Friday, May 14, 2010

Orzo You Say?

Orzo conjures a rice-shaped pasta, but Orzo in Europe, especially in Italy, where the drink originated, is usually short for Caffé d'Orzo (Barley Coffee). Originally popular as a caffeine-free drink for children, it is made from ground and roasted barley, sometimes with added rye, chicory, figs, or anise. It is served widely at cafes and restaurants as well as readily available at stores. I was delighted to taste this in Bologna and then scouted out bags of it to bring home in one of the many NaturaSi health food stores in Italy.

This is the most coffee-like coffee-substitute I have tasted - really. As someone who has had to go off caffeine, this is like a new found friend.You can drink it the way you might take your coffee - that is espresso, latte, cappuccino, or just a big mug. You will find  numerous brands of Orzo on grocery shelves in Italy - even Nestle has a line of what they call Orzoro products (not organic) but with simply barley or other varieties.

Organic choices are plentiful in Italy and the barley tends to be grown in the rich farmland of northern and central Italy. Organic brands include Alce Nero which offers Orzo Moka for coffee-makers, Orzo Solubile, an instant version, as well as Orzo Cialde for use in espresso machines. Alce Nero's barley is organically grown in the beautiful Marche and Umbria areas of central Italy. Alce Nero, based in Monterenzio south of Bologna, has been producing organic foods for thirty years and they offer a range of products made from Italy-grown crops including honey, jam, juices, pastas, and tomato products.

Poggio Antico is a cooperative practicing biodynamic agricultural named after the old 13th century hamlet in which it sits complete with almost 250 acres of  land filled with vineyards, olive trees, cereals, aromatic plants and pastures. Founded in 1983, the cooperative makes a number of products from the fruits of their land including home-made pastas, sauces, juices, wool yarn and hand-made, vegetable-dyed wool products, cheeses made from the unpasteurized milk of their own cows, and Orzo (plain and with Anise) from their own barley only, except the Anise (anice in Italian) is added to that flavor variety. Their products are certified biodynamic by Demeter. Poggio Antico products are available at their on-site store and in health food stores around Italy.

Poggio Antico is about three and a half miles from Montespertoli, near Florence (20 miles away),  Siena (28 miles), and  San Gimignano (15 miles). This is an area famous for wines, olive oil, hand-made jugs, sunflowers, local artists and artisans. The Poggio Antico Web site offers directions from Florence, Siena and Pisa - worth a visit for sure. You can stay at the lovely Il Caggio apartments on an organic farm and vineyard four miles out of San Gimignano.

Orzo is not only grown locally and available from organic sources, it is also inexpensive. Where a 500 gram bag (about 17.5 ounces or just over a pound) costs between 1.80 and 3.60 Euros (about $2.50 to $5.00 depending on the exchange rate), a similar size bag of coffee costs between $10.00 and $18.00 depending on the type of coffee. Bring on the Orzo!

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