to the government that “when we leave Norcia, Norcia will die.”

With natural water sources now under the rubble, farmer Giuseppe Fausti has been begging for water for his animals. His salami is one of the best in Italy. He has been asking for water for days, but nothing has happened until he went to the Carabinieris and threatened to sue the local government.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is offering containers to the homeless until Christmas and promising wooden houses will be set up within the next 8 months. So far, people are sleeping in trains, campers, and cars.

Schools for over 5,000 children and students are closed, because they are considered to be unsafe. The Borghis – medieval villages (surrounded by the most stunning and colorful lentil fields which are coming into full blossom from May to July) were attracting visitors from all over the world, coming to see and buy their harvest. But these villages are now destroyed.

And the churches are destroyed, with church bells laying fallen on the ground. It is hard to imagine what will happen next year.

All photos © Elisabeth Lang

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