The IGP Mugello sweet chestnut
Natural goodness grows on trees
One of the most typical products of the Province of Florence is the sweet chestnut, especially the variety produced in the Mugello district. In 1996, Mugello’s sweet chestnut was granted the prestigious IGP (Protected Geographic Indication) status by the European Community. recognition safeguards and guarantees the chemical-physical properties of agricultural products and food produced in specific geographic areas. IGP certification requires producers to adhere to a strict set of production rules; the produce is inspected by certified experts who must verify that the entire production stream conforms to approved regulations.
This means that monitoring begins in the chestnut woods and ends when the IGP Mugello sweet chestnut is packed and made ready for sale. Towns with IGP status include Borgo San Lorenzo, Dicomano, Firenzuola, Londa, Marradi, Palazzuolo sul Senio, San Godenzo, Scarperia and Vicchio. Thus, production is spread over an area that includes many hill communities surrounding the Mugello and Florence. Since 2003, the Florence Chamber of Commerce has funded a noteworthy research project which investigates the scientific principles behind the nutritional and physical characteristics of the IGP Mugello sweet chestnut. This project is being carried out in the Florence Chamber of Commerce’s chemical laboratory for produce, in collaboration with the Department of Vegetables, Flowers and Fruit at the University of Florence and the IGP Mugello Sweet Chestnut Association.
The nutritional properties of the IGP Mugello sweet chestnut make it a modern-day source of nourishment that stems from the age-old traditions of the Mugello. Chemical analysis shows that sweet chestnuts are nourishing and easily digested; they are rich in carbohydrates (especially starch) and similar to wheat and rice. For this reason, during the post-war period, they were known as ‘poor people’s bread’. Today, sweet chestnuts are often called ‘tree cereal’. Fresh sweet chestnuts have quite a high calorie count (180 Kcal per 100 grams). Nonetheless, they have fewer calories than walnuts, almonds and other dried fruit (about 600 Kcal per 100 grams). They contain a good amount of fiber and sugar as well as low quantities of fat, (they contain little saturated fat, for example). They are also rich in minerals (especially potassium and, to a lesser extent, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron). Sweet chestnuts also contain antioxidants from the vitamin E family and an ample amount of polyphenyls.
Sensorial properties: look, taste and smell
Enhancing the IGP Mugello sweet chestnut involves making it look, taste and smell better than other varieties of sweet chestnut, thanks to refined production processes and usage. ‘Taste-test fact sheets’ have been created in order to obtain objective, immediate taste assessments. The IGP Mugello sweet chestnut is markedly sweet, it peels easily and it is not excessively floury or astringent. It boasts slight hints of vanilla flavor of can smell like hazelnuts or fresh bread. It does not give off ‘unpleasant’ aromas like yeast, fungus, mold or paper.
The European sweet chestnut tree (Castanea sativa Mill.) is of the fagaceous family. It is widespread in countries bordering the Mediterranean, where it has been grown since ancient times. In Italy and France, there are two types of chestnut trees—those bearing chestnuts and those bearing ‘marroni’ or sweet chestnuts. Sweet chestnuts are only available in their area of origin (hence, representing the fundamental bond between territory and tradition).
The IGP Mugello sweet chestnut has the following characteristics:
- There are very seldom more than three nuts per burr;
- It is primarily ellipsoidal with a softened apex and a tomentum, ending with hairy residues. Normally one side is flat and the other is markedly convex; its base scar is clearly rectangular and not large enough to spread over onto the generally flat side which has a lighter color than that of the pericarpus;
- Its peel (pericarpus) is thin and red-brownish with clear vertical veining of a darker color. The peel deeply contrasts with its chamois-colored skin;
- The fruit (seed) is normally mono-embryonic and it has whitish flesh; its surface has very few grooves.
The IGP Mugello Sweet Chestnut Association
This association was established in 1998; its aim is to promote awareness regarding the IGP Mugello sweet chestnut. The association’s members include IGP producers who are officially registered in the IGP Mugello Sweet Chestnut Register. Said register hosts some 150 companies, more than half of which belong to the association. The members harvest a total of 350 hectares and boast a production potential of over 300,000 kgs.
The aim of this association is to promote this product in major national and international food and agriculture fairs by means of guided tasting events which raise consumer awareness, allowing customers to distinguish the IGP Mugello sweet chestnut from other varieties available on the market. Furthermore, it combats false information and gives advice regarding the product’s various productive stages. It also develops strategies designed to safeguard and protect this uniquely traditional product.