One of the most typical products of the province of Florence is the sweet chestnut, and especially the variety produced in the district of Mugello. In 1996, the Mugello sweet chestnut was granted the prestigious IGP (Protected Geographic Indication) status by the European Community.
This recognition protects and enhances the chemical-physical, taste-and-smell and nutritional qualities of food and agricultural produce which has a specific geographic origin. IGP certification requires producers to apply and adhere to a strict set of production rules and that the produce be submitted to checks by the certifying body who must verify that the entire production stream conforms to the rules. This means that monitoring begins in the chestnut woods and ends with the IGP Mugello sweet chestnut packed and ready for sale. The towns with IGP status are Borgo San Lorenzo, Dicomano, Firenzuola, Londa, Marradi, Palazzuolo sul Senio, San Godenzo, Scarperia and Vicchio, which means that the production area is spread over two Upland Communities, Mugello and the Uplands of Florence. Since 2003 the Florence Chamber of Commerce has funded a research project to give scientific enhancement to the nutritional and taste and smell characteristics of the IGP Mugello sweet chestnut. This project is being carried out by the Florence Chamber of Commerce chemical laboratory for produce, the Department of Vegetables, Flowers and Fruit of Florence University and the IGP Mugello sweet chestnut association.
The nutritional label of the IGP Mugello sweet chestnut highlights its food value as a modern-day source of nourishment while still coming from centuries-old Mugello traditions. Chemical analysis shows that the sweet chestnuts are nourishing and easily digested, they are rich in carbohydrates (especially starch) and similar to wheat and rice (which gave rise to their post-war name of "poor people's bread" and, today, "cereal on a tree"). Fresh sweet chestnuts have quite a high calorie count (180 Kcal per 100 gr. of product) which is, however, much lower than that of walnuts, almonds and other dried fruit (about 600 Kcal per 100 gr.). There is a good content of fibre and sugar and low fat (of which very few "bad" saturated fats and many "good" unsaturated ones). They are also rich in mineral salts (especially potassium and, to a lesser extent, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron). Antioxidants of the vitamin E family have also been found (oddly enough widely used in anti-aging beauty creams) and a high content of polyphenyls.
Sensorial enhancement: look, taste and smell
Enhancing the IGP Mugello sweet chestnut involves making its look and taste and smell better known, both compared to other varieties of sweet chestnut as well as compared to other possible processes for production and usage. Particular attention has been focused on creating the figure of sweet-chestnut taster which had never existed professionally, and training him. Tasting fact sheets have been created in order to obtain as objective and immediate a taste assessment as possible. The IGP Mugello sweet chestnut is markedly sweet, easily peeled and not excessively floury or astringent. It has notes of vanilla, hazelnut and slightly less of fresh bread. "Unpleasant" aromas like yeast, fungus, mould or paper are completely absent. The European sweet chestnut tree (Castanea sativa Mill.) is of the fagaceous family and is widespread in the countries bordering the Mediterranean where it has been grown since ancient
times. The cultivars of the European chestnut are many as are the names by which they are known.
In Italy and France, the fruit and thus the trees which bear it are distinguished between chestnuts and marrons or sweet chestnuts depending on their morphological and genetic characteristics, which have an immediate bearing on their usage as a commodity. Sweet chestnuts only maintain their specificity within their area of origin and selection (hence the fundamental bond with territory and tradition).
The IGP Mugello sweet chestnut denomination has the following characteristics:
- Very seldom are there more than three nuts per burr;
- They are prevalently ellipsoidal with a softened apex and a tomentum, ending with hairy residues and tomentums: normally one side is flat and the other is markedly convex; the base scar is clearly rectangular and not large enough to spread over on to the side, generally flat and of a lighter colour than the pericarpus;
- The peel (pericarpus) is thin, red-brownish with clear vertical veining of a darker colour and in varying quantities. It detaches easily from the chamois-coloured skin;
- The fruit (seed) which is normally monoembryonic, has whitish coloured flesh and its surface has very few grooves.
The IGP Mugello Sweet Chestnut Association
Set up in 1998 with the aim of promoting awareness of the quality of the IGP Mugello sweet chestnut, it is composed of producers who are enrolled in the IGP Mugello sweet chestnut register and whose product comes from the origin denomination area. The register counts some 150 companies, more than half of which belong to the association. The members harvest from some 350 hectares with a production potential of over 300,000 kgs.
The aim of the association is to promote the product in major national and international food and agriculture fairs by means of guided tasting, enabling the consumer to know the product better and distinguish the IGP Mugello sweet chestnut from others on the market. Furthermore, it also combats promotion of false information and gives advice on the various stages in the production stream on current laws and how to develop strategies to enhance a product so uniquely typical and traditional.