Within the UNESCO site, the heritage of knowledge related to wine and agricultural production in general, typical products (wine, lemons, oil, blue fish) and the relative gastronomic recipes are an important testimony of local traditions and of the population’s way of living and representing a concrete expression of the local culture.
Lemon-growing has been present in the UNESCO site area since the seventeenth century. At the time known as the citron, today they offer a wide variety of products. An ancient food and a symbol of the territory, has found here a favourable soil and climate, which allows their cultivation without the use of chemical additives. This "gold of the Cinque Terre" provides jams, biscuits, tarts, sweets, and limoncino.
Cinque Terre honey
Cinque Terre honey is the consequence of an uncontaminated natural environment characterised by the absence of chemical conditioning. Over time, the naturalistic oasis of which it is a part, has preserved intact the characteristics of uncontaminated nature, from the flowers of the natural slopes to those of the historic terraces overlooking the sea. It is harvested from spontaneous or cultivated blooms, represented by the typical Mediterranean flowering with a high percentage of heather.
Contact with the Ligurian Sea and exposure to the sun throughout the year make this honey truly unique, like the landscape in which it is collected, where the sea merges with the mountain in a few hundred meters of ascent. Over time, the orographic complexity has led to a variety of microclimates with the consequent diversification of vegetation. The holm oak woods have been partly replaced with cultivated strips or with other tree species such as maritime pine, Aleppo pine, cork, and chestnut trees. In the coastal areas, sea fennel and marine Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s lace) grow alongside the caper, actively cultivated in the past. In rocky areas, alongside marine silver ragwort, bicolour senecio, rue, and other varieties grow; in the wider cracks of the rock are found the euphorbia arborea and numerous species typical of the Mediterranean scrub. Shrubs such as rosemary, thyme, helichrysum, and lavandula are widespread throughout the area. A mix of tree heath and scrub, made up of lentisk, myrtle, terebinth, spiny broom, strawberry tree, phillyrea, and red juniper, creates a dense and intricate scrub of lianas, including sarsaparilla, madder, virgin’s bower, asparagus, and Etruscan and marine honeysuckle. The wealth of Cinque Terre vegetation favours the production of honey from tree heather, acacia, chestnut, and millefiori.
Extra-virgin olive oil
This oil, produced in limited quantities, comes from pressing the olives delivered by the farmers residing within the territory of the Cinque Terre National Park, on the Palmaria Island, and in the hills of Porto Venere. It maintains all the organoleptic characteristics derived from olives traditionally grown on terraced land overlooking the sea of the Cinque Terre, and represents the result of the territory’s centuries-old tradition. It is used raw as a condiment or on bread with a bit of salt.
Monterosso salted anchovies
A traditional agri-food product
This traditional Cinque Terre dish is made according to the ancient recipe of Monterosso al Mare. Known as "pan du ma", the anchovies are caught with the traditional lampara net and purse seine methods and processed by hand over two or three days.
Careful layering, appropriate pressing, and careful monitoring of the quantity and quality of the brine make the anchovies firm and tasty, also guaranteeing perfect preservation. The product thus obtained retains all the aroma and flavour of freshly caught fish. With oil, oregano, and garlic, it makes an exceptional appetizer, but is also excellent as a main course.
DOP - Denomination of Protected Origin
Among the local products, La Spezia's mussels stand out. Thanks to natural factors, they have always distinguished themselves compared to other seafood, in particular those bred in nurseries near the coast of Palmaria Island and in the bay of Porto Venere, where there are optimal chemical and physical conditions for breeding.
Mussels are cultivated in nurseries that appear as areas consisting of poles placed at about 5 meters apart, protruding for 1.50 meters above sea level and planted on the bottom.
Porto Venere green oysters
Of a brilliant, translucent, captivating green. Very fragrant to the nose, savoury, and mellow-flavoured. They are natural, healthy, non-contaminating, and beneficial for the environment, true miniature eco-fighters. They were raised, or cultivated, depending on your point of view, by a group of determined mussel farmers from the Gulf of La Spezia and made famous in the 19th century because they were loved by Shelley and Byron (hence the name Golfo dei Poeti). The village of Portovenere, set between the port of La Spezia and the Cinque Terre, has not only fascinated the tormented hearts of English poets; scientists of the calibre of Lazzaro Spallanzani chose it as a destination for naturalistic study, between the sea and the Mediterranean scrub. The first to promote the quality of local oysters was the Swiss biologist Arturo Issel. According to him, the closed basin, the presence of freshwater submarine pools, and the influx of small pure streams were perfectly suited to the needs of the mussel. This opinion was seconded by another Italian biologist, Davide Carazzi, ready to support the initiative of a sector entrepreneur, the tarantino Emanuele Albano. The epic of the Porto Venere oysters began in the wake of the unification of Italy. Issel and Carazzi were accurate prophets: the first cooperatives were born at the beginning of the twentieth century, and before World War II, more than three hundred Porto Venere families were engaged in oyster farming. This example of an expanding local virtuous microeconomy was reduced to a minimum in 1973 by the explosion of the polluted Campanian mussel scandal, when the cholera vibrio scare brought a stop to the consumption of shellfish throughout Italy. Four years later, law 192 imposed the relaying-purification obligation and began the slow reconstruction of citizens’ trust in mussel farming, long delegated to French production. It took thirty years before the Ligurian Fishing & Environment Observatory started experimenting with oyster farming, based on which it continued to prosper freely among the waves of the Gulf of Poets, and another ten before starting commercialisation. The first believer was a passionate student of marine biology, Paolo Varrella, today’s Vice President of the Cooperativa Mitilicoltori Associati del Golfo (Mussel Farmers’ Cooperative Association of the Gulf), which has seventy members, two thirds of whom are dedicated to farming both oysters and mussels. He would tell the secrets of the green oysters, "different from all the others - concave or flat - because they feed almost exclusively on the local phytoplankton, which gives them green nuances, a fragrant imprint, and marked richness of taste. To provide some colour, in the claires - French oyster beds - they sow the Blue Navicula, which come to us naturally." Beautiful, good, and healthy: "The Golfo dei Poeti (Gulf of Poets) reaches 39 per thousand salinity in summer, and never falls below 37: this concentration translates into taste and has a disinfectant function. In addition, here the oysters grow without food and produce no waste. We monitor constantly: oysters and mussels are well below the legal limits for quantity of bacteria even before the relaying process. That is, they could be eaten as soon as they are removed from the sea as was once done... For this we devised the word “merroir,” which defines our privileged marine terroir." That is not all. Professor Pane of Genoa is about to publish a study showing that the La Spezia oysters contain a quarter of microplastics compared to the oceanic ones, and half of those of the Mediterranean. Because the sea of Porto Venere is particularly clear, there is less suspended sediment, and therefore fewer microparticles. This harvest of blessed coincidences translates into an annual production of four hundred quintals (plus thirty thousand quintals of mussels), with hotels and quality venues all competing to include them in menus and tastings. Last but not least, oysters - all of them - represent an admirable example of ecological balance. To build the shell, they need calcium carbonate, which they process from the sea’s carbonate ions. The water, in turn, takes CO2 from the atmosphere to re-establish the dynamic balance. Professor Giampietro Ravagna of Ca 'Foscari is about to publish a study based on stoichiometric calculations, which show that oysters absorb half of their weight in CO2 incorporated in the shell, while other molluscs absorb around 30%. Not surprisingly, the battle against ocean acidification also passes through projects such as "Oyster gardening", oyster crops (obviously not intended for human consumption) planted in American marinas.
Sciacchetrà is a sweet, mild, and fortified wine produced in the Cinque Terre from the grapes of the Bosco, Albarola, and Vermentino vines. The origin of the name seems shrouded in mystery. For some, it derives from the Semitic term "shekar" with which fermented drinks were defined in Palestine 3,000 years ago. For others, it comes from the dialectal verb "sciacàa", meaning "to crush", used in this case to indicate the operation of crushing grapes. Either way, it is certain that this prized wine has become the par excellence emblem of the Cinque Terre.
Its fruity, floral scent is reminiscent of the essence of the Mediterranean scrub: hints of dried fruit, apricot jam, yellow peach and vanilla, chestnut honey and spices. A warm, intense colour: from golden yellow to amber, tending to topaz. A sweet but never cloying taste, warm, full-bodied, velvety, and seductive, well balanced, with pleasant and very light tannins. Sciacchetrà has an average yield of 25 litres per quintal of grapes; the berries are left to dry in the sun until November and are then culled by hand to select only the best. It offers a very high quality guaranteed by the Denomination of Controlled Origin (DOC since 1973 like the dry type), making it a niche product that can evolve for ten, twenty, and even thirty years. A wine loved by poets and scholars. Talked about by Pliny, Boccaccio, and Petrarch. Giosuè Carducci described it as "the essence of all Dionysian intoxications." Giovanni Pascoli asked to be sent a few bottles "in the name of Italian literature," and Gabriele D'annunzio described it as "profoundly sensual". Fully understanding a wine like Sciacchetrà means not only savouring its organoleptic qualities but also appreciating all the traditional knowledge associated with the culture of the land. It means drinking a wine capable of reaffirming with every sip the story of the centuries-old and sometimes controversial relationship between man and nature.
Cinque Terre DOC wines
DOP - Denomination of Controlled Origin
The thousand-year cultivation of the vine has represented for the Cinque Terre territory an element capable of profoundly changing its appearance. Agriculture, a dominant activity in the area, was once mainly aimed at the cultivation of vines. In some limited areas, olive and citrus trees were also grown and, only marginally, some portions of land were set aside for horticultural production. The higher stretches of land were covered by woods (as they are today), which provided spontaneous fruits (especially chestnuts), timber and leaves to be buried to fertilise the land cultivated with vineyards.
The populations of the Cinque Terre drew their main livelihood from agricultural activity, bartering their products with the inland populations and trying to sell part of the wine in the nearby cities of La Spezia and Genoa. A system like this has not withstood the impact with the development of a dominant industrial system in the neighbouring localities of the Ligurian coast. This led to a decline of wine production, with consequent environmental degradation and instability.
Today, especially after the establishment of the National Park, efforts to recover the traditions linked to wine-making on the Cinque Terre terraces have given good results despite the fact that the approximately one hundred hectares of vineyards today are not at all comparable to the 1,400 of a century ago.
Discouraging the investment of energy and resources in the cultivation of the land is contributed to by the fact that the Cinque Terre territory appears to be difficult to cultivate, especially due to the land’s geo-morphological conformation which allows for very narrow arable surface. This prevents effective mechanisation of agricultural activity, with consequent difficulties for farmers. The monorails, imported from Switzerland only since the 1980s, are the only agricultural machines that can be used.