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La farina bóna

Farina bóna is a traditional product of Onsernone Valley (Canton Ticino). It is a corn flour (Zea corn) obtained by very finely grinding the corn grains which have been previously toasted. In the past it was part of everyday diet of Onsernone people, and it was mixed with milk, water or wine. After World War II, the food habits of the population changed, and along with that, the importance of Farina bóna faded. At the end of the Sixties, when the last millers of the valley (Annunziata Terribilini and Remigio Meletta) retired, its production was fully abandoned. The initiatives and the researches carried out 1991 by the Onsernone Museum after the restoration of the mill in Loco [v. foto moulin], succeeded in retrieving from memory this old product and in slowly restoring its production. Ten years later the mention in the Ark of Taste of Slow Food, the engagement of some private citizens and of the school of the valley allowed to deepen the historical knowledge of this product and laid the foundation to increase the production and the promotion of Farina bóna also beyond the borders of Onsernone Valley.

The flour “farina sec'a"

The origins of Farina bóna are unknown. The oldest testimony that is currently known can be found in the diaries of Serafino Schira from Loco (1826-1914); the author writes about some products made with Farina bóna and shortly described the production of this flour. Oral and written testimonies (1926) confirm the production of this kind of flour in Vergeletto; here this kind of milled toasted grains were and still are called Farina sec’a. This name is due to the intent to distinguish it from "Farina verda", the flour milled without being previously toasted. Several elderly people of Vergeletto still lively remember the Farina sec’a produced by Ms. Annunziata Terribilini, nicknamed Nunzia (1883-1958). For the production of Farina bóna different sorts of corn were used, mainly cultivated outside the valley, in the flat areas (Locarno area or other Ticino regions). There is though testimonies of small amounts of corn cultivated in the Valley. The toasting procedures was usually made inside the mill itself, in a special pan on the fireplace, like in Vergeletto, or in a oven, like in Loco. It was not rare, though, that people toasted the corn at home, and eventually took the grains to the mill only for being milled.

Probably the toasting process was somehow different from place to place. In Vergeletto, Nunzia toasted the corn until at least a third of the grains popped and had a kind of crest (from this similarity the name of "ghèl", meaning cocks, “galli” in Italian, which was the name for popped corn in this village) and later she milled everything. The last miller of Loco, Remigio Meletta, eliminated on the other hand all popped grains before milling. A possible reason why popped grains (“barott” was their name in Loco) weren’t milled, is because they made the product too heterogeneous when poured into the hopper. By milling the grains, the “ghèll/barott” obstructed the entrance of the hopper and made hence more difficult and complicated the work of the miller. Maybe in Vergeletto Nunzia found a stratagem to counter this trouble, or maybe she simply had more time to separate “ghell” from other grains before milling them, or Vergeletto’s hopper was bigger, or else, it was arranged differently. Taking these considerations into account, it is sure that the final product in Vergeletto and Loco must have been slightly different. Milling in any case must have been very fine, in order to obtain, according to the written notes of Schira and the oral testimonies gathered in Vergeletto, a flour with the consistency of a silk thread. This was possible only by using millstones having a particular grooves.

Oral and written testimonies gathered by the CDE (Center for Dialectology and Ethnography of Canton Ticino) confirmed the production of a flour very similar to Farina bóna also in the lower part of Maggia Valley. In this area, which was connected to Onsernone by old communication and transhumance paths (Garina Pass: Aurigeno-Moghegno-Loco and Confèda pass: Moghegno-Lodano-Gresso) this kind of flour was called "farina da cà" (literally “home flour”), "farina rostida" (toasted flour) or "farina scaldada" (warmed up flour). In Maggia Valley, the toasting process was made inside the bread oven, with a procedure similar to the one in the area of Loco, with only a few or none popped grains. Also in Verzasca Valley (Mergoscia and Sonogno) the corn grains were toasted for a whole day on a low heat and eventually milled. This toasted flour was then added to some dishes, especially soups. The flour Farina bóna that is currently produced and sold by the local producers (Onsernone Museum and Ilario Garbani Marcantini) is prepared according to the written testimonies that “a third of the grains used had the crest”, that is a third of the grains popped when toasted.

Ticino Mulino Nunzia